kitchen table math, the sequel: basic skills

Friday, July 2, 2010

basic skills

BEDFORD, Ohio — Factory owners have been adding jobs slowly but steadily since the beginning of the year, giving a lift to the fragile economic recovery. And because they laid off so many workers — more than two million since the end of 2007 — manufacturers now have a vast pool of people to choose from.

Plenty of people are applying for the jobs. The problem, the companies say, is a mismatch between the kind of skilled workers needed and the ranks of the unemployed.


Here in this suburb of Cleveland, supervisors at Ben Venue Laboratories, a contract drug maker for pharmaceutical companies, have reviewed 3,600 job applications this year and found only 47 people to hire at $13 to $15 an hour, or about $31,000 a year.

The going rate for entry-level manufacturing workers in the area, according to Cleveland State University, is $10 to $12 an hour, but more skilled workers earn $15 to $20 an hour.

All candidates at Ben Venue must pass a basic skills test showing they can read and understand math at a ninth-grade level. A significant portion of recent applicants failed, and the company has been disappointed by the quality of graduates from local training programs. It is now struggling to fill 100 positions.

Factory Jobs Return, but Employers Find Skills Shortage
Published: July 1, 2010

Here's Tyler Cowen:
Currently political debate is focused on the short-run employment issue, but a lot of the problem is probably long-run in nature.

One simple hypothesis is that a lot of workers weren’t producing much value, but firms were willing to carry them in good times. When bad times came, firms cut them loose and also took greater trouble to identify them in the first place.

Stimulus alone won’t give those workers jobs because, as it stands now, their labor simply isn’t worth very much. The longer-term issue is how to improve the American educational system. This includes creating a culture where more parents value education, school choice is more available to bypass dysfunctional local systems, and teachers are more subject to incentives to encourage effectiveness.

President Obama does want to make progress on all those fronts, but it’s not a battle which can be won mainly at the federal level. We need to have a culture which simply does not tolerate bad local school districts. We’re a long way from that, so we need to focus on more than just the short-term alone.

June 24, 2010, 6:20 pm
Can Obama Create More Jobs Soon?

I'd love to see that test.

I wonder if they're using Accuplacer?

The Race Between Education and Technology


Allison said...

"[you need to create a culture] where more parents value education" is too vague and makes too many assumptions.

What does it mean to value education?

I met someone who told me that the schools here in St. Paul are "fabulous", and immediately got angry to the point of yelling when I said that well, the schools here were uniformly terrible in math and science. He immediately attacked me with a "how can you know? your kids aren't in school", and when I told him about msmi, he sidestepped all of it and just yelled that we must value different things and therefore, would never agree. My inability to see that coming aside, I imagine many people value things other than liberal arts academics.

You can't change a culture of a school board if the town thinks it already has schools which are good enough.

People make value judgments based on what they can observe. What evidence do people have that their school isn't good enough? Not someone else's school, but theirs? What evidence matters to them?

SteveH said...

Parents who value education can make a big difference at home, but isn't the goal to make that unnecessary? Schools see that the kids who do well are supported by parents at home, but they come to the completely wrong conclusion. They think that those parents "value education", but they are doing so much more. They are directly teaching and tutoring.

Catherine Johnson said...

There's another issue re: changing the culture.

Palisadesk wrote a comment a few years back saying that high school teachers are very resistant to change and reform. Elementary school teachers will get with the program (including bad programs forced upon them, of course) but high school teachers dig in their heels.

In Minneapolis I stayed with a former school superintendent who told me the same thing. She was fantastic; she had raised achievement substantially in her district - but mainly (or solely?) in grades K-8, I think. (Cassy - if I've got that wrong, can you correct.)

Now that I've spent a year on our high school site committee & 2 years attending board meetings, I see what they're talking about.

Which brings me back to culture change.

In my experience, many parents don't realize that their schools aren't what they should be until their kids reach middle school. That was true of us.

So you don't get a potentially activist parent population until kids are heading into high school - by which time two things have happened:

* parents are aging out of the system, which means they may be less interested in the schools - and definitely means they have less direct knowledge of the facts on the ground

* those parents of older kids who do become politically activated are dealing with the part of the public school system that is most resistant to reform

Anonymous said...

"parents are aging out of the system, which means they may be less interested in the schools"

Not necessarily. Schools and even parent associations actively discourage middle-school parents from getting involved in the schools, telling them "your kids don't want you in school any more." Of course, they don't ask the kids, some of whom are delighted to more parental involvement.

I resisted the discouragement of the parent association at my son's private middle school, and started a weekly math team meeting. It was not a hugely popular event, but for the 5 kids involved I think it was a rewarding experience (for one thing, the 5 of them won first place in the county team math competition, and 2 won first places as individuals).

Bostonian said...

Kudos to gasstationwithoutpumps for startng a math team. A book for him is "Math Coach: A Parent's Guide to Helping Children Succeed in Math", by Wayne A. Wickelgren and Ingrid Wickelgren . The book gives practical suggestions for running a math club and lists many resources for math enrichment.

Bostonian said...

A good book describing one parent's efforts to improve his kids' school system is

"Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids and the Attack on Excellence"
by J. Martin Rochester, published by Encounter Books in 2004.

Anonymous said...

Well, my son is going to a different school next year, and I don't know whether I'll be able to start a math team there. The county math competition ends at 8th grade, and the AMC-10 competition is a lot tougher.

I found to be an excellent resource for anyone starting a math club, particularly one for middle-schoolers.

Anonymous said... is a valuable site that I used in the UK. Allied with the University of Cambridge, it can stretch students of all ages.

Richard I