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Education and the Economy

By Walt Gardner — July 23, 2012 1 min read
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Corporate America complains that it has to hire workers from abroad because it can’t find enough qualified employees domestically. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, multinational corporations increased hiring overseas during the 2000s by 2.4 million, while reducing their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million. They blame public schools for their action. But I don’t buy their explanation.

The reason corporations do so is that the cost of labor overseas is cheaper than it is here. It’s also because of the generous tax credit allowed for moving operations to foreign shores. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that ending the deduction would raise $168 million over a decade (“Senate to Consider Tax Credit for Bringing Jobs to U.S.” Bloomberg, Jul. 18). I wonder what effect abolishing the tax credit would have had in 2009 when companies cut 5.3 percent of their workers in the U.S. and only 1.5 percent of those overseas (“Big U.S. Firms Shift Hiring Abroad,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr.19, 2011).

The point is that education has little to do with corporate hiring practices. Consider productivity and quality. Productivity is at an all-time high. America’s manufacturing output in 2009 was $2.15 trillion, which surpassed China’s output of $1.48 trillion by almost 46 percent (“Made in the USA,” The Boston Globe, Feb. 6, 2011). The quality of goods we produce has also dramatically increased. Ford, for example, now ranks with the top foreign nameplates in this category.

If public schools are failing to turn out workers with the skills and knowledge that corporations claim they desperately need, then how do they explain these results? As Lawrence Mishel and Richard Rothstein wrote: The singular obsession with schools deflects political attention away from policy failures in those other realms” (“Schools as Scapegoats,” The American Prospect, Oct. 12, 2007). They were referring to the honesty of capital markets, the accountability of corporations, fiscal policy and currency management, among others.

I’m not defending the appalling number of schools that are consistently underperforming. But almost all of these dropout factories are located in the inner cities and rural parts of the country where poverty is rampant. The trouble is that the media prefer focusing on these schools rather than on the thousands of other schools that are succeeding.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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