Building graduates


In a recent commentary, Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute proposed an intriguing idea for educating students so they will be qualified for jobs that American business and industry now fills with better applicants from other countries.

He suggests America's businesses grow their own labor supply by starting schools.

"Businesses (or nonprofit groups they create) can easily start schools that produce the skills they need - whether it's technical training, math, engineering, or foreign languages," Bolick wrote. "Companies could achieve economies of scale by providing teachers from their workforces and school facilities from their physical plants."

Such schools are possible in states like Arizona that have charter schools: A business would apply for a charter from the state and then get into the education business.

Bolick's idea is worth considering. He points to a McKinsey Institute survey that found 40 percent of businesses have been unable to fill open positions for six months or more due to a lack of qualified candidates.

In last year's documentary, "Waiting for Superman," filmmaker Davis Guggenheim cited an even more alarming statistic: By the year 2020, there will be a need for 123 million highly-skilled, highly-paid employees in the American workforce - but only 50 million Americans will be qualified for those jobs.

It's clear that if we don't want our best jobs to continue going to workers imported from elsewhere, something must change.

The notion of business playing an active role in the education of our children actually isn't new. There are some excellent examples already in Arizona of business-education partnerships that are producing the end result Bolick's idea would achieve. For example, through the "Intel Teach" program, K-12 teachers learn to use technology in lessons that promote problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration skills.

And then there is the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, a career and technical high school that works hand in glove with industry to ensure EVIT classes are producing highly-skilled workers or laying the groundwork for these students to go into higher fields of study, such as medicine. In addition to health care, EVIT, a public school, successfully trains students for careers in culinary arts, automotive technology, cosmetology, firefighting and public safety, among others.

And this fall, EVIT will offer aviation courses in a new facility at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and ASU Polytechnic, where students will work toward becoming airplane mechanics or air traffic controllers and learn about drone technology.

In a March column by retired Tribune executive editor Jim Ripley, EVIT Superintendent Sally Downey said the aviation program came about because aviation is Arizona's third-largest employer. "And our programs are market driven," she said. Downey also told Ripley that EVIT is in talks with Intel to create a secondary school engineering program.

Bolick's idea differs from EVIT in that private industry itself is the school rather than partnering with one. That very well might be an excellent option for some students and for business. If there is one thing we have learned from Arizona's robust school choice movement, it's that education indeed is not one size fits all. Some students perform better in a smaller charter school. Some excel in environments that emphasize hands-on learning. Some learn best in a rigorous private school. And some, contrary to the continual criticism of public education, do thrive in traditional public schools where they take a range of courses, play sports and participate in extracurricular activities.

Boeing Elementary. Intel College Prep. First Solar Academy. They would be great options for some.

But in the process of trying to develop future engineers and scientists, we shouldn't lose sight of what's already working, nor of the value in educating the whole person through social studies, language arts, and activities that enrich and broaden us mentally and physically. It is equally important to learn to think critically about issues, to communicate effectively through written and spoken word, to appreciate all that art brings to our lives, to understand how history has molded our society, to develop a strong body as well as a strong mind, and to be curious about the politics and cultures of our world.

That's what education is, or at least, should be - and not just an incubator for the next generation of worker bees.

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