UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media


On Feb. 28, a selection of local and national educational policymakers, including Thomas Payzant, the former Boston Public Schools Superintendent, Bill Brock, a former Senator and Secretary of Labor, and Chancellor Collins met with Marc Tucker, co-chair of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, which in December 2006 published a report called “Tough Choices or Tough Times”, which calls for a retooling of the American educational system. It has lead to wide interest on the part of people who think about the future of our country.

American education must keep apace with a global workforce that produces not only physical labor at wages lower than our workforce will accommodate, but intellectual labor as well, as India and China begin to produce college-educated workers who will both telecommute and work for lower pay than Americans. Furthermore, the study notes, 30 years ago the United States boasted 30 percent of the world’s college graduates; that number is now 14 percent. American students consistently place in the middle or toward the bottom in matters of math, science and general literacy. Employers can simply get better-skilled workers cheaper elsewhere.

For America to continue to thrive-or remain competitive-something needs to be done, the study argues. It notes that an Indian engineer will work for $7,500 a year, compared with an American who will cost $45,000 a year. For the American to justify this expenditure he’d have to outwork him six times over, which is unlikely. Outsourcing is now a fact of life. It simply makes economic survival sense for companies to outsource, or else they will suffer a fatal competitive disadvantage against companies abroad.

In order for American workers to stay competitive, then, in order to maintain the current standard of living, they must offer something that Indian workers or Chinese workers cannot. This, the report says, is creativity, the ability to “create ingenious marketing and sales campaigns, write books, build furniture make movies, and imagine new kinds of software that will capture people’s imagination and become indispensable to millions.” The study’s emergent ideas sector would include strengths in research, design, product development, marketing and supply chain management.

The future American worker, then, will not be trained in one specialized area, asked to function as an automaton, but must adapt to changes, keep abreast of new technology, and analyze, organize and synthesize information well, from software engineers to small business owners to auto-line workers.

The current economy is not geared to meeting this challenge, the report states, because the American education system as it is presently constituted is woefully ineffective. First, they say, our high school teaching jobs do not attract the best candidates. The present writer, having had both wonderful and thoroughly detached teachers in his high school years, can attest to the fact that competent, caring teachers are available, but at a premium. The report calls for reinvestment in primary schooling, since children in their formative years are not being taught well in our public schools, which bodes ill (and expensive) for the future. It holds that our students are not being challenged enough, that our education system rewards busywork and shuns creativity, that it is excessively bureaucratic and inefficient. All of this hobbles us as regards other nations, which enter their children into college at 16.

The report, which is available on the Commission’s website, skillscommission.org is certainly full of tough talk and challenging propositions. It’s a worthwhile read for anyone considering their options on the job market, which may grow progressively fewer as globalization spreads and emerging markets come to the fore.