Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

Reinventing Education

Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

Reinventing Education

Article excerpt

When I was asked to speak at the AVA convention and to turn my speech into a short article, I was flattered. But even more I felt excited about the opportunity to reach directly thousands of people who will be critical to the success of new systems for training America's youth. For me, the goal is to inspire you to move toward new visions of training. For you, I hope the goal is to view yourselves as empowered to build an outstanding school to career system in this country.

The spirit at the AVA conference reflected the mood of educators, training directors, planners, employers and labor representatives. Change is all around us, much taking place from the ground up, with new developments in tech prep, career academies and youth apprenticeship.

Today's critical problem is how to improve job opportunities for the nearly two-thirds of America's young people who do not complete a postsecondary education. The disturbing facts are well known. Wages and labor productivity generally have been stagnant for 15 years. Young men in their late 20s and early 30s with no more than a high school education have seen their real earnings decline and their employment options worsen.

Between 1979 and 1991, the earnings of young men with only a high school diploma dropped by 26 percent. Only the college-educated group managed to escape wage reductions over this period. The result is that the wage gap between college- and high school-educated young men widened from 32 percent in 1978 to 60 percent in 1987. The erosion of earnings of less skilled young men and women not only worsens living standards but may have contributed to such social ills as the decline in marriage rates, the rise of the drug trade and the upsurge of single-parent households.

The most important ingredient needed to fix this problem will be initiative and ingenuity at the state and local community level. Solutions also will require new federal policies, such as President Clinton's recently introduced School-to-Work Opportunities Act.

This legislation does not simply create another program. It is much more ambitious in that it aims to change the mainstream education system that touches nearly all students. The vision of STWOA is the expansion of the role of work-based components, through such approaches as tech prep, career academies and youth apprenticeships.


Economists generally see the main cause of widening earnings gap as the rising demand for skilled labor by employers and the associated rising wages of the college-educated. But this creates a real opportunity for educators. If employers are willingly paying more for workers with more skill and education, then we can increase the proportion of good jobs mainly by raising the quality of education and training absorbed by our young workers and by linking them effectively to careers.

Suppose we found--as scholars did in the mid-1970s--that employers were reducing the premium they were willing to pay for skill. We would infer that employers have little use for high-skilled workers, so there's no reason to make students learn more than what they'd be able to use on the job. So it is fortunate that in today's world employers demand highly skilled workers and that more people can achieve rewarding careers through learning. But why have we been unable to achieve increased levels of ability, especially among the non-college bound? In general, federal initiatives have ignored this group. We have created "second-chance" programs for the most disadvantaged (Job Corps, Job Training Partnership Act and training programs for welfare recipients) and spent tens of billions on college grants and loans.

Public spending for postsecondary education is two and a half times that spent on training young high school graduates.

As researchers and policymakers refocused on the problems of the baccalaureate population, they began to identify several critical problems in our education system. …

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