On Feb. 28, the estimable New York Times reported on one of the seemingly biweekly governors conferences. (Perdue on the phone to Schwarzenegger: “Hey, I’ve never been to Rhode Island either! Let’s go talk about inner city crime!”)
At this particular conference, they were rattling around about No Child Left Behind, or as we call it at my school, Every Child Dragged Along, and the Times reported that the governors said that “business leaders” said that workers were arriving without the appropriate level of skills. The governors responded by deciding to “toughen the standards,” i.e., make the tests harder. Well, thirteen of the governors did. Those big ol’ important states didn’t. But thirteen of the smaller ones did.
Workers without skills? What does that mean?
Let’s assume for a moment that these leaders of business cannot possibly be talking about college grads. And let’s be a little more generous and assume that they are probably not talking about graduates of any of our technical schools.
So what does that leave us? High school graduates? Are we talking about high school kids not having “skills”?
Okay, well, then, I think it’s wonderful that the leaders of our business world are concerned that their workers come to them without a firm knowledge of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, or the Bohr model of the atom, or the difference between a Petrarchan and a Shakespearean sonnet.
What? That’s not it? That’s not what they’re whining about? Oh, skills, not knowledge. I get it. They have an unacceptably large number of high school level workers who cannot read, write, compute, etc. Well, that’s different.
Now I can totally see why the governors would immediately want to make the tests harder.
Are these people actually the leaders of our economic system?
If it were me, I’d be taxing the hell out of business to pay for elementary reading coaches, to pay for a radical restructuring of K-2, to pay for whatever it would take so that every child who is capable would in fact be reading by 3rd grade. But that’s me, liberal that I am.
Last year, I was at the Georgia State STAR Student banquet, where I heard a leader of business actually say, “If we raised the graduation rate in Georgia to [some number I’ve forgotten], it would add an extra [some number in the millions] to our state’s economy.” He said it to a room full of Georgia’s absolute best educators and students, apparently without realizing that all of us were thinking, “So what you’re saying is that it would be worth it to Georgia’s businesses to give us that amount of money to improve schools?”
But, liberal that I am, I don’t think that’s what he was suggesting. I think what he and the governors want is for us to take those students who would have dropped out thirty years ago and, by sitting on them harder, turn them into the 12% who actually graduated, and that’s just the ones that graduated, not the ones who went to college. And then, you see, the profits will just roll in.
Well, not to the schools, but you get the idea.