Ready To Retire, But Not Done? It's Time For An Education Corps


Over the summer, I went back to Lexington, Kentucky, to attend my 40th high school reunion. Much of the Tates Creek Senior High School Class of 1978, I discovered, is approaching retirement. Some of my classmates were already retired; some others are on the brink. As a group, they talked about spending time with grandchildren, playing golf, engaging more deeply with volunteer work. But many also seemed open to finding new ways to put their talents to productive use.

This was an accomplished group (Go Commodores!). There were information technology specialists, automotive engineers, financial advisors, government officials, business executives. They have expertise and wisdom, and now they have time.

We should be putting them — and other talented retirees like them — to work in America’s schools. It’s time for a national Education Corps, modeled on the Peace Corps or Teach for America, to place committed seniors in hands-on roles in under-resourced schools.

 It’s a modest idea that’s good for students, and it’s good for seniors. We can’t afford to let American students fall behind, and we must also find meaningful work for a rapidly growing cohort of retirees.

Our public school systems are facing financial crises. There is no substitute for great, well-trained classroom teachers. But research tells us that one-on-one tutoring or small group activities or other enrichment efforts can make a huge difference for students. In many parts of the country, there simply isn’t money to fund these one-on-one interventions. Education Corps volunteers, working full or part-time, can provide this much-needed influx of tutors, aides, and other mentors. They would have the time and wisdom to light a spark within students who need the extra help.

At the same time, as the baby boom generation retires or downshifts, the country will have many healthy, accomplished people who are searching for a second (or third or fourth) act. There are an estimated 77 million boomers in the United States, and 10,000 of them retire every single day. As they live longer, and healthier, this growing population of seniors will need ways to productively fill their days.

My high-school classmates, I’m sure, would be happy to be put to work helping educate the next generation. They can help with reading and math literacy. They can coach students on financial literacy — which is critically important, and all too often not taught at all. They can impart computer expertise, career counseling, even arts instruction, which is so often underfunded today.

 This could be a federal initiative, or a federal-state partnership, or perhaps a major nonprofit effort. It might be coordinated through the existing federal Senior Corps, which coordinates the foster grandparents program for children with special needs and the senior companions program to help older people who have difficulty with everyday tasks.

Corporate philanthropies could help finance it. Colleges and universities can support the effort, by embracing nontraditional students and helping eager seniors get the training they’ll need to perform best in classrooms.

But it’s important for all these stakeholders to be involved, because America’s competitiveness in the world economy depends upon a skilled workforce. We must invest in our public schools, and we must keep our growing population of seniors productively engaged in our society. An Education Corps would do both.

At my 50th reunion, I look forward to hearing about peers who have embarked on new careers in teaching, helped serve our country, and changed the trajectory of some young students’ lives.

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