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Real world ramifications

In the third installment of a series reporting results of a poll of nearly 70 Southern Nevada business owners and managers, published in Tuesday’s Review-Journal, 43 percent of respondents said local schools and colleges are “not at all effective” in preparing students for the workplace.

A startling 0 percent — not a one — found the schools “very effective” at that task.

The largest plurality — 37 percent — said the solution is stricter accountability for teachers and administrators. Seventeen percent said the answer is greater focus on teaching hard skills for basic employment. Only a slim 9 percent said the answer was throwing more money at the schools as currently organized.

Dan Connell, chief executive officer of San Jose Test Engineering in Las Vegas, reported in a follow-up interview he’s especially noticed an “appalling lack of critical thinking skills among local graduates.” This forces executives to recruit outside the valley for talent, running up bigger recruiting and relocation costs, he said.

“Our educational system is for the birds,” agreed Lincoln Spoor, chief executive officer of Westward Dough Operating Co., which runs 13 Krispy Kreme Doughnut franchises in five states. “We have spent trillions of dollars on education since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program and our schools are worse than ever. The kids graduating today have significantly fewer skills in math and English than they had in the 1960s. The federal government is primarily to blame for this. The system is corrupt and there is no accountability.”

“Our public schools are shameful,” wrote commercial real estate appraiser Charles Jack. “How do 90 percent of the kids in our high schools fail an algebra-competency exam? What the heck is going on?”

“Most of the resumes we get don’t even get candidates to the interview point because they’re loaded with typographical errors and grammatical problems,” adds Brian Rouff, managing partner of Henderson-based Imagine Marketing of Nevada. “And I’ll talk to some applicants on the phone, and most of them are not up to the standards we’re looking for.”

These comments bear out anecdotal observations of the level of literacy common among local letter-writers of high school and college age. It would be bad enough if the main problem were that these young scholars can’t spell simple words, don’t know when to capitalize, how to form plurals, or the importance of agreement in number and tense within a sentence — skills once taught in the primary grades.

What’s far worse is that they seem blissfully unaware of what they don’t know; they make no apparent effort to proofread job application letters which could be among the most important they ever write; and when their errors are pointed out to them they grow hostile and aggressive, acting as though they’re being criticized for some niggling details of no importance.

Yes, there are many district graduates who are fully prepared for college or the work force. But a significant number are obviously not, and that should raise a host of red flags.

Some poll respondents suggested grouping students by mastery level, rather than promoting based on age. Mr. Spoor and others said school choice and voucher programs that could effectively remove students and tax dollars from failing schools might add a necessary element of competition.

“Nothing makes you better than knowing someone is right up your tailpipe,” Mr. Spoor observed. “It keeps you sharp, motivated and hungry. If you don’t have competition, you’re not going to innovate, you’re not going to step up, you’re not going to push. … The school system has not really ever had any competition.”

By taking time from their busy schedules to speak frankly of the quality of local graduates they’re seeing in the marketplace — helping explain why many of these young people are not finding their locally generated high school and college degrees the “tickets to good jobs” they imagined them to be — these business leaders help put a human face on the colorless columns of disappointing test scores to which taxpayers and parents long ago grew inured.

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