Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
May 6, 2001
Education and Training Aren't the Same


by: F.R. Duplantier

"The mantra of the day in education reform is high academic standards with accountability."

"Throughout the past three decades, elementary and secondary education students have been exposed to a sea of educational fads, from new math and whole language to outcome-based education and cooperative learning," comments education policy consultant Virginia Miller. "As post-secondary schools increasingly assume the responsibilities of elementary and secondary education, and as employers and parents complain about the failure of schools to teach basic skills, the standards movement has become the latest attempt to remedy lagging performance." Miller reports that "policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels are pressing for higher standards in education. Major corporations," she adds, "are calling for higher standards in schools as well and are partnering with educators to promote their strategies."

In a report published by the Heritage Foundation, Miller examines "the assumption that linking highstakes assessments to standards will motivate educators to higher levels of teaching and students to higher achievement. The success of both the new standards and the assessment of students' progress in meeting those standards will hinge on the content and quality of the standards themselves," she emphasizes; "so far, however, policymakers have focused on the process of implementing standards, paying little attention to their actual content."

Miller reveals that "a new definition of education standards has emerged -- one that places greater relevance on the world of work. All learning is to take place within the context of a work situation or realworld environment," she summarizes, "with emphasis on workplace competencies. It is argued that this will provide relevance for students that will foster in them a desire to achieve greater levels of learning. But the result has been a narrower education that focuses on practical skills to the detriment of a broader academic education." Miller recommends rebuilding "a vibrant voluntary vocational system to provide proper transition to work and careers for non-college-bound youth. Policymakers,"she adds, "also should develop education standards that are academic, rigorous, specific, measurable, and non-prescriptive of methodology or ideology."

According to Miller, "The difficulties students have in making the transition from high school to work or college would disappear if education reforms were focused on strengthening core curricula, using proven teaching methods, setting high expectations for students and parents, and enabling local educators to improve classroom discipline. If primary and secondary schools concentrated on improving these key areas," she argues, "students would realize greater academic achievement and be better prepared for work or higher education."

Miller warns that "education oriented to specific workplace skills and job training produces graduates who are less versatile and unable to change occupations without substantial retraining. By contrast," she notes, "graduates of a rigorous liberal arts education can readily learn new skills and adjust to new jobs. There is lifelong value in gaining knowledge of history, literature, science, mathematics, and the arts," Miller emphasizes. "The most important purpose of schools is to educate Americans to be vigilant guardians of their freedom and to be able independently to take advantage of the social and economic opportunities that a free society affords."