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More Students Entering Workforce Today - Under Warranty

September 17, 1990

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) _ This year’s seniors at Fort Zumwalt high schools will be armed with more than just diplomas when they graduate: They’ll also each be backed by a three- year warranty.

In a small but growing number of schools, educators are adding an extra stamp of approval to their products - ″satisfaction guaranteed.″

″The diploma used to be the guarantee,″ said Fort Zumwalt superintendent Bernard DuBray. ″But now we need to go above and beyond.″

Warranties such as Fort Zumwalt’s typically guarantee that a graduate has learned the basic skills necessary to perform an entry-level job. If not, the school promises to provide additional training free of charge.

″It’s accountability,″ said Bernard Sidman, superintendent of the Plymouth-Carver Regional School District in Massachusetts, which first included a three-year warranty with graduates’ diplomas last spring and so far has had no students sent back.

″You hear an awful lot about the quality of public education and about public institutions of education not meeting their responsibilities in preparing students for entry into public life,″ Sidman said.

″We felt that if we were going to be asking the community to support us, maybe we should put ourselves on the line.″

But let the buyer beware: The amount of training received by guaranteed graduates may vary. Some schools simply warranty all their graduates. In others, the warranty program is designed mainly for students who want jobs straight out of high school.

At Prince George’s County School District in Maryland, students who want to be under warranty take a semester class focusing on job skills. The class has been developed with input from area business and industry leaders.

In Missouri’s Blue Springs School District, the state’s largest, the graduate guarantee is printed on the back of a laminated wallet-size diploma.

″We’ve got some tremendous young people coming out of our system,″ said superintendent Charles McGraw. ″The nation’s educational system is getting a bad rap and we wanted to make a point that our graduates had the skills to be good employees.″

But it’s not enough just to warranty students if there’s no recognition of what entry-level jobs in today’s business world require, said Fritz Edelstein, senior fellow at the National Alliance for Business in Washington, D.C.

Entry-level jobs are much more complex today, and school studies should reflect that, Edelstein said.

McGraw agreed.

″I think we went through a time when the curriculum was out of date,″ he said. ″The curriculum has been slow changing - it hasn’t kept up with the progress of technology that the business world required. So this is an attempt to be up to date.″

For instance, McGraw said, mechanical drawing is out, computer-assisted drafting is in. At the junior high level, a new exploratory course called industrial technology is being offered to introduce students to robotics, broadcasting, electronics and computer science, he said.

Educators say skill guarantees have helped create a line of communication between schools and businesses.

″It’s a feedback system,″ said Gary Marx, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va. ″It’s a way for the schools to say to an employer, ‘It’s all right to come back and let us know if there’s something missing here.’ ″

In the Harlem Consolidated School District outside Rockford, Ill., this year’s seniors will be able to earn a ″certificate of employability.″

The idea came about through meetings between school administrators and corporate leaders from the community, assistant superintendent Wayne Musholt said.

During discussions, company executives expressed concerns about the employability of some of the students graduating today, particularly those who were not college-bound.

″Their concern was that some of the students didn’t always have the best work habits and attitudes and we decided there ought to be a way of certifying them,″ Musholt said.

To gain the certificate, students will have to earn the required number of high school credits and be absent no more than six days a year. In addition, their work ″attitudes″ will be rated by their teachers.

The program at Prince George’s County schools has received high marks from business and industry leaders, said Bonnie Jenkins, director of public affairs.

″The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far,″ she said.

Employers prefer the students who have completed the special semester course, which emphasizes such areas as work habits and attitudes, reasoning and problem solving, and oral communication skills.

″So it’s giving them an edge,″ she said.

Last year was the first for the project, and no students have been referred back for more training, Jenkins said.

Guarantees rekindle employers’ interest in high school graduates and encourage potential dropouts to stay in school, said Thomas Shannon, executive director of the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va.

″This is adding a new dimension to the diploma,″ he said. ″It’s a gimmick - it’s right out of Madison Avenue - but secondly, it also sends a powerful message to the school staff that your work is really on the line.″

End Adv Monday AMs, Sept. 17

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