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STW Commentary, Eden Prairie News

May 6, 2002

Published in Eden Prairie News By Bonnie Gasper, Commentary

Last week Irene Kelly and Kathy Palmer touted the merits of the School to Work Opportunities Act of 1994 claiming the effort will help students make the connection between learning and the workplace. Indeed it will.

School-to-Work is far more than career exploration and mentorships. One must cut through the rhetoric and marketing language to understand the true purpose of School-to-Work (STW).

Making Connections; School-to-Work Resource Guide published by the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning (CFL) in 1997, describes the STW system in detail. Every educator, business person, parent and taxpayer, should read this document before joining any "partnerships."

Let me share the written mission statement of STW: "To create a seamless system of education and workforce preparation for all learners, tied to the needs of a competitive economic marketplace." Notice the needs of the marketplace must be met, not the student. Notice that it's a "seamless system" indicating no escape. Also, notice the word "all."

STW is a cradle-to-grave system that includes everybody already employed, attending K-16, retired and currently displaced. It also includes non public school students. STW requires skills certification, so the high school diploma will be replaced by the Certificate of Initial Mastery (passage of the Minnesota Basics Standards Test).

Completion of specific job skills will earn Certificates of Advanced Mastery. Businesses will be offered tax breaks and rebates to hire only students possessing certification in favored industries. This cozy relationship will make finding employment for nonpublic school students difficult. You can contact the CFL for a copy of this document. If they can't help you, contact our website for information on how to get one.

STW has been a historic failure throughout the world. It's the nucleus of a labor market quota system. STW requires a three-way partnership between education, workforce preparation, and economic development. That's why we continually hear words like "total restructuring," and "new society." A labor market system is incompatible with a free society. Our society and our government must be "restructured" in order for STW to operate properly.

The STW Initiative was imbedded into many pieces of individual legislation that appeared outwardly innocuous. There were three major bills. The education reform piece called Goals 2000 passed in 1994, established the link between government and education. Minnesota's Profile of Learning mirrors the education goals in this federal mandate. In fact, the education goals of all 50 states look the same. (Call it compliance for Federal Title I funding.) This is also the new "accountability," falsely marketed to the public as local control.

That same year, the STW initiative established the partnership between education and business. (Call it transferring $30 billion dollars of private industry job-training costs to the public school system, and the back of the taxpayer.) "You betcha" big business liked that one.

Finally, in 1998 the Federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) established the partnership between Government and Business, completing the triangle. (Call it "operation anti-free enterprise.")

Minnesota signed its Unified Plan in 2000. This mammoth document provided the blueprint for reorganizing and restructuring representative government, moving toward a state planned economic system.

Now the Governor has unprecedented power to appoint and direct workforce and planning boards. Legislative oversight is bypassed. The plan drives education reform by providing the structure and centralized control mechanisms to build the system described in "Building a Knowledge Economy for the 21st Century," December 2000.

According to this document, government must among other things: align education and training systems to meet industry needs; target training through industry programs, K-12 and post-secondary institutions; and align new 21st century skills sets with grad standards.

The WIA also identified 26 industries "vital" to Minnesota. Not surprisingly, the majority of projected job needs are in the service sector.

Eden Prairie will soon reorganize its curriculum around these selected career clusters, probably under the utopian sounding terms Small Learning Communities (SLCs) or career academies, just as the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts have already done for fall 2002.

"Johnny," a child of 13, will then choose a career to determine what course of study he will take the next four years. Suffice to say, Johnny will be a whiz at reading an operators manual, filling out job applications and punching the right buttons.

But will he have a solid understanding of American history and our representative form of government? Will he have been exposed to any of the greatest minds of the 19th and 20th centuries? Will he have read any classical literature? Will he have studied our founding documents to understand how to govern himself in order to protect freedom for all our children and grandchildren?

In order to graduate, Johnny must only pass a sixth grade level test (the MBST) and merely participate in the Profile content standards. Clearly, the focus has shifted away from challenging academics. Kelly and Palmer claim Eden Prairie is attempting to "make learning relevant for students." The question then needs to be asked, is an academically challenging education no longer relevant?

Kelly and Palmer cited research which states that "80 percent of jobs that will be available in 2010 do not exist yet." That's true. How then, can they justify training kids for today's job?

Do they not risk training them to be obsolete? If these "workers" will "change careers six or seven times," how will they be prepared to successfully do that, if they have been limited to a narrow field of study in high school?

More importantly does "highly skilled" mean "highly educated?" There is a profound difference! Why is education no longer providing students with a broad academically challenging curriculum to prepare them for whatever their futures might hold?

STW does not intend to educate individuals beyond their stations in life. A STW brochure picked up at a Minnesota Workforce Seminar lamented the fact that 270,000 truck drivers held baccalaureate degrees. This was considered a regrettable waste of state resources. STW will, however, provide a supply of work-ready labor right out of high school for its business partners.

The National Alliance of Business wrote an article called "Knowledge Supply Chain: Managing K-80 Learning" supporting the STW system and likened it to "picking the low-hanging fruit."

Kelly and Palmer stated that "all segments of the community have supported this effort." Who represented just parents and students? The U.S. Dept. of Educational Research and Improvement, made this statement about STW in 1996; "Parents' attitudes about what they want for their children represent one of the greatest BARRIERS to successful implementation of School-to-Work." They knew American parents would never support the ideology of STW. It's contrary to all we stand for.

I hope it's not too late for EP. If we turn our schools into job training grounds, we will have stripped our children of two of their most basic rights ... liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Education is not simply about getting a job. If it were, then those of you not currently contributing to the labor pool are wasting state resources.

It's time to get involved and demand