The Fallacies of Workforce Training vs The Joplin Chamber of Commerce Visioning Statement.
We recently wrote about the WorkKeys program the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is promoting for school districts. DESE portrays it as an answer for school districts to check off state educational requirements and help local businesses at the same time. From DESE Promotes ACT WorkKeys Assessment:
The National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) comes from an ACT program called Certified Work Ready Communities (CWRC). Businesses that sign on to this program promise to only consider candidates with an NCRC when interviewing. The program works with government, community/technical colleges, the K-12 system, and business/industry to purportedly measure an individual’s readiness for employment. The k-12 connection means that schools are involved in this process. Some wondered whether ACT had the clout to make schools change their curriculum.
DESE obliged by confirming that this is entirely possible with their press release yesterday promoting the WorkKeys tests developed by ACT as part of the Missouri School Improvement Pan (MSIP.) MSIP 5 Adds ACT WorkKeys®
Many states and districts are treating public education as workforce training. Apparently this is not a new trend. Maybe what is new is the increased public-private partnership between companies giving money to the Chambers of Commerce for a chance to become defacto curriculum writers in public schools.
Is this such a great investment for the kids? Is it really for the kids? Do businesses have the authority for public schools to align curriculum to their particular business needs? How has this worked out in the past? A Missouri resident responded to schools providing workforce training:
This has been going on here in West Plains (MO) for quite some time. When I moved here in ’95 my out-of-town employer and many others were completing the transition to M$ Office; West Plains high school was still teaching M$ Works when my son graduated in ’98 because that’s what most W.P. businesses used. Those students might be able to find a job locally but would be essentially compute illiterate were they to attempt to find employment in, say, Springfield. During his senior year, he took a vocational electronics course that failed to teach him Ohm’s law or how to use a basic VOM multimeter; the class focused entirely on how to install LAN cards into desktop computers and how to fill out job applications. Near the end of that school year my son told me that some unnamed trucking firm needed LAN techs and had donated equipment to the high school to teach students how to do that job.
The epitome of the poor education he got from the high school vocational class was illustrated when in June, a few weeks after graduation, this young man who’d taken vocational electronics asked me how to troubleshoot the non-working dash lights in his pickup. I told him to grab my VOM and check them for continuity.
He looked at me and asked, “How do I do that and what’s a VOM?” I asked him what he’d learned in that vocational electronics class if he didn’t even know basic troubleshooting techniques or test equipment. That’s when he explained that they’d spent the entire year learning to install and configure Ethernet LAN ports to IBM computers, something that had been standard equipment on newly manufactured motherboards for at least the previous three years.
How would a state educational agency or school district respond to this story? Are all employers up to date with the latest technologies in their particular industries? Can the state agencies and local districts ensure that the employers buying into the WorkKeys ACT program will indeed make students career ready or will that career be outdated by the student’s graduation date? As the reader pointed out, those students might be able to find a job locally but would be essentially compute illiterate were they to attempt to find employment in, say, Springfield.
Note this article from the Joplin Globe writing about the cozy relationship between the Chamber of Commerce and school superintendent wanting to utilitze this type education. From Impact of education focus of joint visioning effort:
Note the superintendent’s remark: make sure all our systems are working well to attract better jobs and support existing jobs. What would his response be to the story of the West Plains student educated for an existing job based on outdated technology? Why should Joplin taxpayers be satisfied with their students being educated for existing jobs instead of using their education to learn how to innovate and create new technologies? How can you attract better jobs if the focus is on providing education based on current business needs?
The businesses will allow citizens to comment on a survey constructed by them to determine what the community thinks about the plan but there is no mention of “regular taxpayers” at the table in this “visioning” statement. Is this a Delphi technique of rolling out a plan that the taxpayers will have to pay for but have no significant input? Where is the representative voice of the people in this visioning statement?
So what’s the purpose of WorkKeys? It will bankroll ACT, The Chambers of Commerce as businesses pay to belong to WorkKeys, and allow businesses a say in curriculum choices to train the workers for local businesses needs. However, it may not be what is “best for the children”. It is theoretically advantageous for the local businesses but it has the capability of decreasing a student’s ability to obtain employment elsewhere. Technology is quickly upgraded; curriculum is not. Even if you allow private businesses a “seat at the table” for curriculum direction, they will want to push their own particular necessary skill sets for students.
Maybe that’s why it was traditionally the responsibility of business to train new workers in the particular skills the particular business required and this task was not relegated to public schools that taxpayers are funding. Public education should not be “pay to play” for workforce training.