Measure Would Create Board To Set Work-Readiness Skills
WASHINGTON--House lawmakers last week opened hearings on a bill aimed at making school work more relevant to the job market.
Described by lawmakers as a follow-up to the work of the Secretary of Labor's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, which is expected to issue its final report this month, the legislation's primary aim is the creation of a national panel that would translate work skills into academic curricula.
The bill, HR 4078, also would provide grants to school districts to address workforce needs throughout the K-12 curricula.
"An increasingly important role for schools is to ensure that graduating students have the generic skills necessary to enter the workforce ready to perform,'' said Representative Dale E. Kildee, chairman of the House Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education Subcommittee and sponsor of the bill.
"These generic work skills are tools which all students can use whether they enter the workforce immediately upon graduation from high school or continue on to some form of higher education,'' he said.
Earlier Focus Urged
Witnesses at last week's hearing applauded the bill's intent, noting that educators need guidance on the work skills that students are expected to possess.
They also said that an earlier focus on career choices and work issues should be encouraged in the nation's classrooms.
"If we're going to have systemic change, federal legislation must drive it through the states,'' said Herbert J. Grover, Wisconsin's superintendent of public instruction. He suggested that teeth could be put in the bill by requiring states to develop plans as a condition for receiving grants.
Mr. Grover and other witnesses said a single national board that would define general work skills should be complemented by other national groups that would define skills necessary for particular jobs.
Witnesses said the bill's main objective should be to encourage educators to make workforce preparation a focus of their school's mission.
"I don't want us to lose sight of the fact that employability skills are something that start early. They should not be seen only as the capstone in high school or technical colleges,'' said John Olson, director of vocational-technical instruction in the Genesee Intermediate School District in Flint, Mich. "Another key is getting our teachers to understand that there are different ways of teaching.''
"We are talking about a very major retraining effort,'' added Sue Berryman, director of the Institute on Education and the Economy at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York.
Doug Gould, president of the Mt. Morris (Mich.) Education Association, suggested that the duties of the bill's national board be expanded to include teacher training as well as standards-setting.
Mr. Grover said that the final version of the bill that emerges from the subcommittee should provide the means for widespread change, rather than fostering a handful of pilot programs.
"We don't need state models or federal models either,'' said Mr. Grover, one of several state school chiefs who have made school-to-work issues a high priority. "We need systemic change.''
Republicans on the committee are also at work on a school-to-work bill that may be combined with HR 4078.
Representative Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin said he is working with Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the panel's ranking Republican, on a bill that will be based on a policy statement adopted by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
The C.C.S.S.O. document calls for state and local school-to-work plans to be required under HR 4323, the Neighborhood Schools Improvement Act, which would provide funds to states and school districts to develop and implement reform plans.
The chiefs seek a national set of industry-by-industry work standards set by employers, workers, and educators, who would also design curricula and assessments.
Finally, the chiefs urge a "substantial investment'' in youth apprenticeship, tech-prep, and workforce learning programs.
Subcommittee staff members said that the Republican and Democratic bills could be consolidated this month and that Mr. Kildee plans to offer the final product as an amendment when the panel considers additions to HR 4323.
The Senate has already approved a companion bill to HR 4323, but
aides said no legislation similar to HR 4078 is pending