Thursday, December 15, 2016

OH: Turn Schools Over To Businessmen

Back in September, Ohio's Governor (and lonely failed Presidential candidate) John Kasich decided to unravel a puzzle-- the mismatch between Ohio's open jobs and unemployed workers.

One might think that a possible answer might be that the hundreds of thousands of blue collar workers whose jobs have been outsourced or robo-sourced do not match up with the new jobs available in the state. But Kasich decided to focus on the idea that schools were not cranking out the kind of meat widgets and cogs required by corporate leaders.

So Kasich sicced his Executive Workforce Board on the problem. The EWB is usually billed as "made up of legislators, business leaders, labor leaders, educators and others." If we break down the actual list of twenty-eight members, we get one governor, four legislators (state and fed), one county commissioner, one union guy (IUOE), one superintendent of a CTO, one emeritus community college president, the Ohio higher ed chancellor, and eighteen business and investment guys. Also, zero representatives of any sort from the K-12 public education system.

The board's recommendations include these four "top" items:

* Establish stronger connections between schools and businesses so that schools produce grads with the skills businesses want
* Fill in the skills gap so that schools produce grads with the skills businesses want
* Build awareness of employment paths that don't involve college so that grads will do a better job of graduating with the skills businesses want
* Rebrand libraries as continuous learning centers so that former grads can go learn about the skills businesses want

Just in case I haven't drawn the pattern out for you clearly enough, here are some other items from the list of forty recommendations from the board:

* Require schools to offer project-based learning
* Require school leaders to "engage" with local business leaders
* Create an "in-demand jobs" week
* Expand business engagement opportunities
* Leverage effective practices
* Create state-level data analytics infrastructure
* Focus on early employability and career readiness
* Foster a statewide learning culture

Yeah, I'm not sure what "early employability" refers to. Maybe bringing back child labor? And that fostering a statewide learning culture-- right on point, folks. I'll bet nobody has ever thought of that, and it will probably revolutionize Ohio education. 

But wait-- there's more. Some of these could be implemented by setting up middle schoolers with local businesses (so, yes to child labor?). And a personal favorite-- why not give businesses and chambers of commerce three seats on every school board in Ohio? Non-voting seats, mind you, but they would be right there, keeping all those elected officials from being distracted by, you know, stuff that voters want, and guaranteeing that the voices of business interest won't be lost in the crowd of educators and teachers and people who know what the hell they're talking about when it comes to running school districts.

Remember-- this is coming from a board that includes just two members who have any connection to education of any kind. 

I get it. We don't do our students any favors by graduating them fully-qualified to repair horse-drawn carriages or manufacture quill pens. And I am a huge fan of vocational-technical education.

But we are here to serve the interests of the students and the community first and foremost. Serving the interests of businesses is way, way down the list, particularly in this age in which business (and Ohio is just loaded with the ghosts of these guys) feels absolutely no loyalty to its workers or the community that it calls home.

I will offer business leaders the same deal I have offered them for years-- I will prepare a student specifically to work at your business if you will guarantee that student a job for life. But to train ten students for a line of work so that business can pick three and discard the other seven, and then five years from now also discard those three in favor of cheaper Chinese labor-- that is an absolute dereliction of duty for the public education system.

My job is to prepare my students to have the life that they want. My job is not to prepare meat widgets to be corporate fodder. The modern business community has proven repeatedly that it doesn't give a rat's rear about the lives of its corporate drones, and that means it's all the more necessary that public education should care.

Contrary to what amoral bloodsuckers like Rex Tillerson assert, public schools are not turning out "products" to be "consumed" by businesses. We turn out human beings, and we are trying to get them ready for life. Work is certainly part of having a life, but it is not the only thing and certainly not the only important thing.

John Kasich, you will be unsurprised to learn, thinks the board's recommendations are excellent and he can't wait to implement every single one. I know that responsible Ohioans who care about public education must get tired of saying, "Stop, no, that's a terrible idea." But it's time to say it again.


  1. I'd be happy if my children knew what horse drawn carriages and quill pens were...not so much how to repair of manufacture.

  2. Just what type of positions are these "open jobs" that businesses can't find employees for and what kinds of skills do they need? The main jobs I see advertised are low-skill retail jobs. Is what we need to do is to turn out people who know how to work a cash register? And the problem with these jobs is that there's such a high turnover rate because they pay so little, and therefore so much of managers' time is spent on constantly hiring and training. The other problem is bad managers because manager positions pay so little that it's hard to find people with the requisite organizational and people skills for the job.

    One of the recommendations is to "re-direct finding to shorter-term, non-credit certificates within higher education". Exactly what kind of certificates are they talking about? There are already many credited certificates offered at community colleges that are supposed to be what businesses need.

    And what are these "soft skills businesses need"? I would think the most important one would simply be knowing how to get along with other people. You don't have to work on a "project" to learn that, and you can't learn it from a CBE program; it comes from working daily with others in a classroom with few enough students to be able to create a community, and having a teacher who knows how to create that community by respecting each individual student, which leads them to respect themselves and each other.

  3. excellent post. whatever happened to on the job training? we teach students to be equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions

  4. I commented on the Dispatch article outlining this panel on Facebook. Ohio has joint vocational schools and for as long as I've been involved in education - 30+ years - students have been able to attend these schools and earn certification in various fields, and some graduate right into the job market. Gov. Jim Rhodes pushed this decades ago. Per Ohio law, joint vocational schools have boards of educations whose members must be involved in business or industry. That seems eminently reasonable.

    Traditional public schools have elected school board members. I happen to be on a school board, and I fail to see any point to having non-voting business people sit on our board. If they wish to sit in the public section and comment during the allotted time, then fine. There is absolutely no rationale for them to sit in executive sessions and planning meetings. Executive sessions may well deal with confidential matters, as well, like hiring and firing and personnel matters.

    And by the way, I don't recall being asked to serve on the Governor's panel.