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Volume 13, Number 2
March/April 1997

A Change in the "Basics"

Today's Graduates Need More Than the 3 R's


The most common response to the litany of what's wrong with high school education today is to proclaim the need to go "back to basics"—a sensible reaction to the argument that schools are getting worse. If the past was better, let's go back to it. Unfortunately, both the analysis of the problem and the proposed solution are misleading. In their recent book, Teaching the New Basic Skills, Richard Murnane and Frank Levy explain how it can be true at the very same time that: 1) schools are doing a better job than they used to; and 2) there are serious problems in our schools that demand immediate fixing.

The problem as Murnane and Levy describe it is that "during the past twenty years, the skills required to succeed in the economy have changed radically, but the skills taught in most schools have changed very little." As a result, a high school diploma is no longer a "ticket to the middle class." To illustrate this point, Murnane and Levy present case studies of five companies, in industries such as automobile manufacturing and insurance, that have long offered relatively high-wage careers to young people with a high school diploma.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

R. J. Murnane and F. Levy. Teaching the New Basic Skills: Principles for Educating Children to Thrive in a Changing Economy. New York: Free Press, 1996.