Q. There's so much
emphasis on skills training and career planning in our schools today. It seems
like our schools are morphing into places of mere job training for the masses
of children. Is that off base?
Of course, any program of schooling
should end up with a graduate who is ready, willing and able to be productively
employed in the American workplace. But you are among a growing number
of concerned citizens who are wondering how workforce development gained
primacy over other goals of education.
people would agree that K-12 education is intended to not only get students
ready for their careers, but also to produce an informed electorate and a
civilized society with people who treat each other well and appreciate culture
and so forth. That has gotten complicated with extremes of wealth and poverty,
and the recent waves of non-English speaking immigrants. We are committed to
public schools as the best way to instill bedrock American values and equip
each child for a good run at having the American dream. Those basic goals
where did all this emphasis come from on standardizing learning the way you
standardize an assembly line?
did we stop "testing" and start "assessing" each student?
are schools starting to get kids to make career plans 'way back in early grade
school, based on economic projections of what jobs are going to be needed 15 or
20 years on down the road?
are schools trending more and more toward a workaholic, year-round school
calendar, and making schools "feel" more like an adult workplace than a place
for children to learn?
we moving closer to a "planned society"?
sure looks that way. Employers and others started complaining in the 1970s and
'80s that the high school graduates of the day weren't as good at reading,
writing and arithmetic as past generations seemed to be. Pundits whined that
the "human capital" of tomorrow - the workforce - weren't being educated as
well as they used to be, and it would hurt America's economic health and
competitiveness if something wasn't done to fix it.
response, starting in the 1980s, using various grants and government agency
regulations, we've switched schools out from a traditional model of local
control and teacher autonomy, to a nationalized one.
legislation such as Goals 2000, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, and the
Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, were used to organize
and fund this process. Federal labor and education officials collaborated on
the SCANS (Secretary's Commission on Acquiring Necessary Skills) list of job
skills, which were integrated into the school standards in every state and made
part of high school graduation requirements and so forth.
the federal government basically controls a nearly identical curriculum from
state to state and has set up a carrot-and-stick accountability system
involving federal education grants and standardized tests. Locally-elected
school boards and even state legislators are basically rubber stamps and
irrelevant paper-pushers now, just "cogs" in a gigantic school "system."
first step, in the late 1980s, was instituting "Outcome-Based Education"
(renamed "standards-based" or "performance-based" in the late 1990s) in each
state and each district.. Basically, the standards are the same from state to
state - boilerplated through a series of identical "community" meetings held
across the country with basically the same agendas and pre-planned outcomes. So
basically, we've been led unsuspectingly to have a nationalized curriculum.
with that has come a shift in direction. We've gone away from keeping each
student's future job options open by providing everybody with a balanced
curriculum of the liberal arts. Now we lean more toward the
German-Japanese-Soviet educational style that "sorts" kids by high school into
who will get to be an "elite" and who will be a "worker bee," or minimizes
traditional academics in favor of spending a large part of the school day
focusing on a certain line of work, such as health care, food service or
now delivering "skills" training from K-12, with an emphasis on "competencies"
and what each student should "know and be able to do." We are moving toward "certifying"
basic kinds of employability at different stages of schooling ("career
passports" or "certificates of initial mastery"), and adding every day to the
apprenticeships, job shadowing
a lot more paperwork and record-keeping, with constant assessment and
reassessment by teachers, who don't really choose their curriculum and
instructional activities any more, but are more or less "human file servers,"
handing out the standardized work and making sure it's done.
same standardization of the teaching profession, and the same constant
assessment and scrutiny, are changing the job of a teacher just as much as they
are changing the activities and atmosphere in our schools for our students.
Team teaching, inservices, nationall teacher standardization, and sweetheart
pension deals to promote early retirement of veteran teachers, all were used to
hasten the transformation of public-school teaching from a profession to a
government service job.
The best compilation of articles about School-to-Work is
from Ohio politician Diane Fessler,
former member of the Ohio State Board of Education who moved on to the state