Friday, January 2, 2009

The link between Kossacks Networking and Ed Policy

Originally posted on DailyKos

I have watched with great alarm the proliferation of dKos posts about being out of work and/or without housing. Today, several diarists have written about the 533,000 U.S. jobs lost in November and the 1.9M lost this year. With things so grim, it's great that we are a part of a community like dKos where wonderful people get together and create support systems like Kossacks Networking.

This is also a chance to step back to take a look at some conventional wisdom that just doesn't connect with reality. Like the conventional wisdom in education policy that public schools need to "prepare students for the global, 21st century workplace" by making all kids take rigorous college prep courses. But are high-skilled, techno-oriented jobs 'where it's at'? Or is this CW a ploy by big biz to have a glut of skilled workers - and an excuse to outsource if schools don't adopt their agenda -in order to boost their bottom line?

According to Occupational Outlook Quarterly Job Outlook by Education 2006-2016, the occupations with the most openings projected for 2006-2016 (in order of most to least, with average education level of workers)are:

Retail salesperson (ME*)
Cashiers (HS)
Waiter/waitress (HS)
Customer service (ME)
Registered nurses (C)
Office clerks (ME)
Food prep/serving workers (HS)
Laborers & freight, stock movers (HS)
Janitors and cleaners, except maids/housekeepers (HS)
Post-secondary teachers (C)
Childcare workers (ME)
Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks (ME)
Elementary teachers (C)
Truck drivers (HS)
Personal care aids (HS)

(*C= 50% or more employees in the occupation have bachelors degree or higher; ME=employees have less than bachelors, but more than high school diploma, or no majority of workers are on one education level; HS = high school diploma or less)

With the highest projected growth being low-wage service jobs that do not require a college education, one wonders about the urgency to test and standardize our children to death and place them all in Algebra by the 8th grade.

Of course, the higher the number of 'skilled' workers in the pool (with Big Biz lobbying state governments for the skills they want workers to have but want to schools to train and pay for), the better the big-biz bottom line. Educators Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian call this conventional wisdom "The Jobs for the Twenty-First-Century Scam".

[Out of work Americans] should ask the Business Roundtable, Education Trust,Progress Policy Institute, and all the other outfits pushing algebra as the gateway to success why their high-skills diplomas haven't kept them from global
pirates. Standardistas continue to blather about schools preparing kids for highly skilled jobs for the twenty-first century at the same time they are outsourcing jobs faster than we can count. The truth that the corporate fat cats refuse to speak is that there are more highly skilled workers than there are jobs -- and that's the way they like it. When you have lots of people competing for few jobs, workers are scared and compliant.

All the rhetoric about 'innovative reform', 'failing schools', 'lazy teachers', and 'low expectations' has been successfully enfolded into our conventional wisdom. I believe this is true because the Business Roundtable and its surrogates have worked so hard to shape conventional wisdom, but I also believe it's because the arguments they use have grains of truth in them. We've seen less than inspiring educators. We want the best for our children. We don't want to leave any child behind. The irony is that the high-stakes environment does just that: it fails to motivate or truly educate many, many children. And the main obstacles we progressives face is that we are painted as racist or having low expectations of lower SES kids if we resist the edu-biz reforms.

So what to do? Well, we need to reframe the issues and change conventional wisdom. Development of education policy must be a democratic process that includes the voices of parents, students, teachers, community organizers, community members, and, yes, businesses, too. We need to ask ourselves: How do we envision quality education? What should the purpose of public schools be? How do schools reflect society? How can schools further our democracy? How does poverty and it's blight, violence, lack of health care access, and feelings of hopelessness interact with schooling?

I'll end with further thoughts from Emery and Ohanian :

So if 100 percent of our children pass algebra and go to college ... there sure will be heavy competition for those college-required jobs. A CEO's dream. And there are plenty of people who think that's what all the pumped-up push for high
standards and testing and raising the bar and turning kindergarten into skill-drill zones has been about from the get-go. Make kids - and future workers- feel inadequate. Make them feel they're never good enough. Convince them that it's a dog-eat-dog world out there - with everybody competing in a musical chairs game.

And consider this in light of our current economy:

The crime is not that there isn't a workforce able and willing to do thejobs that need to be done; the crime is that so many of these jobs we need to make
our country work don't come with a living wage.

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