Citing Link to Economy, School Chiefs Plan Study of ‘At Risk’ Students’ Needs

By Bill Montague — October 01, 1986 5 min read

After a year of research into the link between education and economic development, the nation’s chief state school officers will now turn their attention to a closely related topic- the needs of at-risk students.

Speaking here last week to a study commission of the Council of Chief State School Officers, the council’s president-elect, David W. Hornbeck, outlined an agenda for examining the needs of poor, minority, and I other disadvantaged students.

''When we ask what group of students in the common schools have we done least well by, indeed we see that we have failed to meet the needs of minority students,” said Mr. Hornbeck, the Maryland superintendent of schools.

convention in November, Mr. Hornbeck said, he will ask them to formally direct the commission to begin working on the topic.

The panel, which is composed of deputy and assistant chiefs from 57 states and territories, convened to draft a set of specific recommendations on economic development for the chiefs to consider next month.

In his remarks, Mr. Hornbeck stressed that the issue of at-risk students is closely linked to the issue of economic growth at the state and national levels.

The problems of those students, he explained, will increasingly affect the ability of schools to fuel growth in their communities and states. Because the number of graduating students entering the work-force is expected to fall sharply over the next 15 years, some demographers predict that employers will hire increasing numbers of at-risk youths.

Mr. Hornbeck took note of widely publicized predictions that the pro- I portion of students who come from poor, minority, and non-English speaking households will climb steadily over the next 15 years.

The number of young people living below the poverty line has already grown by at least 16 percent since 1970, Mr. Hornbeck said. He blamed that trend for increases in infant-mortality rates, criminal behavior, and teen-age pregnancy.

“Each of us should have the facts about these trends on the tips of our tongues,” he said, “for these are the issues of at-risk youth.”

Year-Long Study

For the past year, the commission has been studying a variety of education- related economic issues, such as the training needs of small businesses, the impact of technology on the labor market, and the role of state education officials in developing strategies to attract new industries and support existing ones.

Each state’s education and economic- development agencies must “clearly outline and understand what the state’s economic status is and what the strategy is for improvement,” said the commission’s president, Robert J. Maurer, executive deputy commissioner in the New York Department of Education.

While expressing a general desire to prepare students for future economic changes, however, several panel members said they were not sure how educators could best contribute to that goal.

A commission survey of state education officials, released at the conference, indicated that many educators believe they should concentrate on such fundamentals of schooling as developing literacy, mathematical skills and good study and work habits.

Other respondents stressed the need to increase cooperation between state agencies, to foster closer economic ties between local school districts, and to strengthen and modernize vocational education.

Existing Industries Key

In the short term, educators would do well to focus on the needs of existing industries, instead of pursuing ambitious dreams of becoming the next Silicon Valley, argued Anthony P. Carnevale, an economist with the American Society for Training and Development.

Although high-technology production jobs, such as those in computer manufacturing, now account for 10 percent of the workforce, they are not expected to increase significantly, Mr. Carnevale said.

“Your next set of jobs are most likely to come from that [existing] industrial base and not from industry that is drawn from outside,” he said.

Over the long run, however, technology and foreign competition will lead to a major restructuring of the economy, Mr. Carnevale and other speakers warned.

As a result, they said, the existing need for adult-retraining programs will grow even more acute, with public schools increasingly seen as a major resource for those efforts.

While the economic transformation will create numerous new jobs in the service sector, the most attractive of those opportunities will probably not be available to the employees who are dislocated, Mr. Carnevale said. Between 3 percent and 5 percent of those workers, he predicted, will “disappear from the economy” and never work again.

For educators, the shape of the future workforce has emerged as perhaps the key issue in the debate over economic development.

In that respect, Mr. Carnevale struck a fairly optimistic note. The growth of jobs in the service sector, he said, will generally require students with higher skill levels, while demographic changes will make it easier for graduates to find promising entry-level jobs.

“For you, the changing economy is a happy problem, one I think you can make a fairly positive contribution to resolving,” he said.

‘Proactive’ Approach

Other experts sounded a more cautious note. Russell Rumberger, a research associate at Stanford University, warned that the introduction of new technologies is unlikely to create a vast new market for skilled labor.

The huge number of existing low-skill jobs, such as janitorial and retail- sales positions, will probably continue to dominate the labor market for years to come, he said, despite the relative growth in such fields as computer programming and electrical engineering.

The key unanswered question, and the one with the most direct relevance to educators, Mr. Rumberger said, is the impact of computer technology on many existing intermediate- skill jobs, such a clerical positions.

“Micro-circuitry can be used in either of two ways,” he explained. “It can be used to automate the process or to increase worker control over the process-to deskill the worker or to upgrade skills.”

Ultimately, Mr. Rumberger said, the direction will be determined by the choices employers make about how they use technology. To influence those choices, educators should take a “proactive, not a reactive” approach to technology, he urged.

Basic education, he said, should leave students with well-developed critical-reasoning skills, intellectual flexibility, and an interdisciplinary understanding of modern science--characteristics that would enable employers to increase rather than decrease worker autonomy.

“You have to teach students to do much more than just adapt to the workplace,” Mr. Rumberger argued. “The curriculum should be designed to educate students in action, not adaptation.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 1986 edition of Education Week as Citing Link to Economy, School Chiefs Plan Study of ‘At Risk’ Students’ Needs