blank.gif (51 bytes) School-to-Careers
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 learn.
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 Krump
Krump Construction, Inc.
Bob Bricca
B-Line System, Inc.
Kathie Bartlett,
Parent
Denny Mattindale
Granite Construction, Inc.
Mendy Elliot
Norwest Bank
Fred Boyd
Napa-Sonoma


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
School-to-Careers Law

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 education system.
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.


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