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Center Acts as a 'Catalyst' for Involvement

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The failure of many of the nation's secondary-school students to master basic skills is being increasingly cited as a threat to the future economic growth of the nation. The Center for Public Resources, a New York-based nonprofit organization founded in 1977, sees itself as a "catalyst for mobilizing businesses, schools, and unions" to address that problem.

According to Susan Raymond, the group's vice president for program operations, the center will use a pragmatic and "problem-based" approach to link corporate interests with the search for solutions to public problems.

Under the auspices of its "human resources executive program," the center is focusing on youth employment and the problems that businesses encounter with young employees because of deficiencies in the basic skills. The quality of education in secondary schools is being addressed through the organization's "corporate roles in public education project," a task force of corporate executives and educators.

Supported by foundation grants, the center began by conducting a national survey of corporations that revealed, according to Ms. Raymond, that business executives do not share the views of educators on what constitutes adequacy in the basic skills.

Employers have found that "those who fill entry-level jobs become problems three years later," she said. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company, for example, spent $6 million last year on remedial programs for about 14,000 employees. Much of the training provided by the firm, she said, should have been done in the 9th grade.

Ms. Raymond said business executives and union officials responding to the survey identified skills in speaking, listening, mathematics, and science as the most desirable for employees, while educators listed reading first.

Some programs to address these problems have been initiated with the aid of the private sector, according to Ms. Raymond. But they have tended to be career-oriented, she said, citing the "adopt-a-school" programs as an example.

Businesses would be very interested in remedial programs, according to Ms. Raymond. But there have been few joint efforts in that field, she said, and public-school officials seem unwilling to discuss the possibility of developing cooperative programs.

The center, through its public-education project, in the months ahead will conduct a series of group discussions on public and private efforts to improve basic skills.

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