Tuesday, October 6, 2020

CAP: It's the School System's Fault

The Center for American Progress (CAP) is nominally a left-tilted thinky tank, but they have always been solidly on the side of reformsterism, backing charter schools and relentlessly stumping for the Common Core.

They're also fans of the narrow reformster view of education as a mill for churning out meat widgets, and here they are at it again in a post from mid-September (you know, about ten years ago) entitled "Preparing American Students for the Workforce of the Future." It's a pervasive reform idea--that the point of school is as vocational prep (and college is just vocational prep for higher-paying jobs).

And yes-- if schools were cranking out graduates who were completely unemployable, that would be a disservice to those students. But the notion that the years 1 through 18 (or even 22) should be focused simply on making yourself useful to your future employer is such a cramped, meager, joyless, shrunken version of what a human life can be-- Well, I could go on and on, but let's settle for this--no parents with resources to provide their child with more would settle for thirteen (or fourteen or fifteen) years of meat widget training.

But CAP leaps right in with "The United States has failed to prepare all students for college and their careers" and follows up by citing TNTP's Opportunity Myth, one of those non-research "reports" that reformy groups crank out so that other groups can cite them as if they contain actual research. I've discussed it at length elsewhere, so I'm not getting into it here--short form: it's not a good sign.

CAP throws in some chicken littling about the pandemic's effects on the US healthcare, economy and workforce, noting that Black and brown people are worst hit, and they're not wrong. But their call to address "systemic gaps in education" (and again, they're not wrong) focuses on just three areas of gappage.

We'll get to those three areas in a moment, but first, CAP wants to talk about its "new research approach, which aims to be more responsive to community needs and desired solutions." See, CAP is going to "embark" on a "series of community conversations across the country in areas with a high proportion of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous populations." The conversations will be "a unique way to collect data about the needs and potential solutions" for these communities, except the list of specific questions would seem to indicate that CAP has already decided that what these communities need is more job training.

The conversations will focus on how community members define the future workforce; how they learn about new industries and occupations; how well their schools help students prepare for this future; and how their schools should be held accountable for preparing all students.

CAP goes on to explain that a cross-sectional collaborative approach is necessary because this stuff is too complicated for schools to handle alone, and they devote half a sentence to another benefit for society that they foresee--engaging more actively as citizens. But mostly it's jobs jobs jobs, including a description of what constitutes a "good" job based on a Gallup poll. The list of ten characteristics, but we are still stuck in the allegedly progressive view of supply-side jobs programming, the notion that if everyone gets more education, somehow the supply of jobs will expand to meet them, that the lousy jobs will be magically done by, well, someone, and most of all, we need not look for any levers that might impel businesses to provide better jobs. Somehow, in this formulation, when the manager of Walmart sees that he has twenty-five people with advanced marketing college degrees, he will immediately increase the pay and benefits for the job he's trying to fill. At any rate, all those people you know in lousy jobs? That's the result of them getting insufficient proper education, and is in no way the fault of economic forces or cheap-ass corporate employers.


Here are the three magic bullets that CAP suggests for fixing the meat widget problem.

Early Career Preparation

Schools aren't "exposing" students to careers and industries, and they're not doing it early enough. It's in this section that we find this jaw-dropper:

Most students enroll in high school course pathways that lead to a dead end and leave students ineligible for their desired postsecondary options.

This claim is based on "research" by the Center for American Progress and I'm not going to take a side trip into that mess. Short version: they compared high school course requirements to college admission requirements, and then also compared course requirements to a set of "college and career ready" requirements that they just kind of made up. They did not--as one might expect from research that reaches such a gobsmacking conclusion--come up with any actual numbers of all these students who are stranded out in Dead Endsville. Because you'd think that if "most students" are on that dead end pathway, we'd here about it. Lots of fun to se "progressive" CAP aligning with Betsy DeVos on their assessment of public education's dead endedness. 

They are correct in noting that students in low-income communities may have less opportunity to hear about certain careers, mostly because there isn't a varied pool of employers in the area. From there they jump to the notion of an "imperative" for local employers to "engage" with schools--except, wait--if the problem is that there aren't many varied local employers then who is doing this engaging? Dammit-- this is an actual problem, but that's no solution. Networking, research, using the internet, staying in contact with students who leave the area, or, and humor me here, going to college without any plan beyond majoring in a subject you like and finding out there what you'd like to do with it. 

Holistic preparation for college and careers in the future of work

This is three paragraphs of argle bargle that walks right up to the edge of that baloney stat about how many jobs of the future don't exist yet. But I think this boils down to "the future of work  in many jobs is a big varied changing field, but we want to be able to measure it with some concrete instrument anyway." Try this paragraph and see what you think:

Research and practice have led to consensus on the different dimensions of readiness all students need for college and future careers. These include academic mastery across a range of subjects, technical training either in a specific field or in cross-cutting skills such as computer literacy, and 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and collaboration. Most states include these in their definitions of college, career, and life readiness, and some elements of these definitions are included in states’ school accountability systems. However, what’s missing are specific systems to develop these skills equitably across all students and ways to measure students’ attainment.

This seems a bit more on point

Too many people will be left out of the future of work. They lack opportunity to develop the critical academic, technical, or cross-cutting skills that allow them to participate in this evolving workforce.

So, the future is big and broad and unclear, but we ought to have a solid set-in-concrete one size fits all measurable program to prepare students for this no size fits all immeasurably broad and varied world. Or maybe students are supposed to be prepared for everything, even though they may have their own ideas about what they want to be prepared for--although you'll notice that student dreams, goals, and preferences are ignored throughout this piece. Everybody should study everything, just in case. And "holistic" is a cool word.

Accountability for establishing and maintaining high-quality pathways to good jobs

You know what? Screw you, CAP. How is this the responsibility of schools and not employers? Yes, CAP calls for employers to get in there and consult and "identify what systemic changes" will be needed, but the main point here is that we need an accountability system to hold schools accountable for how well-employed their graduates are. They're supposed to develop a "seamless pathways from education to training and to good jobs of the future," which harkens back to the old cradle-to-career pipeline. But all the responsibility lands on schools

Accountability systems drive administrator and educator behaviors, so the next generation of accountability systems must provide an incentive to drive behaviors that better prepare students for tomorrow’s workforce.

This also comes with an endnote that takes us to another CAP "report." But God save us from a school system driven by this measure. It's true that when you pick your accountability measures you answer the question, "What is the purpose of this school?" There has to be a better educational answer than "To provide employees for businesses."

It's not just that this narrows the horizon for students. Imagine if we use this yardstick for measuring the offerings of public education. Art? Music? History? Any electives that don't teach job-related skills? In CAP's world, none of that stuff is justifiable.

It's the same old baloney. A narrow view of education that privileged parents would never acept for their own children. Accountability for schools, but not for the politicians who manage the economy or the businesses that set the stage for working conditions. 

After rattling off statistics about low and under-employment for Black and Latinx workers, CAP says "The US education and career training systems should produce better outcomes than they are currently producing." What outcomes? Underemployment? Low wages and few benefits? That--that!--is somehow the fault of schools?? If we get a Democratic administration some day, I hope to God that they ignore anything CAP has to say.

1 comment:

  1. Really crucial issues for folks to know. I'd add liberals' support for the new neoliberal push for privatization: the Wall Street/ Silicon Valley nexus of ed tech, with data mining and surveillance.