With 61 percent of the nation's high schoolers pursuing curricula that do not lead to college, it's about time educators took a hard look at what they are learning. These are the kids, after all, who provide the lion's share of workers for both the service and manufacturing sectors.
There have been studies aplenty. Now business, education and government leaders are starting to respond. The Labor Department has announced $3.5 million in grants, supplemented by $7 million in state and private funds, to encourage integration of work-site learning with classwork:
* Maryland won $379,514 for innovative school-to-work projects, including Project Mechtech in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, Tech Rep Plus in Southern Maryland and Maryland's Tomorrow in Carroll County. A larger state grant adds horsepower to the projects, which accept students in the last two years of high school and plan to put many through two years of community college study as well.
* Pennsylvania's Commerce Department will use $496,250 to link schools and metalworking firms in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Erie and York-Lancaster in a program to integrate classroom and work-site learning and develop new curricula suitable for technological occupations.
* Los Angeles' Unified School District is to get $706,766 to enable high schools and three employers to prepare students for careers in telecommunications, banking and public service.
* Boston's Private Industry Council is to use $972,526 for Project Protech, to let students preparing for health-care careers combine hospital jobs with vocational training during upper high school years and two years of community college.
* The Electronic Industries Association will use $203,787 for a model electronics-technician training program and curriculum for math/science students in northern New Jersey.
Former Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole has said that being serious about improving education and boosting the quality of the work force means hard work and serious expenditures. This is a good start, but the funds thus far provided need strong federal supplements. State and local funding should not be asked to support the weight of federal policymaking. Getting serious means the same thing for Secretary Dole that it does for states such as Maryland.