Manufacturers Endorse Vouchers, Education IRAs

Published March 1, 1998

The K-12 classroom must be recognized as “the front line in global economic competition,” according to a new study from the National Association of Manufacturers.

The study reports that more than 40 percent of all 17-year-olds can’t compute well enough, and more than 60 percent can’t read well enough, to perform a $33,000-a-year production job in a modern auto plant. Today’s employers must hire college graduates to get skills that should have been learned in high school.

School vouchers, charter schools, public school choice, and K-12 education savings accounts are endorsed by NAM’s educational and research affiliate, the Manufacturing Institute, as the first of six policy prescriptions that would ensure that workers develop the skills needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century economy. The manufacturers’ endorsement of competition in education to improve workforce development echoes a similar call in the recent Hudson Institute report Workforce 2020. (See “Education Must Improve for 2020 Workforce Success,” School Reform News, June 1997.)

“Businesses understand that choice and competition improve performance,” notes NAM President Jerry J. Jasinowski in his foreword to the report, Education and Training for America’s Future. “The growing wave of charter schools and public schools of choice is proving the value of competition in strengthening school performance and student learning.”

While identifying choice, accountability, investment, and cooperation as the hallmarks of the report’s policy prescriptions, Jasinowski also acknowledges that the prescriptions require government, business, and individual employees to “break out of traditional modes of thought.”

The report’s author, Anthony P. Carnevale, is vice-president for public leadership of the Educational Testing Service. He notes in the report that businesses can provide the leadership needed for approaching education in new ways. “Businesses are the only institutions in the educational reform process that don’t have any baggage,” he says. “They have a pure interest in being able to make these comparisons.”

Among Carnevale’s recommendations is a call for national educational standards, which are needed, he contends, because there is no common test that allows for comparability across state lines. Also, state-level proficiency standards are often significantly lower than the proficiency standards established in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Although Carnevale sees a role for the federal government in helping states and local school districts establish standards, he has few illusions about the 163 federal education, employment, and training programs currently administered by 15 agencies. Only one program–the Jobs Corps–appears to have a positive impact, he notes, but even then the gain is marginal and expensive, with only a $1,600 per year salary gain after four-year Job Corps training costs of $65,600.

“Those looking for support for a major new federal initiative to solve the country’s education and training problems will have to look elsewhere than this study,” notes Jasinowski.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

The Manufacturing Institute’s report, “Education and Training for America’s Future,” by Anthony P. Carnevale, is available from the Manufacturing Institute, 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW #600, Washington, DC 20004-1790, phone 202/637-3107.