Bill Murchison
"Industry Puts Heat on Schools to Teach Skills Employers Need," says The Wall Street Journal headline.

Well, duh -- a phrase painfully familiar in the modern American classroom. Skills matter, knowledge matters, rational understanding is consequential to national survival because ...? Duh. It's gotten hard to explain. Fearful of waiting too long for government to lead the struggle, and it is one, for education excellence, American business is taking a hand.

The left hates, or anyway doesn't much approve of, business on account of its penchant for such low-minded things as making a profit: often while oppressing the Workers. Boo and hiss to the men in the striped pants and toppers is the rule-of-thumb position for many in the Obama administration and its extended ideological family.

On the other hand, business attributes -- foresight, energy, a knack for flexibility and creative thinking -- make business an indispensable ally in the quest, such as it is, to restore educational competence and achievement to the country that once thought it had invented them.

According to the Journal, various educational initiatives are going forth under business sponsorship. These aim at the imparting of basic skills to tomorrow's work force, coming up fast as an estimated 2.7 million manufacturing employees pass the 55-year-old mark or marks even higher.

Among partners in the venture are blue-ribbon groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. A vacuum cleaner company in Chicago has, for instance, opened engineering clubs for students at 20 middle schools. Among various objectives of the interventionists, there's the upgrading of course work and requirements at community colleges in order to emphasize the acquisition of technical skills.

Readin', writin' and 'rithmetic continue as essentials, but the requirements of the day -- evidently not well distilled in American secondary school students -- seem to grow exponentially. Test scores show U.S. students fare less well on the tests in question than do Chinese, South Korean, Japanese and German students. That's not to call these foreign students better persons; it is to pronounce them better equipped for the economy of the 21st century. Enter the U.S. business community.

Government at different levels, mostly until recent years the state level, has for a long time shaped the educational product. Government designs the curriculum and defines the expected outcomes. It worked for decades. It doesn't work now -- not to the extent it once did.

This we might have foretold. Government doesn't think on its feet. Government is slow, creaky and resistant to quick change. Old ways of doing things grow encrustations that would take work to knock off. Government workers -- in the present case, teachers and principals -- acquire vested rights and interests and the jealousies that go with them. Improve things? What do you mean? Prove first the need to improve. Such is the government way. Oh -- and the spending of regularly increased sums of money to protect the old ways of doing things: that, too, is the government way.

As quick on its feet as government is slow, business constantly appraises its operations and methods. It must. If not, some competitor or other will arise to knock the slothful and somnolent off-balance -- to take away their business, that is. This understanding of the need for vigilance is what strongly commends business to the task of helping government plug educational holes and clean up messes.

Business wants to know what works at the right price. Which is what makes its educational agenda potentially transformative as it takes shape. Innovate, hold people accountable, demand performance, set goals and make sure they get met -- business methods of this sort can point the way to recovery of public education in America, away from control by government and the teachers unions.

American education needs transformation. Transformation is what business is about -- for better or worse. Liberal prejudices concerning government "efficiency" need replacement, which is where business comes in with new ideas and jump-starts. About time somebody did.


Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
 
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