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Manufacturers Endorse National Tests, Vouchers

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A leading business organization last week endorsed national tests, charter schools, and school vouchers as ways to improve the skills of high school graduates entering the workforce.

Those ideas are listed among six "policy prescriptions" in "Education and Training for America's Future," a report released by the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers.

The report says the capabilities of high school students are not keeping up with the skills requirements of manufacturers. Forty percent of all 17-year-olds do not have the math skills and 60 percent of 17-year-olds do not have the reading skills to hold down a production job at a manufacturing company, the report says.

Dennis Kessler, a co-president of Fel-Pro Inc., a Skokie, Ill.-based company that makes gaskets, said he can attest to the skills shortfall. "When we advertise for an entry-level punch-press job, we get 100 applicants. When we go through screening, only about three or four are qualified," he said in an interview.

The manufacturers' association, which represents 14,000 companies, called for "rigorous and meaningful" testing of students that can be compared on a state-by-state basis.

"A lot of school districts are able to escape responsibility for their inadequacies in education because in part there is no good way to measure achievement across district or state lines," said David Shapiro, the executive director of the Manufacturing Institute, the educational and research affiliate of the association. The body of the report was written by Anthony P. Carnevale, the vice president for public leadership of the Educational Testing Service.

The other policy prescriptions cited in the report include a national system of skills standards designed by industry, tax incentives to support education and training investments by businesses, consolidation of existing federal training programs, and a commitment by employers and employees to lifelong learning.

For a copy of the report, call the association at (202) 637-3088.

--MARY ANN ZEHR

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