Text of Report's Executive Summary
It is a national tragedy that despite the existence of many excellent schools, there are classrooms and even entire schools in which students are being prepared not for success in later life, but for failure.
This year alone, more than 700,000 young people will drop out of the system without completing high school. Thousands will 'graduate' from high school without the basic literacy necessary to fill out a job application or read an instruction manual. Many children will go from kindergarten through high school without ever having been taught to speak English correctly, an essential for success in employment or higher education. Many leave school without having been taught in a disciplined environment, without having learned to take responsibility for a task assigned to them, without having learned to work cooperatively with others.
For these young people, the schools represent personal failure and frustration. This is not only an economic tragedy; it is a human tragedy of dire dimensions. Our nation cannot and must not continue to bear the cost of educational failure.
In contrast, there are many good and excellent schools in which young people are being ably prepared for future success. In these classrooms, dedicated and highly qualified teachers--most of them working long hours for salaries far below what they would earn in private sector jobs--are delivering quality education. Research has shown what makes these schools effective. The national challenge is to make a systematic commitment to improving those schools that do not measure up. By applying what we already know in every classroom in every school and by making innovative and efficient use of society's resources, every child can have the chance to learn, to grow, to realize his or her full potential. ...
Ours is a different perspective from that of many of the previous studies. It recognizes that the United States does not have one school system, but 16,000 independent school districts and 84,000 individual schools. Our recommendations are grounded in the belief that reform is most needed where learning takes place--in the individual school, in the classroom, and in the interaction between teacher and student. As businesses worldwide have learned, problems can best be solved at the lowest possible level of operation. While structures are needed, bureaucracies tend to focus on rules and regulations rather than results, thus stifling initiative. Therefore, we believe that school governance should be retained at the local level, and not be supplanted by statewide boards of education or national dictates. However, states should set standards and provide the guidance and support to local schools that are necessary for meeting these standards.
The survey of employers conducted for this study clearly indicates that business will hire young people who are reliable and disciplined, who have responsible attitudes toward work, who can read, write, and communicate, who can handle basic mathematics, and who can solve problems. Business needs people who have learned how to learn.
Schools should demand higher standards of behavior from their students, and they should institute policies and practices that encourage students to develop such positive traits as self-discipline, reliability, and perseverance. Improving this "invisible curriculum" should be as important as upgrading instruction in basic academic skills.
Literacy and the Basic Curriculum
Mastery of the English language should be required of all students. Bilingual education may be necessary in some schools, but only if a solid grounding in English is the end result. Students who leave high school without true fluency in basic English are in most cases severely handicapped in the workplace or in further education.
Nor can mathematics and the sciences be ignored in the pursuit of literacy, especially in a technological world which requires the problem-solving skills and mental discipline that mathematics and science provide.
The development of solid basic academic skills is the primary mission of the schools. But we do not believe that such extracurricular activities as athletics, music, drama, school newspapers, or student government should be eliminated. These nonacademic activities have intrinsic value and contribute to the skills, discipline, and creativity that can help students live richer and more productive lives.
Attempts to measure the effectiveness of schools from place to place or time to time are frustrated by the lack of adequate and consistent testing of students. We support regular, periodic testing of basic skills and more frequent testing to demonstrate retention of course content and information.
We believe that successful reform requires a strong effort to confront the special educational needs of the lowest achieving students--those whose family and economic backgrounds can hinder learning and who are likely to drop out before finishing high school.
Many children from low-income, disadvantaged homes enter school so far behind their peers that, without preventive action, success for them is almost impossible. Research has shown that providing high-quality preschool programs for disadvantaged children dramatically increases their educational performance throughout their lives. We recommend that all school systems provide such programs for their disadvantaged preschoolers.
Special attention should also be devoted to improving the educational performance of low achievers both in high school and in junior high school--where potential dropouts can usually be identified. We must find ways to maintain the progress made in reading and mathematics in the elementary school throughout the junior high school years. For low-achieving high school students, one way that has been shown to be effective for improving learning is through programs that combine school and work.
The teenagers and young adults who have left school and who lack the fundamental attitudes, behavior patterns, and academic skills to get and keep a job present a special problem to themselves and society.
For these dropouts, the Job Corps Program has been shown to be a cost-effective means of improving future job prospects. The cost of this residential academic and vocational program is high on a per pupil basis, but the program is virtually cost free in the long run, considering the benefits of reduced welfare payments, reduced criminal activities, and higher tax contributions of the participants. We urge federal, state, and local authorities to continue to fund Job Corps programs in areas where there is a high dropout rate.
Many "vocational education" programs are almost worthless. They are a cruel hoax on young people looking to acquire marketable skills. So many different and, in many cases, unproductive programs in our public schools have been called "vocational education" that most existing programs need to be disbanded and reshaped. Vocational education should ensure that students are learning skills that relate to the real needs of the job market.
Before students are allowed to enter vocational programs, they should be required to demonstrate sufficient grounding in academic skills. Instruction in academics should be an important part of all vocational education.
Reform in this area is critical because, with some notable exceptions, most graduates of today's vocational education programs are not only so unprepared for specific occupations, they are also unprepared in terms of self-discipline, work habits, and fundamental academics that they are virtually unemployable.
Improving the Teacher Work Force
Right now too many students entering college programs leading to teaching careers are among the lowest achieving graduates of U.S. high schools. We are preparing our poorest students to be our future teachers, and this situation must be changed. We recommend nothing less than a revolution in the role of the teacher and the management of schools in order to upgrade the quality and professionalism of the U.S. teacher work force.
We recommend that both entry-level and career salaries be increased in order to attract high-quality individuals into teaching. Financial rewards should be provided for outstanding teaching performance, and career ladders should be developed to attract and retain high-quality teachers.
But raising salaries alone is not enough. If we attract quality individuals into our schools only to see them leave in a few years because of poor working conditions and bad management, we will have gained nothing. The working conditions and evaluation procedures for teachers must be improved and made more professional. School systems should devote more resources to adopting modern management techniques and to improving the management capabilities of school administrators. Teachers should have more opportunity to contribute to decision making in the schools.
Finally, improving the preparation of prospective teachers is essential to the future of the profession. Candidates for teacher education programs should be required to meet rigorous and highly selective entrance standards, and prospective teachers should be required to complete an undergraduate degree with a major area of study other than education.
The Role of Business
Business has a major stake and a major role to play in the improvement of our public schools. Better schools can mean better and more productive employees and a boost toward restoring the nation's international competitiveness.
There are many things business can do to improve public education. Among them are:
- Working with local districts to define goals for business involvement based on mutual needs.
- Engaging in local business-school partnership programs utilizing proven techniques.
- Encouraging employees to serve on local school boards and providing flexibility in working hours to make this possible.
- Permitting working parents and other employees to participate in local school activities.
- Providing qualified volunteer help to assist the local school administration with training in modern management and administrative methods.
- Helping redirect vocational education programs to provide students with strong academic and real job-related skills.
While much of what is known about how to make schools effective is not being applied, there is also an appalling lack of thorough and coordinated research on how to improve the public schools. Well-designed education research and data collection are critical for improving quality and productivity in public education, and we believe the federal government is the only institution properly structured to define, conduct, and disseminate the results of such research.
Many of the reforms we support can be achieved through better allocation of existing resources. For example, we need to spend more on instruction and less on bureaucracy and administration. Much can be achieved through greater creativity, innovation, productivity, and a strong commitment to improvement. But reforms such as increased teacher salaries, more preschool education, and additional research will require more money.
Business can play an important role in encouraging and supporting the initiatives to increase funding for the public schools where it is needed.
We have an obligation to coming generations to make the best possible schools available to them, and to help all students from all backgrounds prepare for the future. We believe that the strategies and policies we recommend in this statement will go far toward fulfilling that obligation. But precisely because improving education will be a long-term process, it is critically important that we begin to act now. Urgent efforts are needed to increase employability, develop education investment strategies that have high payoffs, revitalize the teaching profession, and establish strong and enduring partnerships between business and the public schools.
Business derives many benefits from quality public education, and it also has a great deal to contribute. A firm and ongoing commitment to excellence in education by America's business community is a goal that is being welcomed by the schools and the public. As employers, taxpayers, and responsible community members, business can regard an investment in our children as one that will yield a handsome return.
See also: Ten Imperatives for the Schools.
Vol. 05, Issue 02, Page 17