Many youngsters lack reasoning and literacy skills needed for job success, and school reforms that stress only "basics" have largely missed the problem, a report released Thursday concludes.
"Literacy--real literacy--is the essential raw material of the information age," David T. Kearns, chairman and chief executive officer of Xerox Corp., said in a forward to the report, "Learning to Be Literate in America."
'Know How to Think'
"American business needs workers who not only are proficient in the basic skills but who know how to think and can communicate what they're thinking," he said. "In short, we need people who have learned how to learn."
The report was published by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a congressionally mandated program funded by the Education Department and administered by the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J.
Archie LaPointe, executive director of National Assessment of Educational Progress, said the report was aimed at building a consensus among educators, politicians and, especially, business people to change the direction of America's schools. He said copies of the report were being mailed to 2,100 corporate chief executives.
Programs for Illiterates
The report's central proposals call for increasing programs for "at-risk" populations, notably minority students and adult illiterates, and for encouraging schools to stress a higher level of literacy that includes reasoning and thinking skills.
Recent reforms such as the stress on more homework have helped address the problem of basic literacy, the report said. Students who did two hours or more of homework a day tended to become better readers and writers than those who did less, it said.
But other reform measures have been less beneficial, the report added. Teachers are demanding more essays and reports as part of the "back to basics" emphasis of the 1970s and 1980s. However, it said, the results have been lower than expected because teachers have tended to stress the mechanics of writing, rather than the ability to analyze and extend ideas.
Higher Standards Urged
The report called on schools to cover fewer topics in more depth, set higher standards and improve teacher training.
"Unfortunately, this report confirms what many of us in business have known for some time," Kearns said. "The basic skills of our entry-level workers are simply not good enough to give us the kind of work force we need to compete in a fiercely competitive global market. This is no less than a survival issue for America."