Education and Today’s Economy

Len Evansic

TUSD School Board Trustee

Great Schools

Continual Improvement

Student Success


Looking Forward

Our schools are not companies, but they do produce a single product; graduates.  Today’s students will be the leaders and workers of tomorrow’s economy.  After attending Tehachapi Unified School District Schools (TUSD) schools, our students may join the workforce, enlist in the military, or choose to attend a two-year or four-year collegiate program before joining the workforce.  The education and development of our children will make them productive participants in the economy.

Where is our economy now, and where is it going?  For the purpose of this essay, I will limit my definition of the economy to private-sector jobs and careers, although taxpayer-funded jobs may also apply.  Fundamentally, the private sector jobs enable the taxpayer-funded sector jobs to exist.  Both private and taxpayer-funded jobs require educated people to fill positions.

During and following World War II, the United States experienced a huge boom in manufacturing.  We had shortages of every type of worker, both skilled and unskilled, and this demand increased wages.  A good education was an optional requirement, and many people ascended into the middle class without even obtaining a high school diploma, let alone a college degree.  The vast majority of public schooling was organized around the existence of the manufacturing sector, with tracks for a few college bound students and a large portion of students in the low-demand, general education and vocational education tracks for the manufacturing-bound.

Over the last four decades, the need for manufacturing workers has significantly cooled in the US.  Much less-expensive unskilled labor pools have become available all over the world, and our manufacturing jobs have now fled to Mexico, South America and Asia.  It is very unlikely that these jobs will return to our shores within the next generation, as our manufacturing infrastructure has decayed to a point where it is not readily feasible for many of these jobs to return.  Manufacturing is still a part of our economy, but it is no longer the dominant share of jobs that it used to be.

The United States economy has now shifted, perhaps permanently, to a mix of service-based and intellectual economies.  I classify retail and typical non-manufacturing manual labor as part of the service economy, and medical careers, law, engineering and computer programming as part of the intellectual economy.  There are significant differences of income between these two, and typically jobs in the service sector are predominantly part-time and not capable of supporting a middle-class lifestyle.

This shift has been reflected within the public schools of our nation.  Most, no longer have vocational classes like auto, wood, or metal shops.  Vocational classes, in California, have been shifted to the Community College system, and no-longer exist at the high school level.  What has generally resulted is a less-employable, general education graduate from our high schools who generally lack essential skills, without the solid base education to allow enrollment in many colleges.  I see this as a true failure of the public education system.

To maintain middle-class status, tomorrow’s workers must join in the intellectual economy, which necessarily requires a good educational foundation.  In many parts of the United States, college degrees are now required for the most menial of jobs, as the pools of applicants far exceed the number of jobs offered.

This brings us back to our schools.  The product of our schools, our graduates, are facing this world today.  Tomorrow will be more difficult.  The higher the quality of education that we provide them, the better they will do in the world beyond Tehachapi.  My concern is not wether any one of our students choose to attend a university, a trade school, or go into the military, but that they be fully prepared for anything that they want to do.  Not everyone can participate in the intellectual economy, but those best-educated entering to the service economy, will find the more lucrative jobs in that sector.  They will be measured against peers from schools across the nation, and I want them to be seen as the best-prepared for whatever career that they intend to pursue.

In this vein, I have been an advocate of raising the bar on academic achievement for all students in our schools.  The soft tyranny of low expectations is a cancer that must be eradicated, as it ill-prepares our students for their lives beyond TUSD schools.  As part of the TUSD Strategic Plan process I participated in through the spring of 2011, I pushed for district-wide change to focus on producing the best-prepared students.  Initial results have been promising, with a doubling of students taking Algebra I in eighth grade.

Many more systemic changes will need to be made to reorient the established system towards higher student achievement for all.  The district will do its best to support a new direction, and parent effort will be required to guarantee success.  For my part, I intend to maintain focus on raising academic expectations, and supporting promising initiatives that enhance teacher effectivity in the classroom.  To prepare for the economy of tomorrow, our students will need no less.