Is Our Only Chance
The recent article in this
publication suggesting that Governor Guinn kill the School-to-Careers program
["Schooling Kenny Guinn: Ten Things Nevada's New Governor Should Do About
Education," January] was blatantly lacking in real knowledge of this program.
First of all, the article described STC as a "radical subversion of liberal arts
education." When this program was designed it did not affect the curriculum being
offered by the school system. However, because of the involvement of such a broad cross
section of the business community in the STC program, the standards are being raised so
that, in reality, the STC movement is having a positive effect on the standard curriculum.
The article went on to say that "students as early as elementary school are
encouraged to identify careers and their curriculum is tailored to those objectives."
What is really happening is that students are being exposed to many career possibilities
to give them actual examples of how all of this knowledge they are being required to learn
in their classes can be used in the real world. This encourages and motivates students to
The third comment we want to respond to was "that the School-to-Careers programs put
the primary emphasis on functional attributes such as timeliness, neatness, courtesy and
teambuilding. Critical thinking and questioning of authority and not valued." All
employers believe that those functional attributes are very important and they were
generally not being taught in our schools, thus the emphasis from this program. Critical
thinking and questioning how and why something is being taught is what this program about
, rather than the you-are-just-required-to-learn-this- to-graduate attitude of the past.
All 50 states now have some from of a STC program and the many success being reported are
similar to the ones we are experiencing in Nevada. More than 25 percent of America's
employers are involved and many are providing some type of STC opportunity for young
people. The enthusiasm from the employers, the students and the educators is contagious
and all are seeing a higher caliber and quality of students, motivated to learn and who
are excelling. The students involved in STC are more likely to pursue the advanced
programs at the high school level, more rigorous post-secondary school education and
higher wage career paths.
The article did mention some positive effects that have resulted from business
involvement. This was as much of an understatement as the previously mentioned experts
were unsupported by the facts. The program is relatively new, but is already impacting the
quality of our education system. The school-to-careers movement is currently our only
forum for bringing together all of the stakeholders and creating positive change.
Some people think that we need to scrap the present education system and start over ,
others think that the voucher system or private schools grants or similar ideas will
solve the problems. But in reality, taking those kinds of steps would be very difficult
under the present circumstances-why not continue a program that everyone involved in knows
is making a difference and effecting change? To realize dramatic changes will take time,
because it is like moving mountains. The promise is there, and to cut off the support
of this program would be a dramatic slap in the face to all the businesses,
educators and volunteers that have put a lot of effort into getting it off the ground.
Eventually, perhaps the STC movement could be self-sustaining, but at this time it is not.
These programs that are having a positive impact need to have the opportunity to continue
to grow. STC has proven that it does have a positive impact on the educational investment
in our youth. Removing state funding would definitely give it a setback from which it
would take years to recover.
Ron KrumpKrump Construction, Inc.
B-Line System, Inc.
Granite Construction, Inc.
NPRI President Judy Cresanta responds: I
have no doubt Mr. Krump and his fellow correspondents have their hearts in the right
place. They are trying to work with educrats within the existing system to develop a
functional workforce. When we met recently to discuss this issue, I expressed my concern
that the Nevada statute passed in 1997 drew its authority from the federal
legislation--itself a veritable "bag of worms." As they say, "The devil is
in the details."
I also indicated my surprise that a group of businessmen, while deserving high marks for
wanting to make a difference, had not drafted any measurable criteria for success or
failure of the program, such as lower drop-out rates, higher test scores, higher youth
employment rates, etc. Nor had they established a timeline by which success or failure
could be judged. These basic lessons, that businesses practice daily, could be applied
beneficially, to the bureaucracy.
I then consulted Heritage Foundation (which I knew out correspondents hold in high
regard), a national think tank based in Washington D.C., seeking its opinion of the
language of the Nevada bill.
I sincerely commend to our readers the analysis that Heritage economist D. Mark Wilson
provided [see sidebar].
Nevada Journal has devoted many articles discussing School-to-Work, but this
program is not the basic problem. It is but a symptom of our failed federal experiment in
public education. The real problem is an educational atmosphere of low expectations,
dumbed-down academics and politically correct values. The difficulty that students have in
going from high school to work or college would disappear if educational reforms focused
on strengthening core curricula, setting high expectations and enabling local educators to
improve discipline. If our primary and secondary schools concentrated on these key areas
instead of devoting scarce resources to interagency collaboration and the formation of
local partnerships, future high school graduates would be much better prepared for any
entry-level job, apprenticeship program or college. But sadly, no genuine incentive to do
anything other than tinker around the edges of reform exists. And that reality arises from
the fact our education system is nothing more than a government-run monopoly. There is no
competition. Schools get the money to operate whether they perform or not.
Teachers--public employers in the strictest sense of the word--are represented by
politically powerful unions that put self-preservation ahead of our kids. It is the
institutional system that is terminally flawed. No peripheral tinkering will produce much.
Poorer taxpayers, maybe--but not reform.
To quote Mr. Wilson, "The School-to-Work program is really a subsidy to the education
bureaucracy to do what they should have been doing all along." Since 1994, the U.S.
Department of Education has provided states with $3.4 billion in vocational education
grants, $775 million in professional development grants and $992 million in program
innovation grants to do essentially what School-to-Work development grants are most
commonly used to form sub-state partnerships, develop a state plan and craft a marketing
plan to improve public awareness of School-to-Work. Implementation grants are used to fund
the partnerships, provide technical assistance and develop programs. very little of the
money goes to things that would immediately improve the quality of primary education, such
as new textbooks, science equipment or incentive pay.
Employers report that many youths lack the basic reading, writing or analytic skills for
entry-level jobs, even through more than four out of five teens complete high school
today, compared with just one in two after World War II. The $2.8 billion that will be
spent on School-to-Work between 1994 and 2001 will have virtually no effect on the basic
skills employers require. Instead, it will go for "rearranging the deck chairs"
on the current Titanic bureaucracy. Only real reform centered on school choice and school
autonomy can reverse the decline.
The Failings Of Nevada's
|By D. Mark Wilson
|NRS 388.368 sec.2 (b) does offer career counseling for interested pupils who are
enrolled grades 7-12, inclusive. The "offer" part is good. This indicates to me
that career counseling is voluntary. However, the seventh grade part is disturbing. This
is a little early for career counseling and is a fundamental flaw in the federal statute
as well. Most college students change their majors two or three times before they graduate
from college. The focus for seventh and eighth graders should be on the basics and a
well-rounded education that will prepare them for any career they choose after they
graduate--not on career counseling. Middle schools should not become employment service
centers for businesses or the government.
It is very troubling that NRS 388.368 does not mention parents at all. This is another
major flaw in the state statute and needs to be corrected. Parents are the most important
players in the education process. They are the "paying customers" of the
Section 2 (j) does mention an "evaluation process" but that's it. What are the
quantifiable measures of success? Higher graduation rates? Lower youth unemployment rates?
Higher labor force participation rates and college placements?
Finally, Section 2 (d) appears to require that pupils "obtain training in the
occupation of their choice." What about parents here? Which occupations? Blackjack
dealer? Carnival worker? Where are the parental resource investment programs?
D. Mark Wilson is a labor
economist with the
Heritage Foundation in Washington, D. C.