Schools as Worker Incubators and Education Reform
Subtitle: Education Reform Legislation Debrief -5.21.08
Today at the CASE Legislative Debrief, we received an overview of the very active legislative session and the education bills that were passed (and defeated). One of the bills, SB 08-212 signed into law on May 14, 2008 by Governor Ritter, I have been writing about (see my CAP4Kids tag) and expressed some concerns. Later at the debrief round-table session I asked a series of questions about some things that haven’t been sitting well with me. I ask them here again (with some additional thought and background).
Is the purpose of schools [in Colorado] to produce workers? “Workforce Readiness” means preparation for getting a job and “College Readiness” means going to college to get a degree for a job, right? So schools are to be worker processing factories; that’s really what we are talking about, right? Take for example this excerpt from The General Assembly’s Finding (c) on pages 3 and 4 of the Bill,
“To be successful in the workforce and earn a living wage immediately upon graduation from high school, a student needs nearly the same level of academic achievement and preparation that he or she would need to continue into career and technical or higher education.”
This certainly seems to indicate worker production preeminence. What if a kid doesn’t want to be a worker in the traditional get-a-job sense? Doesn’t this kind of thinking simply reinforce our old industrial models? The logical next question in response is “If not college or workforce readiness, then what?” My response is that those things are important, but we’re still negelcting the same things. What if a kid wants to be a musician, artist, novelist, actor, athlete, missionary, entrepreneur, public servant, or [add your own]. (disclaimer: there are requirements that standards be created in Visual and Performing Arts and PE, too, but we have those and they don’t figure figure into any of the state or national accountability reports now.) Right away I can anticipate the old arguments about managing money and “what if she blows a knee” and “kids still need to know how to read and write” and [commence hand wringing and brow furrowing] and other traditional “that’s not practical” objections. And before some get all “that’s not realistic” with me how many stories are out there and haven’t been told like Ben Kaufman’s, who started making money at 12?
Here’s some reasons why this has been so widely accepted. We K-12 people, especially us high school folk, finally have a law saying Higher Education has to work with them and not dictate to them. Higher Education loves it because they get tap into their revenue streams potential students in 8th grade (See Definition 13 on page 7). The business community loves it because it gives them a consistent flow of workers and all those kids Higher Ed weeds out will already have their workforce skills mastered. Lots of grades 3-11 educators love it because it’s not CSAP. (Be careful, fellow educators, what you wish for; you just might get it.) The testing companies, particularly ACT, love it because they get to make all kinds of money from all those School Readiness and Workforce Readiness assessments. (Think I’m exaggerating? click on the ACT link and look at the wording on the left side of the page.) Legislators love it because they have so many constituents in those other sectors who love it. Lots of voters will love it because who can really argue against “School Readiness” or “College and Workforce Readiness” anyway. The feds are going to love it because we’ll be testing the kids like crazy -all the time. The media will love it because they can draw more people to their outlets when they sensationalize just how miserable a job education is doing because they’ll be able to manipulate all this testing data to tell any story they want.
I understand that we’ve been told we’re failing in so many areas in education when compared with the rest of the world. (Those notions, by the way, are also debatable on so many levels.) America is bleeding out jobs all over the world. America’s dominance in [add your lost American sector here] is [fill in rank here] to [fill in global competitor here]. So we must act with an Act using the ACT in order to perform the same act again. Maybe I’m becoming cynical and being critical, offering no solutions, but we have long identified the problems, proffered remedies, and ended up in the same place. Professor Daniel Tanner of Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education put his finger on it.
“No less than any other era, the contemporary scene is marked by waves of conflicting and contradictory criticism and reinvented demands for reform. Following an era of damaging retrenchment, public school educators may be justified in hesitating to find fault with any of the recent reports and studies of our schools when these documents call for a vast increase in our investment in education. But unless the profession sorts out the demands and prescriptions for reform, the schools will continue to be buffeted by conflicting demands and will ride whatever sociopolitical tide is dominant.”
The American High School at the Crossroads from ASCD (1984!!!).