Editorial: Stop talking, start doing

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

This summer, Fall River became one of seven cities in the country to receive a nearly $500,000 federal grant to help at-risk students. But the question remains how the money will actually help students.

Hopefully, Thursday’s breakfast meeting to discuss the grant is not an indication of how the funds will be spent, as the discussion produced more questions than answers. If panel discussions, conferences and studies constitute the bulk of the plan, the city may as well give the money back.

The purpose of the "multiple education pathways blueprint" grant seems quite vague. Officials from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Bristol Workforce Investment Board and Jobs for the Future spoke about the grant, but shed no light on its purpose, instead offering a linguistics lesson in government-ese. They spouted such cliches as "ground-breaking initiative," "shared vision, common agenda and mutually beneficial outcomes" between education and the work force. All this makes for great sound bites, but really serves no purpose.

Grace A. Kilbane, Northeast region administrator for the Department of Labor, in particular showed her mastery of talking a lot while saying very little: "We believe we need to transform our work force system." Kilbane said she agrees with the need to tie schools, work force development and economic development in new and relevant ways.

Well, yeah!

What is education for if not work force development? Schools and economic development are inextricably linked. You don’t need a master’s degree in bureaucratic bumbling to realize that. The last thing anyone needs to do is waste time — and money — discussing that fact.

But that appears to be exactly what will happen, or at least how things are starting out.

BWIB Executive Director Patricia Auerbach boiled down for the group what the grant is really for: personnel, consulting and research interns, site visits, conferences, curriculum development and marketing.

All of which sounds a lot like one bureaucracy feeding another.\

Neither Fall River’s economy nor its schoolchildren will benefit from a bunch of self-aggrandizing administrators sitting around a table talking. The schools need real action. The money should be invested directly in the schools and actionable efforts.

Fall River’s graduation rate was just 55.5 percent through June 2006. Improving that is what the money should be spent on. There’s no better way to develop the work force and impact economic development than to produce better educated workers.

How will this grant, which the talking heads purport is to help students, directly impact the ever-increasing drop-out rate? No one gave any suggestions Thursday. Granted, it may be a difficult question to answer, but isn’t that why consultants are hired and administrators attend those conferences they seem to like so much?

All these experts in education and work force investment need to stop talking and start doing. Thursday’s discussion did nothing to inspire confidence that students will directly benefit from the money, which is a shame. But one expert — Jobs for the Future Director Terry Grobe — perfectly summed up what the grant is all about: "It’s a terrific political moment."