Saturday, July 16, 2005

It's all about education

Still not convinced that education is the secret to Louisiana’s future? See this article from Friday’s Town Talk. The much-anticipated, much-needed employment opportunity provided by the Union Tank Car plant successfully recruited to Central Louisiana has hit a bit of a roadblock. According to this article, a number of job applicants are having a hard time passing the pre-qualifying tests necessary for employment at the plant. It’s not a lack of work experience. It’s not a failure to pass drug tests. It’s not an inability to hold down a full-time job. According to the Town Talk, prospective employees are having trouble passing the “ninth-grade reading level and eighth-grade math level that Union Tank requires before moving candidates on to the hands-on welding test and formal application stage.” That’s unfortunate enough. But even worse, according to the article, “the failures may not so much reflect the achievement level of the area workforce as it reflects the need to adjust the test, said Elaine Morace of the Rapides One-Stop Job Center.” The job center rep’s protestations to the contrary, it actually does sound like the failures reflect the achievement level of the area workforce. Let’s be clear about what the Town Talk article suggests: Because the Union Tank Car test is too hard the standards should therefore be changed. In the real world, standards don’t get lowered just because someone can’t meet them. Failure to meet clearly-measurable, easily-quantifiable, carefully-articulated -- not to mention reasonable – minimum standards has consequences. It looks like Louisiana may be reaping what it has sown with respect to decades of inadequate public education. And don’t think this kind of recruitment experience on the part of a major new Louisiana employer is going to go unnoticed elsewhere in the country’s industrial community. The lesson is this: No matter how you look at it, no matter how many tax breaks are given, no matter how many industrial recruitment successes the state has, there’s always going to be a price to pay for a failed public education system. Without getting education right, no other economic development plan will ever work in Louisiana. It’s as simple as that.