Ill-Prepared Grads: Dispute Over Who's to Blame

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WASHINGTON--Although a majority of educators believe that high-school graduates are well prepared for entry-level jobs, most business leaders do not, according to a report issued by the Education, Labor, and Commerce Departments.

The study, conducted for the three departments by the National Alliance of Business, found a "basic-skills gap'' between the needs of business and the qualifications of entry-level workers as they emerge from the schools.

A roundtable discussion of the report, held here last month, revealed sharp differences between educators and business leaders over the nature and causes of the supposed skills gap.

William H. Kolberg, president of the NAB, pointed to the study's conclusion that most educators perceive the skills gap as being less severe than business leaders do. Lee Thornton, correspondent for Nation's Business Today, questioned how educators could doubt that a skills gap exists "when business is spending $250 million a year to train workers in reading, writing, and arithmetic.''

But Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, countered that "I can't believe that schools don't know that students need to learn to read, count, and think.''

"To locate the problem as a lack of communication between the business community and the schools dismisses the point,'' Mr. Shanker said.

Mr. Shanker also criticized the report's proposals for closing the skills gap.

The report called for increased accountability in the schools, recruitment of and rewards for good teachers, and expansion of business involvement in education.

"It is rather surprising that such a bland set of remedies is proposed here,'' said Mr. Shanker. "It sounds like more of the same.''

Instead, the "same radical restructuring that is occurring in business'' is needed in schools, Mr. Shanker argued. He called for sustained business and community support "so that schools are protected beyond political cycles.''

Free copies of the report, entitled "Building a Quality Workforce,'' may be obtained from the Office of Public Information, Employment and Training Administration, Labor Department, Room S-2307, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210. --RRW

Vol. 07, Issue 39 Extra Edition

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