Wednesday, April 28, 2004
CURRICULUM SERIES: LIBERAL ARTS VS. VOC ED
No matter what your politics, you’d probably agree that the whole point of K-12 education is to turn out a fully-functional human being. We expect each graduate to be literate and numerate, a good citizen, eager and able to build a productive career, and functional in his or her personal and private life as well.
That’s what a liberal arts education is designed to produce, and that’s what we’ve always had in this country in our public schools . . . but it’s under siege.
A graduate’s materialistic value in the marketplace is shoving aside the other goals of education as the federal model called “School-to-Work,” planted in the 1990s by the Clinton Administration, takes root.
Nebraska and every other state in the country has taken significant amounts of “School-to-Work” seed money in establishing the bureaucracies and networks now in operation linking schoolhouses with workplaces more than ever before. In fact, the almost unexplainable increase in K-12 school spending over the past decade – double or triple the cost-of-living increase in many cases -- is attributable to a significant degree to the remodeling of schools into “School-to-Work” training grounds.
That’s because vocational education is significantly more expensive, labor-intensive and time-consuming than traditional, liberal-arts education. Note the constant assessments . . . constant surveying . . . teacher retraining . . . de-emphasis of basic skills including reading, writing and arithmetic . . . overemphasis on technological solutions for basic tasks, including computers and calculators . . . de-emphasis on objective measurements of educational quality . . . overemphasis on subjective, unaccountable measurements like “process over product” . . . increased counseling ad psychological expenditures . . . huge investments in technology . . . much more group work than individual work because the schoolroom is to mimic the workplace . . . and so on.
It’s not all for “school reform.” It’s all to accommodate “School-to-Work.”
In states such as Oregon, a student’s ability to demonstrate workplace skills and to complete on-the-job apprenticeships is replacing traditional educational philosophies and benchmarks. Gone are the Carnegie Units (so many years of English, so many years of math, so many years of history, and so on) and the traditional high-school diploma. Here are mandatory job apprenticeships, “Certificates of Initial Mastery” and “Certificates of Advanced Mastery” identical to the “work papers” of Nazi Germany just a few decades ago.
The direction appears to be a two-track system, where kids deemed “worthy” of white-collar work are tracked one way in the K-12 school system, and those deemed “worthy” of blue-collar jobs are put in a less-demanding, more vocationally-oriented one.
Besides the fact that this is not what most Americans want, and it costs tons more than traditional education, “School-to-Work” is scary because the “sorting” of kids begins in kindergarten. Talk about robbing the cradle! Talk about ripping off the “late bloomer” kind of student! Moreover, the overarching emphasis on career exploration, guidance and tracking in schools by government employees who can’t possibly know each child takes the parents, and even the child’s own dreams, out of the process of choosing a career.
What also makes “School-to-Work” scary is that its proponents are completely polarized politically. It is backed by the ultra left-wingers with a socialistic, union-promoting mindset. They believe everyone is “entitled” to a job and the accent is on the benefits of that job, not its productive contribution. For them, getting rid of a liberal arts education is the way to focus on workforce training, which they see as the way to help people make more money sooner in their careers, even if it leaves them ill-equipped for management, the professions or self-employment. Besides, voc ed brings a lot more money and people into the public education income stream than regular ed, which in turn gives more money and power to the unions and the politicians they have on their leashes.
But “School-to-Work” also is backed by bedrock conservatives, who are anxious about keeping the U.S. supplied with lots of adequate and not-too-demanding workers. To them, a well-educated workforce, but not TOO well-educated and therefore “uppity,” is the goal. Therefore, literacy and numeracy are artificially suppressed by dumbed-down curriculum. If you sculpt a workforce that will be obedient and able to run computers and machines, they won’t ask many questions because they haven’t been taught how to think past the next paycheck. These “School to Work” proponents seek control over capital . . . including what they rather scarily call “human capital.”
Left out in the cold in all of this are the vast majority of citizens, taxpayers, parents and students – who still want the American dream of being equipped to do just about any job you want, and to own your own business someday, too.
But right in the thick of the action are our public schools, struggling to please everyone but without sufficient funding to do their basic mission any more because of the demands from new forces such as “School-to-Work.”
Will they be able to hang in there and stay schools? Or will they morph into job training facilities for the global workforce?
So far, education observers say they see evidence that “School to Work” is winning and liberal-arts educations are dying out. They say American public schools are mimicking those of the former Soviet Union, Germany and Japan, “voc ed” school systems whose chief purpose is to equip young people for the work world. That’s why educators begin to cull out the “college material” in grade school and “track” kids through secondary school so that only the elite get the prerequisites for the kind of in-depth schooling that it takes to be a leader and a wealth-builder in those countries. Everybody else is pretty much set up to be pawns, given bare-bones literacy and on-the-job training, and that’s about it.
For a look at how “School-to-Work” is operating in the State of Arizona, consider this memo from a concerned educator out of the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). It was published on http://education-consumers.com:
Changing Arizona high school requirements
In 2003 and 2004 Arizona legislative proposals were made to add two credits of vocational/technical education to high school graduation requirements ... or...to let the Arizona Board of Regents allow two units of vocational/technical credits (in lieu of fine arts) apply towards college admissions. Both initiatives would usher in further erosion of education and the latter proposal could negatively impact fine arts programs as increased funding would be needed for vocational/technical courses.
Altering graduation requirements is one of many strategies connected to federal education reform. Fully implemented, the restructuring -- originally called School-to-Work (STW) -- will result in dramatic changes in the purpose and content of education for ALL STUDENTS.
When the federal STW law sunset October 2001, STW continuation transferred to local/county/state groups and a higher funding burden shifted to local taxpayers. (There are studies indicating the cost to convert and maintain schools for STW workforce training of our children is from 50% to 400% higher than traditional academic liberal arts education. So the ongoing clamoring to increase school funding is not about raising academic quality, but rather about acquiring funds to pay for STW reforms. Likewise, changing graduation requirements is more about moving STW oriented activity into schools versus improving education.)
Arizona Legislature, 2003:
-- HB 2344 proposed including two units of vocational or technological education units for high school graduation--the bill failed. 
-- HB 2001 established a Joint Legislative Committee on Vocational and Technological Education to study votech issues including "the feasibility and cost of adding two credit hours of vocational and technological education to the minimum course of study for high school graduation." 
-- On October 7, 2003, Arizona's Joint Legislative Committee on Vocational and Technological Education met. Dr. Linda Loomis, TUSD Director/ Administrator of Career and Technical Programs, was one of seven attending speakers. Discussion focused on inserting 2 units of vocational credits -- under the guise of Career Technical Education (CTE) -- for Arizona graduation requirements.  Note that the meeting minutes indicate that "many CTE courses would qualify for math and science credit." (This is academically questionable.)
Arizona Legislature, 2004:
-- HB 2493 proposed "allowing the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) to accept vocational arts credits in lieu of fine arts credits earned by an applicant for admission" -- the bill failed in committee. 
Tucson Unified School District, 2004:
-- On March 16, 2004, UHS site council was told that TUSD principals wanted to alter high school requirements (Is this a response to failed proposed legislation that would have promoted and supported Vocational/Technical Education?). Site council voted on and a majority approved sending the district a letter of support. I opposed. The requirements would ultimately increase attitude/values-based elements in TUSD. Also, the federal No Child Left Behind Act and state accountability will hold schools responsible for these non-academic items when they are a part of curriculum assessments. (Many states administer these highly subjective privacy-invading assessments by way of national, state and/or school district assessments.)
The preceding attempts to support STW Career/Vocational/ Technological training would precipitate more K-12 and higher education coursework changes to meet STW curriculum goals. This is necessary in order for the school system to be completely restructured. The problem with this scenario is that education will take a backseat to planned workforce training objectives.
What's wrong with Career Technical Education?
Career Technical Education is none other than the promotion of STW under a more publicly digestible label. CTE is another avenue through which attitude/value/ behavior standards slip into schools. These non-academic criteria -- also referred to as "world-class (international) standards" or "high (performance) standards" -- are part of TUSD's BOLD! Game and Profile of the 21st Century Graduate. 
See TUSD CTE Life Connections standards here:
And see other CTE standards here:
(Note that CTE standards include the workplace skills/competencies from the U.S. Dept. of Labor's SCANS  and also criteria from International Baccalaureate Psychology and Social Anthropology).
Increased health class requirement
Also at the 3/16/04 UHS site council meeting there was talk of increasing TUSD high school health education to 1/2 unit (by dropping 1/4 unit of Driver's Ed. Note that Catalina Foothills HS parents pay $280 per student for Driver's Ed  because the school does not provide it). "Health" is another area where non-academic standards sneak into curriculum. In fact, these attitude/ value/behavior criteria are moving into schools through subjects/programs like citizenship, leadership, life skills, career planning, character education, comprehensive guidance counseling, etc.
When my son entered Sahuaro HS as a freshman (2001), the school had been pilot testing a Citizenship/Leadership class that students received P.E. credit for. This 1/4 unit of dubious content was required for 9th graders at Sahuaro -- no other TUSD school mandated this. After pointing out many problems with the course to TUSD regional administration, I was told the class would be discontinued. However, while it was dropped from the school's course list, the contents were going to be moved into Sahuaro's HEALTH classes.
For UHS Parent Association and Site-Council
I encourage more investigation and discussion before supporting activity that impacts students and education. We do a great disservice when making uninformed choices and engage in spur-of-the-moment reform consensus-building -- which provides the ILLUSION of community support for PRE-DETERMINED federally-driven changes. And that means school superintendents and upper level district administrators are simply well-paid "yes men/women" (aka team players) whose primary job is to figure out HOW to implement the unconstitutional federal reforms (without inciting public unrest).
Please become familiar with federal school restructuring goals and components. The future of the U.S./Arizona school system depends on the public's ability to make wise, informed decisions and take action.
Read more about the federal restructuring of our school system - written by current or former educators, school board members, U.S. Department of Education officials, state legislators, etc.:
Stratman, David G. (Former Dir. of Governmental Relations, National PTA; Former Education Policy Fellow working in the U.S. Office of Education) School Reform and the Attack on Public Education, Keynote speech to the Massachusetts Assn. of School Superintendents Summer Institute, 1997. < http://newdemocracyworld.org/edspeech.htm >
Bachmann, Michele (Minnesota Senator) Fed Ed in Minnesota Classrooms: Smaller Learning Communities Preparing Workers for a State Planned Economy (2002.) Pdf: < http://www.edaction.org/What%20To%20Do/Bachmann_FedEd.pdf >
Cuddy, Dennis L. (Former Sr. Associate, US Department of Education; Historian; Political Analyst) Background of School-to-Work Concept, 1997, Congressional Records. < http://www.deliberatedumbingdown.com/OtherPDFs/Hyde_Cuddy_testimony.pdf>
Eakman, Beverly (Former educator; Executive Dir., National Education Consortium) Cloning of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality through Education, 1998. Articles: < http://www.beverlye.com/ >
Esposito, Joe (Businessman; Former member of Oklahoma’s School-to-Work Task Force) Tangled Web—A cumulative report resulting from original documents concerning School-to-Work, 1996, 1997, 2004. Online book will be available in the future.
Fessler, Diana (Ohio State Representative, Former Ohio State Board of Education member) A Report on the Work Toward National Standards, Assessments and Certificates, Prepared for the Ohio State Board of Education) < http://www.fessler.com/SBE/index2.htm > Click on "STW"
Iserbyt, Charlotte T. (Former school board member; Former U.S. Department of Education official) the deliberate dumbing down of america ...A Chronological Paper Trail, 1999, 2000, 2001; Conscience Press; < http://www.deliberatedumbingdown.com/ > Back to Basics Reform ... Or OBE Skinnerian International Curriculum, 1985. < http://www.deliberatedumbingdown.com/pages/back_to_basics_reform.html >
Patterson, Chris (Education researcher; Director of Education Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation) “School-to-Work: The Coming Collision,” Feb. 3, 1998. Working Paper in Education Policy, Presented at The Heritage Foundation Symposium: School-to-Work: Is Government Micromanaging the Lives of Our Children? < http://www.vvm.com/~ctomlin/a52.htm >
Quist, Allen (Former Minnesota House Representative; former school board member; Professor of Political Science) Fed Ed: The New Federal Curriculum and How It’s Enforced, 2002; The Seamless Web: Minnesota’s New Education System, 1999.). Handout: < http://www.edwatch.org/pdfs/FedEd%20_%20Quist%204pg%20w_form.pdf >
Stuter, Lynn M. (Education researcher/writer) < http://www.learn-usa.com >
Taylor, John Gatto (Former educator;1991 New York state Teacher of the Year) The Underground History of American Education, 2002. < http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/index.htm >
 HB 2344, Arizona 46th Legislature First Regular Session February 20, 2003. <
 HB 2001, Arizona 46th Legislature, First Regular Session, May 9, 2003 < http://www.azleg.state.az.us/legtext/46leg/1r/summary/h.hb2001_05-09-03_astransmittedtogovernor.doc.htm > Also see: < http://www.azsba.org/pubs/brfV20_22.htm>
 Joint Legislative Committee on Vocational and Technological Education, Arizona Forty-sixth Legislature - First Regular Session, Minutes of Meeting, Tuesday, October 7, 2003.
 HB 2493, Arizona Forty-sixth Legislature, Second Regular Session, March 9, 2004. < http://www.azleg.state.az.us/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/legtext/46leg/2r/summary/h%2Ehb2493%5F03%2D04%2D04%5Ffailed%2Edoc%2Ehtm&DocType=S >
 Profile of the 21st Century Graduate, Tucson Unified School District. Last updated: Wed, 28-May-2003. < http://www.tusd.k12.az.us/contents/distinfo/profile.html >
 What Work Requires of Schools, US Department of Labor, Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, June 1991. < http://wdr.doleta.gov/SCANS/whatwork/ >
 Falcon Student Activities, [Catalina Foothills] Community Schools, Third Trimester Offerings, February 9-May 14, 2004. < http://hh2.cfsd.k12.az.us/static/gems/districtSite/3rdTriFH04.pdf >
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