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11 States Sign On to 'High Skills' Consortium

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Washington

Nearly a dozen states have pledged to revamp their education, training, and labor-market systems to help create the highly skilled workforce called for in an influential 1990 report.

The National Center on Education and the Economy, the nonprofit group that produced "America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages," announced last week that it will use more than $3 million in funding from private foundations to form a consortium of those states.

Members of the High-Skills State Consortium will pursue, over the next five to 10 years, the five major recommendations in "America's Choice":

  • Requiring that all students earn a certificate of initial mastery, based on high standards, at about age 16;
  • Creating alternative routes for dropouts to attain the certificate;
  • Building occupational-skills standards and a school-to-work system to help youths meet them;
  • Devising incentives for employers to create businesses that use skilled workers and advanced production methods; and
  • Creating an efficient labor-market system that meets the needs of workers. (See Education Week, June 20, 1990.)

Marc S. Tucker, the president of the Rochester, N.Y.-based center, said he formed the consortium because much of the framework outlined in "America's Choice" is in place at the federal level. This includes creation of a national skills-standards board, passage of the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, and moves to consolidate federal job-training programs.

"The policy framework within which the states have to work is now much friendlier than it was," Mr. Tucker said. But he added that it is up to the states to seize the initiative.

Leading State Efforts

As a first step, the center has produced a report, "Building a System To Invest in People: States on the Cutting Edge," that lays out what a dozen states have done to create comprehensive systems for developing their workforces.

Seven states--Kentucky, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont--have joined the consortium. Another four--Iowa, Massachusetts, Washington State, and West Virginia--are in the planning stages.

Representatives from all 11 were scheduled to gather in Washington last week for their first meeting.

A 'World Class' System

The center plans to provide members with an information clearinghouse, feedback on what they are doing, model legislation, and chances to see what other countries are doing.

It is also seeking money to form a group of outside partners who could provide technical assistance to the sites, much as it has done with its National Alliance for Restructuring Education. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1995.)

"The point of all this, ultimately, is to build a world-class education, training, and labor-market system in each of these states," said Mr. Tucker, "and, in doing that, to provide enough good examples so that other states will do likewise."

But he acknowledged last week that some of the recommendations from the 1990 report have stalled.

The New Standards Project, a consortium of 17 states and six urban school districts, is drafting the standards that could form the basis for awarding a certificate of initial mastery. Seven states have adopted the C.I.M. idea as policy.

But there has been little interest at the state or federal level in requiring communities to provide alternative routes to the certificate for dropouts. And employers remain resistant to the idea of a government tax to support training for workers.

Creation of the certificate will be foremost on the consortium's agenda, Mr. Tucker said.

Among the organizations providing funds are the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Copies of the new report, "Building a System To Invest in People," are available for $16.95 each, including postage and handling, from the N.C.E. E., Publications Department, 39 State St., Suite 500, Rochester, N.Y. 14614-1327.

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