Sciences Group Asks Core Curriculum For All Students

By Susan G. Foster — May 30, 1984 4 min read

Washington--A panel of business executives, labor leaders, and educators has concluded in a report released here last week that the primary responsibility of the high schools is to provide students with a set of “core competencies” and that everything else--regardless of their perceived benefits--"must come second.”

Convened by the National Academy of Sciences, the 20-member panel examined the educational needs of all high-school graduates, particularly those who do not plan to go to college, and attempted to define the educational competencies most employers consider essential for an “effective, upwardly mobile, lifelong participation in the American workforce.”

The panel’s work was funded by the Academy-Industry Program and a consortium of foundations that included the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

In its report, “High Schools and the Changing Workplace: The Employers’ View,” the panel concluded that “the major asset” required by employers is “the ability to learn and to adapt to changes in the workplace.” The panel acknowledged the effects of high technology on the workforce, but took the view that advanced technology will require “different” and even “lesser skills” workers.

Core Competencies

In order to meet employers’ expectations, the panel recommended that the core competencies for high-school graduates include the ability to read, write, reason, and compute; an understanding of American social and economic life; knowledge of the basic principles of the physical and biological sciences; experience with cooperation and conflict resolution in groups; and possession of attitudes and personal habits that make for a dependable, responsible, adaptable, and informed worker and citizen.

Although the panel acknowledged that “technical education, vocational training, and curricula providing specific job skills can enhance a student’s employability,” it asserted that such programs “cannot substitute for education in the core competencies.”

Richard E. Heckert, vice chairman and chief operating officer for E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, said in an interview last week that the panel did not consider skills-training programs inappropriate in the high schools as long as they are taught in addition to programs that offer students core competencies, and are “truly useful in business today.”

“We’ve got nothing against vocational education; you can learn a lot in some vocational-education courses,” added Mr. Heckert, who served as the panel’s chairman. “But what we said was that the core competencies come first.”

Conclusions Supported

The report is based on a series of discussions by the panel members4over an eight-month period and, according to Mr. Heckert, reflects the diverse experience of each of the panel’s members. He said the panel’s conclusions were generally supported by papers commissioned for its study, several existing surveys of employers’ needs, and presentations by experts.

Mr. Heckert said the panel’s report is significant because it addresses the educational needs of all high-school graduates and not just the college-bound students.

“We take a dim view of the two- and three-track system,” Mr. Heckert said. The panel, he added, believed that the schools should “give all [students] a good general education. If you really have command of the basics, you’re qualified to go on to college anywhere.”

In the report, the panel members noted that from the employer’s perspective, “too many graduates leave high school without an adequate command” of the basic competencies. Although the panel does not attempt to identify the cause of the problem, the report argues that the responsibility for improving the quality of high-school graduates must be shared by parents, students, school boards, legislators, governmental administrators, and the community.

The panel explained that employers can assist the schools to meet higher standards by lending financial and political support. But the exact form of a business and education partnership can best be determined at the local level, according to the panel’s report.

About 30,000 copies of the report are being distributed to state and local policymakers by the National Academy of Sciences.

Other panel members included:

John T. Casteen 3rd, Virginia’s secretary of education; Loretta Cornelius, deputy director, U.S. Office of Personnel Management; William J. Dennis Jr., director of research, National Federation of Independent Business; Rosalyn Franta, vice president, Kellogg Company; Ronald Kutscher, associate commissioner, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Henry M. Levin, director, Institute for Research on Educational Finance and Governance, Stanford University; Aubrey C. Lewis, corporate vice president, F.W. Woolworth Company; Sherman McCoy, deputy executive director and chief operating officer, District of Columbia General Hospital; Richard H. Neumann, deputy manager of personnel, Bechtel Group Inc.; Margaret A. Roberts, director, research planning and services office, Ford Motor Company; Markley Roberts, economist, afl-cio; Fred S. Rodriguez, assistant group manager of human resources, Hughes Aircraft Company; Frederick A. Roesch, senior vice president for personnel, Citibank, N.A.; G. Thomas Sicilia, U.S. Defense Department; William P. Steinberger, vice president, vocational education services, Control Data Corporation; Mary L. Tenopyr, human resources division manager, American Telephone and Telegraph Company; David C. Thomas, chairman of the management committee and director of member services, Milk Marketing Inc.; Rita Walters, Los Angeles Board of Education; and Charles Wilson, superintendent, New York Community School District 2.

A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 1984 edition of Education Week as Sciences Group Asks Core Curriculum For All Students