Penn Education Professor Challenges the Belief that More Schooling Is Needed for the Jobs of Tomorrow

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Media Contact:Matt Gray | mtgray@pobox.upenn.edu | 215-898-4820November 30, 2004

PHILADELPHIA -- In a new book "The Education Gospel: The Economic Power of Schooling," University of Pennsylvania education professor Marvin Lazerson and his co-author W. Norton Grubb challenge the widespread view that schools can do everything.  They especially target the most commonly held notions about work and school including everything from the ability of schools at every level to prepare workers to the need for a more highly educated workforce and find a system based more on faith than evidence.

"The notion of an overwhelming surge in education requirements for jobs is absurd, and the promotion of college for all is in some ways dishonest," write the authors.

To make their case, the authors point out that "only 34.7 percent of the current labor force needs work-related or on-the-job training longer than a month, and this fraction will actually decline slightly to 33.3 percent by 2010.  In terms of job openings during these 10 years -- the openings that matter most to students now going through schooling -- only 30.2 percent of new jobs will require more than a high school degree, and only 27.1 percent will require more than a trivial amount of on-the-job-training."

"The great dilemma," Lazerson says, "is that we have no system of work preparation that joins schooling and work, except at the highest professional levels.  So we are mainly left with the notion that one should go to school for a long period of time and then go to work at jobs that can become a career.  Traditional style apprenticeships don work all that well, but more formal attempts at allowing people to learn while working would be of considerable benefit."

But, unlike many business and political leaders who lament the quality of American education, Lazerson asserts that the problem isn't so much about the quality of instruction as the inherent inability to instill specific job skills while providing a general education.

"We should stop making claims about the power of education to improve every aspect of our lives.  Every time we exaggerate what education can accomplish, we fall short and then blame the schools and educators for failing.  This leads to yet another round of exaggerated reforms, which begins yet another vicious cycle," Lazerson says.

While the authors don't suggest removing vocationalism from education, they do argue that, if education policy makers were more honest about the vocational limits of education, it may allow students to have more thorough and enriching learning experiences.

"A broader version of the Education Gospel would stress the complexity of political and cultural life, both in this county and abroad, in addition to the complexity of occupational alternatives.

"If we could integrate the 19th-century vision of education with the occupational emphasis of the 20th century, a noble version of the Education Gospel might be within our grasp," write Lazerson and Grubb.