One of the fun things about traveling is that you never know who you'll sit next to on the plane and what your conversation will include. On my way to Houston for the National Middle School conference yesterday, I sat next to a vice-president of a manufacturing company. After finding out the reason I was visiting Texas and my interest in literacy, he began talking about the problems his company has when it comes to hiring high school graduates. He is deeply concerned that many high school graduates lack basic reading, writing, and math skills and are therefore eliminated from the pool of applicants. At entry level positions that begin at $85,000, jobs at his company are job market plums.
When I asked my seat partner (who served on his local school board for 12 years and made academic issues his priority) why he thought so many high school graduate were under-perfomers he listed 3 reasons:
- Parents weren't setting high enough expectations for their children.
- Parents are not adequately encouraging their children and not involved enough in their lives. "Kids can quickly be sucked into an 'underworld" type environment," he said. Parents need to know what is going on with their kids and care about their academic performance.
- On the state level, he felt that although he believes that "life is a test" there is too much stress on high-stakes assessment testing.
My new acquaintance believes that the answer to this dilemma is that all of those who have a stake in the education process-the students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the "customers" (as he termed others in the industrial sector like himself) -- need to be working together.
And that's what I'm seeing here, at the National Middle School Conference. Teachers and administrators who take seriously the challenge to educate young people. My new friend would be impressed.