Educators often have problems when their schools are called companies. Nearly all schools are non-profit, and educators pride themselves on working solely on behalf of the public good. Business participation in public schools has been both a cause and a consequence of this change in public opinion. Starting with modest local initiatives, such as school adoption programs and teacher recognition awards, business efforts have expanded and deepened.
Corporate programs range from leadership training for superintendents and school principals to schools within schools for teenage mothers. Entrepreneurs are also taking leadership roles in building state networks, such as the Texas Business and Education Coalition, to support school restructuring and academic reforms. Overall, the level of commitment and entrepreneurial activity is unprecedented in this century. Behind these new initiatives are three different problems that tend to go together when people talk about the educational crisis.
One is the social burden that poverty, drug abuse, violence and hopelessness place on schools. Troubled children bring the ills of their homes and neighborhoods to their classrooms every day. In too many parts of the United States, teachers must nourish the body and soul of their students before they can begin to feed their minds. Another set of problems is organizational: the cheating effects of inflexible bureaucracies, absurd rules, and incompetent union managers and officials.
In Too Many School Districts, Excellence Survives Despite the System, Not Because of It. In Texas, for example, mathematics teachers must provide records of their classes in ten-minute segments to show that they are covering the required curriculum. These working conditions lead good teachers and principals to become renegades or get out of the system altogether. Changes in the Global Economy and in the U. S.
UU. Society have made both of these assumptions obsolete. Like public schools, companies face a serious educational crisis within their own four walls. With few exceptions, no institution successfully prepares people for the demands of the new industrial economy.
The irony is that companies often see schools' problems much more clearly than their own. In addition, in this new economy, school and work are necessarily intertwined. By perpetuating an old “hands-free” relationship and not creating new formal ties, U, S. Schools and businesses undermine many of their best efforts to give every student the academic skills and motivation they need to be a productive member of society. Today more than ever, school is about working and work is about learning. Put those thoughts together and they add to a provocative conclusion.
For many executives, the most effective way to change schools is to change what happens within their own companies. Ask executives why they are so committed to improving public schools, and you'll likely hear an explanation that includes a good measure of enlightened self-interest. Its analysis is simple and straightforward. In a competitive and demanding environment, U. Businesses can't thrive unless schools graduate a continuous stream of well-educated, self-disciplined and motivated young people.
Students who finish high school with minimal reading, math, and communication skills will not be able to work effectively as part of a team, operate sophisticated machinery, solve problems, or take initiative on behalf of their customers. In short, they will not be able to do today's jobs well, let alone tomorrow's.Therefore, it is not the level of student achievement that has decreased. Rather, the demands of the external competitive environment have increased. Companies could hire graduates who perform at this level without compromising their competitive capabilities.
The degree of competence reflected in the averages is too low to equip students to work successfully in self-managed teams or to use new technology to the fullest extent possible. That's one of the reasons why more and more companies are evaluating applicants' core skills and requiring some college or technical training for entry-level positions. But until competition forces the problem by demanding drastic changes in the way companies operate, managers often don't see what this change entails for existing employees. So skill deficits that have remained well hidden become unmistakable. The Business Role in State Education Reform, R. Scott Fosler's report prepared for the Business Roundtable (1990) provides an insight into this issue.
Plumley's experience is typical according to Worker Training prepared by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The study provides a comprehensive overview of training practices and policies in the United States as well as a brief overview of efforts made by its main industrial competitors such as Germany and Japan. It leaves no doubt that many if not most U. Managers face in their own companies an educational crisis comparable to the one they now recognize in schools. Based on its own findings and those of other researchers OTA estimates that between 20% and 30% of U.
Workers are deficient in basic skills needed to work effectively in current jobs fully participate in training programs or successfully implement new technology. As Plumley discovered until the company developed educational programs to improve employees' reading and math skills it could not maximize its investment in new machinery or bring standard quality processes to its factory. Ordinary work is usually limited in a similar way although effects may be less visible. A 1986 NAEP survey of adults 21-25 years old found that 20% could not read at eighth grade level however most work manuals or other work related documents assume tenth to twelfth grade comprehension skills (the ability to understand an editorial in a good daily newspaper).Changes in composition of U. Workforce are also contributing to growing need for training; Baby Boomers Are Gray Haired And So Are Their Abilities; there are fewer young people entering workforce more from minority groups who often do poorly in school; immigrants accounted for 22% growth in U. Labor force between 1980-1987 (more than double its contribution during 1970s) percentage will increase during 1990s; many new workers...