Stake future in high schools

President Barack Obama came to Indianapolis to raise support for his $60 billion to $80 billion program for financing community college students. At best, it’s a good idea ahead of its time.

Those $60 billion to $80 billion for education should be put to use where they can do more good. Let those funds go to into our high schools, where they are urgently needed to prepare young people for citizenship, the workplace or college.

Employers complain too many workers are not ready for the workplace. Ivy Tech teachers and administrators complain too many students are not prepared for community college work. Four-year college teachers face too many students who are not equipped for education at that level.

What needs to be done? First, stop students from dropping out of school. Change compulsory education laws to require all people younger than 21 hold a Certificate of Citizenship Competence. This would require, at minimum, an ability to read at the eighth-grade level, do sixth-grade math and have sufficient knowledge in communications, civics, history and science to participate in our society. (Yes, there will be medical exceptions to this rule.)

Second, require still higher standards for high school graduates. There is no excuse for any college to have courses in remedial reading, writing or math. Some community college leaders say their schools are sites for second chances. Why not reopen high school doors for that purpose? Don’t lean on the argument adults don’t want to be seen in a high school. It’s time to reconfirm the high school as the center of education in each community.

Third, restore skill training to our junior and senior high schools. My schooling included typing and typesetting, plus wood and metal working. The first of these I use writing this column each week. The other three taught me respect for those who are more dexterous and imaginative than I am.

Fourth, many of the skills desired by business should be taught at the expense of business. Let’s drop this idea that government, through community colleges, ought to subsidize business when the benefits of training are to be shared by business and the trainees. There are few externalities for the general public from learning to use a computer numerical control (CNC) machine.

Fifth, where is the evidence supporting claims that community colleges are needed when local high schools are allowed to do their jobs as intended? Yes, let’s support education at the community level, but not to further the empires of statewide institutional bureaucrats and the careers of their political backers.

The president’s proposal is fine but mistimed. We need resources for programs that prepare students for life and for work, as well as for community colleges and other advanced education. When we get serious about education, a young person who cannot read, write or do basic math and is not prepared for citizenship will be denied a driver’s license. This will reduce the dropout rate.

Morton Marcus is an economist, writer and speaker who may be reached at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.