Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Consortia Provide Pathways for Restructuring Education

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Consortia Provide Pathways for Restructuring Education

Article excerpt

There is universal agreement among all sectors of American society that improving education and training is essential if the U.S. is to remain competitive in global markets in the 1990s and beyond. Yet there is little doubt that progress toward that national objective is discouragingly slow.

Most improvement efforts have been largely focused on modifying the present system, but they simply aren't working. What is needed is a restructuring through new directions in organization and technology. Such an effort is only affordable and achievable on a timely basis through an unprecedented degree of collaboration, both nationally and internationally, to gain a consensus on the approach and to better utilize existing resources to implement it.

To respond to these challenges, two broadly-based collaborative programs for improving educational formed Schools Consortium (TSC) and the Technology-Based Engineering Education Consortium (TBEEC). Both have been established under the aegis of the William C. Norris Institute.

Adverse Trends, Serious Problems

Both programs take into account adverse trends and problems. One of the most serious is the seemingly inexorable rise in the cost of education. Public school expenditures have increased 40% during the past five years and undergraduate education costs continue to move up as well.

Yet increased spending has not been matched by productivity improvements in our schools. According to a Hudson Institute paper, the education sector's labor costs are 93% of output, compared with 54% for the average U.S. business. Further, education's poor productivity is directly linked to a lack of investment in technology. [1]

Where changes succeeded in improving education, they have most helped those students who need them the least, the better achievers. There is scant evidence that minorities, who are most in need, have benefited. In fact, the educational gap is widening between the have's and the have-not's. The greater challenge is certainly with the disadvantaged but we can't afford to waste the potential of the best students either, which our present system is doing, thus giving us the worst of both worlds.

High dropout rates continue. In our largest cities, they range between 40-60%. Dropouts and those who graduate without having mastered basic skills continue to feed the enormous pool of functionally and marginally illiterate. One dimension of this appalling problem is the 23 million workers who presently read at an eighth-grade level or less. Equally alarming are the results of national tests which, year after year, show an overall poor performance in mathematics by students.

Consequently, our educational system continues to be a major contributor to the steady decline in the ability of our work force to routinely apply basic notions of math and science. This comes at a time when more and more jobs demand greater technical skills. This proportion will not doubt increase by the end of the 90s because a majority of new jobs will require some post-secondary education.

Demographic shifts are compounding the difficulty of closing the skills gap. By the year 2000, non-whites, new entrants into the work force, contrasted to about 50% today. Traditionally, people from those groups are often the most disadvantaged with lower skills.

This growing shortage of workers with required skills is an especially heavy burden on small businesses that, unlike large firms, cannot afford training to close skills gaps. Yet small businesses currently provide more than half of the private sector jobs and two-thirds of all new jobs each year.

There are other adverse trends and problems. Like the ones already reviewed, most are not new. They've been discussed for more than seven years. Unfortunately, little progress has been made. This is discouraging, to say the least, considering myriad recommendations emanating from studies by highly competent commissions and task forces, and the enormous amount of attention focused on the need for constructive nationwide change by teachers, school boards, students, parents, state and local governments, businesses, foundations and others. …

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