Sunday, March 27, 2011

Linking Jobs and Education . . . and Cork Harvesting

As a prelude to a hearing days later, an OD guest editorial "Local Innovation Key to Region's Economic Recovery" authored by Congressmen John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Richard Hanna, a member of that committee, links jobs creation with higher education. The editorial presents the well known facts that people who are educated (1) generally have greater incomes and (2) are more likely to be employed -- implying that education will trigger job growth. . . .  But is that implication true?

Portugal illustrates the relationship between education and jobs. With an economy based on harvesting cork and stitching shoes, few bothered to go to school, resulting in only 28% of the people completing high-school. With its people too uneducated and too specialized to adapt to a changing world, new jobs bypassed the country. Now the country can't pay its bills and needs a bailout.  (See WSJ: A Nation of Dropouts Shakes Europe).

The Greater Utica area and the US are not Portugal . . . yet. The US high school completion rate is 89% -- about 80% in Oneida County.  In Greater Utica the jobs are not staying away because of an uneducated population. Rather, the educated population is leaving because the jobs are not here. Ask any student.  They will tell you -- as they did at last Monday's SUNYIT forum "Our Community, Our Future."

Our computers get repaired by techs in India and our MRIs sometimes get read by experts there. We are not losing only low skilled jobs, but also highly skilled jobs that require a good education.  With jobs of all education levels moving to other states or being exported,  local and US joblessness are issues of State and National policies - NOT education.   

Two divergent views on education and jobs were heard at last Tuesday's hearing.  Government officials and academics want the education system tooled for turning out workers for specific industry clusters. However, John Bay, someone who actually does hiring for a local business said:
. . . that for his business, he prefers graduates whose educations encompassed a broad interest in science, math and technology instead of targeted training for one job.
“Our problems are open-ended,” Bay said. “We have graduates who are solving problems that have never been solved before.”
Government bureaucrats govern and academics transmit knowledge; they do not know how to create jobs.  At best, they can only try to plan for jobs based on their current knowledge -- but no one knows what the next big need or opportunity will be.  That's why centralized government planning fails.   The businessman has it right.  Our students need a solid education foundation to be able to adapt to change -- whatever the change is -- to solve problems that have never been solved before.

Wedding our education system to specialties risks us turning into Portugal. The cybersecurity and aircraft maintenance of today may turn into tomorrow's cork harvesting and shoe stitching.

Lastly, should education even be a Federal Issue?  

Laurie Rogers alluded to this in an article about Spokane's math curriculum posted on Education this past week.
After more than 20 years of absolute commitment to a “reform” approach to K-12 mathematics, our nation has a serious math problem. Students suffer from high remediation rates in math in college, low pass rates on state math tests, low levels of math skills, high student anxiety toward mathematics, and high dropout rates.
It's actually more like 40 years... and the same thing can be said about other disciplines. (Read City Journal, What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness about our problem with English).  Federal dollars have completely changed the face of education with the pursuit of money substituting for the pursuit of student competencies.  Local decision making became distorted by the money. Every academic seems to have a new theory to try and gets a grant for doing it.We have breakfast and lunch programs, socialization programs, and government intrusion into private lives. Schools have become laboratories and push everything but knowledge. Now, after breaking the education system, the Federal government wants to push a national core curriculum.

The country did well without Federal involvement in education. The system was responsive to parental and local community needs.  Once the Federal government became involved, we have been in decline ever since. 

The real role of the Federal government in education policy should be to leave it to the states.


Anonymous said...

A very accurate assesment. Centralized planning has never worked well for any sector. It has failed miserably in government. As in other areas of our society, the farther away the government control layer, the weaker the local resonsibilty, interest and productivity. The political panacea of "job training" borders on the farce. We have been spending millions per year just in our area on governemnt training program after program. If anything, our workforce ought to be overtrained. The only training that actually works is corporate controlled and executed training.

Raleigh said...

For another take see Krugman:

Krugman wrote a good article until the very end -- kind of builds you up to some thoughtful conclusion, but then just fizzles. Still, the beginning echos what Strikeslip says.