The Blame Game

It’s been said many times, in many different ways, for many years: “Kids today just can’t do the job.”

But complaints by employers and economists have taken on a new urgency with reports that the United States is falling behind, jobs are being outsourced to developing countries, and our standard of living is heading south.

Schools are under increased pressure to prop up the country’s economic future. They must prepare students to work in a global economy -- even though nobody quite knows what it will demand -- while teaching them to think critically, communicate well, and have common sense.

Business leaders and educators often take opposite approaches to school reform, but there’s little doubt that these outside groups are determined to have a voice in what’s being taught. Frustrating as it might be, educators need to court these critics, showing them the work that schools perform each day, to move past the blame game.

“The superintendent almost always needs the local business leaders -- these two groups are natural allies in the development of human capital,” says Jamie Vollmer, an educational consultant and speaker. “The trick is getting them to work together.”

Businesses are in a better position to understand the challenges new workers will face, said Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy. “It’s important for businesses to help students gain experience,” Tucker says, “because a lot of young people don’t have an idea of what’s out there and what’s expected of them, other than at the fast-food place.”

But if a businessman or group complains about the quality of the K-12 education system, they should have an obli-gation to build constructive relationships with their local schools and work together on solutions, says Kevin Carey, the research and policy manager for Education Sector, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

“It’s easy to just criticize,” Carey says. “On the other hand, every business has a high school nearby, and high school education is hard, difficult work -- probably harder work than businesses understand.”

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