McCain said he also is seeing students lacking in "basic comprehension" like math.
"That was a difficult thing for me to understand," McCain said.
"I'm concerned about that comment," said Superintendent of Schools Herman Bartlett, who attended the meeting along with several Board of Education members.
But Bartlett warned against finding a quick-fix for the problem, saying quickly laid-out plans sometimes fail to meet the need.
School officials are in the process of developing a long-range plan to correct weaknesses identified in a recent curriculum audit, and Bartlett said he hopes those strategies will improve some of the areas McCain is talking about.
The chamber hosted the conference to ask local business and school officials if students are learning what industry needs. About 50 school and business representatives attended the meeting at the Ramada Convention Center on Dual Highway.
While critical, McCain complimented Board of Education members for attending recent meetings to discuss education issues. Local manufacturing representatives have been holding the meetings to talk about what they believe is important in education.
McCain said manufacturers sometimes only want to sit back and point fingers at the school system.
Kathleen Hall, the chamber's education partnerships chair, said everyone in the community needs to give input on what they believe is important in education.