Publication Date

June 1991


[Excerpt] Business leaders are complaining about the declining quality of entry level workers in the U.S. They and others argue correctly that the competitiveness of American companies is threatened by the poor educational background of our frontline workers. Some have responded to these complaints by saying that business should solve its own problems by improving management and beefing up training. Public education should not, it is argued, give business needs much consideration; student and public needs should come first.

And indeed there is a grain of truth in the first response, the survival of a business is almost entirely determined by factors which schools, even excellent schools, cannot change. If schools do not improve, businesses must and will adapt to the capabilities of the workers that are available. Functionally illiterate workers are less productive,so domestic companies will survive by paying lower wages. Multinational companies will survive by transferring assets and activities overseas. There is no amount of union power or government regulation that can stop this from happening. When the pie shrinks, the slices shrink as well. The losers will be American workers and all who depend on their productivity including the least fortunate among us. Yes, public and student needs must come first. It is their need for higher wages and a better standard of living which drives the need for higher standards in secondary school. Like Cassandra, employers are warning the nation that its mediocre secondary education system is a Trojan Horse which if not repaired will eventually bring the city down. The warning needs to be heeded not because employers are the daughters of a king, but because their forecast is correct and none of us can escape the city.

This paper proposes a strategy for banishing the mediocrity described above and building in its place an excellent American system of secondary education. Before a cure can be prescribed, however, a diagnosis must be made. The first three sections of the paper provide the diagnosis. The fourth and fifth sections propose the cure.


Suggested Citation
Bishop, J. H. (1991). A strategy for achieving excellence in secondary education: The role of state government (CAHRS Working Paper #91-24). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies.