The chiefs of more than 200 major technological companies pledged Wednesday to use their clout to push educators to adopt voluntary national tests aimed at building a stronger educational system.
The executives, who gathered in Washington on Wednesday to endorse President Clinton’s proposal to establish national testing standards for fourth- and eighth-graders, said U.S. schools are failing to provide enough skilled workers to fill thousands of high-tech jobs.
Without skilled workers, they warned, American leadership in technology and the economic growth that it brings is threatened.
“We are striving for what you would call in manufacturing a zero-defect result,” Clinton said in a White House meeting with the technology executives.
The president said national standards should “guarantee that 100 percent of the children” graduate from high school with the skills required to go to college and train for high-wage jobs in places like northern California’s Silicon Valley, one of the most economically vibrant regions of the country.
The high-tech endorsement lends weight to the idea of national standards to boost educational performance, a cornerstone in Clinton’s second-term agenda.
It is also a political touchstone for Vice President Al Gore, whom most observers expect to run for president in 2000 - and who will need to court California and its high-tech industry in the process.
Politics aside, education is also a subject of vital interest to the high-tech executives, whose companies are forced to look overseas for programmers and whose assembly-line workers must understand statistics.
“What this is really about is about the new economy and what our kids, our companies, and society has got to do to compete and prosper,” said John Doerr, a noted venture capitalist based in Menlo Park, Calif.
“We all agree that we need national education standards. These companies that have endorsed this program today employ a half million people. More importantly, they’ve created 130,000 jobs over the last four years. And even more importantly than that, they have hundreds to thousands of high-wage job openings right now that they’re trying to fill.”
The difficulty in filling the jobs, according to high-tech companies, is that schools are not teaching enough children the proper skills in reading, math, science, engineering or computer programming to allow them to work in computer or biotechnology jobs.
“People in the high-tech sector bang their heads against each other trying to hire enough people,” said Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape Communications in Mountain View, Calif. “There’s a whole series of things that have to happen to improve education. This is just a start.”
Delaine Eastin, California’s superintendent of public instruction, also attended Wednesday’s White House meeting and endorsed the national standards proposal.
She called the national standards vital to moving her state’s schools forward and assuring parents that educators “can get the job done.”
“Just because a kid gets an ‘A’ … doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “I need (standards) to know how my kid measures up against kids in Connecticut and Kentucky.”
If other California education officials echo Eastin’s support - a course by no means certain - the state’s 5.5 million public school students would join those in Maryland, Michigan and North Carolina, and those in U.S. military schools, in taking the tests beginning 1999. While that’s only four states, they represent about 20 percent of all public school students.
In California, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson sounded a discordant note. “The bottom line is, she doesn’t have the authority to set policy for the state of California,” said Wilson spokesman Sean Walsh.
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