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Business group: Nearly 75% of Wisconsin CEOs think state public schools failing kids

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(The Center Square) – There is another sour note from Wisconsin’s CEOs, this time about the state’s public schools.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group, this week released the education results from its latest Employer Survey. And they don’t paint a rosy picture of schools in the state.

“Nearly three-quarters of businesses think students graduating from the public K-12 system are not prepared for the workforce. Making matters worse, 56 percent of respondents said they have employees who struggle with the ability to read or do math,” the survey found.

Just 27% of CEOs said students graduating from Wisconsin’s public high schools are prepared for the workforce.

“At the very basic level, kids are unable to read, write and do math at grade level. Only one-third of Wisconsin students read at grade level and about 40% are at grade level for math. These students are set up for failure from the very beginning,” Rachel Ver Velde, WMC senior director of Workforce, Education & Employment Policy, told the Center Square. “That is why it is so important that schools focus on core competencies and not on the periphery.”

Just over 40% of employers say they’ve had to provide extra education or tutoring because their workers didn’t learn what they needed in school. Another 63% of bosses say they’ve had to lower their requirements just to get people hired.

Ver Velde said the gap between what bosses need and what public schools are providing is a growing problem.

“The longer we wait to make changes, the worse the problem becomes. We need to be teaching the science of reading and phonics to students. Additionally, especially at the high school level, schools need to make sure that career and technical training is available to students,” Ver Velde added. “On top of that, it is essential that students are presented with different career options at an early age – youth apprenticeships, job shadowing and work-based learning opportunities all are important to give students real life experience.”

The new WMC survey shows a building trend in moving away from a college degree for many Wisconsin businesses.

The Employer Survey found that 40% of CEOs have dropped bachelor’s degree requirements, and another 50% of bosses say over 75% of the jobs with their companies do not require a college degree.

Ver Velde said that’s good news for young workers.

“Students are realizing that in both the trades and manufacturing they can make a good wage without having to take out tens-of-thousands-of-dollars of debt. Many students are starting in an apprenticeship or with a two-year degree that provides them the training needed for these careers,” she said. “It is vitally important that middle schools and high schools are presenting these options to students and not just four-year degrees, which as our survey showed are not essential for many jobs.”

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