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Education Reporter
    NCEE's Human Development Plan
    Text (slightly abridged) of speech presented at Goals 2000 Conference, Washington, DC, Feb. 12, 1997. Virginia Miller is a nationally-recognized education consultant and research analyst.

By Virginia Miller

The National Center on Education and Economy (NCEE), an organization headed by Marc Tucker, has devised a human resource development plan for the United States. It was promoted at the First Annual Standards-Based Conference earlier this year in San Antonio, Texas, which was cosponsored by the NCEE.

Tucker's plan will elevate tasks over knowledge. It will elevate government bureaucrats over the economic freedoms of individuals in this nation. It will change the way America educates its children and the way America does business.

This plan is destructive to American liberty because it shifts the purpose of education from creating thinkers to training workers. Labor projections will become the basis for vocational technical education that is integrated into the curricula of our schools, thereby erecting a mechanism by which government can centrally plan the labor force. It will emphasize the acquisition of skills over the acquisition of knowledge, while melding secondary and post-secondary education into a "seamless web."

In short, it is a proposal that will change the purpose and structure of education as we know it, and is a proposal that is rooted in deception.

The NCEE uses a well-devised yet simple strategy which features marketing and leveraging. Let's consider the use of one marketing term we're all hearing-standards. Governor Romer of Colorado began the push to abandon the terms "outcomes" and "goals," because they have evoked so much controversy in recent years through Goals 2000. The term "standards" was substituted, and now the concept of standards is the rage all across our country. Standards connote excellence, and public opinion polls show that Americans want standards in their schools.

Participants at the conference were encouraged to couch the restructuring in these familiar and favorable terms so as not to alarm parents. They were told not to disclose that the meaning and intent of these terms have fundamentally changed.

One phrase was constantly reiterated throughout the sessions I attended: "the diploma is worthless." NCEE's intent is to replace the diploma with the Certificate of Initial Mastery, or CIM. In a workshop he conducted, Tucker outlined an education system that will center around the CIM.

The awarding of a CIM is predicated on the achievement of workplace skills and competencies. Under the new system, it will be possible to achieve the CIM as early as the age of 14. Most students will achieve it by the age of 16, and all will be expected to earn their CIM before the legal age at which they can no longer attend high school.

Once the CIM is achieved, there are three possible options for children as outlined by Tucker. The first is college. Students could take college courses while still in high school, since the CIM can be attained by ages 14-16, or they could go on to college while still of high school age. When we consider the prospect of college in high school or high school in college, we see the melding of secondary and post-secondary education. We see the placing of ever-younger children into a college environment where they will face the social and peer pressures that they are not yet prepared to face.

The second option would force students, upon earning their CIM, to begin a program of professional and technical education. This would combine classroom instruction and on-the-job training, and would shift the emphasis from academic knowledge to skills acquisition. It is designed to prepare students to receive an Occupational Skills Certificate. Most of these training programs will begin in high school and end in college, again melding secondary and post-secondary education.

The final option is for the student to move directly into the workplace, or into a national service program. But no matter which option the student chooses under Tucker's three-option plan, all include structured, on-the-job training leading to an Occupational Skills Certificate.

In its publication, Certificate of Initial Mastery, A Primer, the NCEE reaffirms its dedication to the concept of melding secondary and post-secondary education, vowing to change "vocational education as we know it and at the same time give it new life as an essential element in a new form of upper secondary education that is not an alternative to higher education, but rather, incorporates it."

These types of statements appear throughout School-to-Work literature in state education plans. In my home state of Pennsylvania, the concept is known as "K through life continuum."

In order to gain acceptance of "K through life continuum" by parents, teachers, communities, businesses, and everyone else, key groups must buy into it. This reform will not move forward unless the stakeholders become part of the process. The educrats know this. That's why, for example, they have teachers on the development teams setting the standards for our new national voluntary assessments: the performance standards, reference exams, and portfolios. Businesses are being coopted into developing skills standards, and are also part of state standards initiatives. The strategy is to get businesses to recognize and even demand the CIM in the Occupational Skills Certificates, and to ensure that business has a vested interest in the system and its success. The stakeholders will then develop ownership. And if they own the standards, they'll use them.

A handout called the TASKITTand Implementation Guide was distributed at the conference. It states: "Initially, the CIM will be optional, but after it's in place for about two or three years, all students will be required to achieve the CIM."

Another important part of the strategy involves what are called "Business and Post-Secondary Articulation Agreements." Business Articulation Agreements ensure that hiring preferences will be given to students earning a CIM over those who hold traditional diplomas. Post-Secondary Agreements between high schools and colleges will first recognize the CIM, then give acceptance preferences to students earning the CIM. These agreements are an important tool in the leveraging of the restructuring.

The strategy also sets in place a system of rewards and sanctions for participants and non-participants. The proposed sanction is that students who fail to earn their CIM before they leave high school will be denied all forms of recognition-all scholarships, honors, awards, and the opportunity to be valedictorian. Students who do achieve their CIM by the spring semester of their senior year will automatically become part of the "honors at graduation" program.

Rewards and sanctions are already being used to leverage the restructuring. For example, Pennsylvania's 1996-97 School-to-Work Performance Plan and Report states, "We have successfully negotiated an articulation agreement with Penn State University which insures that any student who participates in a tech-prep program will have guaranteed admission to a Penn State campus." A Mercer County, Pennsylvania, school/business partnership issues job cards based on attendance and citizenship, not on academics. Commitments from employers to hire only those with this job card are becoming evident. A recent "help wanted" ad read, "Proof of membership in Mercer County school business partnership or equivalent required."

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Smart Grad Program gives seniors a head start in obtaining employment through collaboration by the school districts and members of the business community. Student profiles include teacher ratings based on the SCANS competencies. Many employers will guarantee interviews for Smart Grad Program graduates, and Chamber of Commerce members have agreed to hire Smart Grad Students over other applicants if qualifications are equal.

In 1994, the newly created National Skills Standards Board was established under the Goals 2000 Act. Marc Tucker submitted a paper to the board outlining a three-tiered system of skills standards. In December, 1996, the board issued a proposal to establish a voluntary national skills standards system, which followed Tucker's recommendations.

The proposal divides the economy into 16 sectors with three types of skills standards frameworks, ranging from broad to specific. The first, known as core knowledge and skills, includes commonly acquired skills, and corresponds directly to Tucker's Tier One. The second, concentration knowledge and skills, covers a broad area within a specific sector, and corresponds to Tucker's Tier Two. The third framework, known as specialty knowledge and skills, targets particular jobs, and corresponds directly to Tucker's Tier Three. We should note here that Tucker stated in his paper that "the government should have no more to do with setting standards for Tier Three than it does now, at least in the beginning." We have been forewarned about the intent for government control!

The strategy for targeting specific jobs is to be done through the labor market information system, which is a government job projection database. The 1996/97 Occupational Outlook Handbook lists those occupations having the largest numerical increase in employment from 1994 to the year 2005. Cashiers top the list as the largest growth occupation. However, a McDonald's restaurant of the future, where food is prepared robotically and electronic keypads replace cashiers, portends the elimination of 85% of fast food jobs. This idea is not still on the drawing board-one such restaurant has opened in New York.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be many more new job openings for cashiers and janitors than for the top five fastest-growing occupations. So much for government job projections! Educating children for work skills based on government labor projections will result in a surplus of workers with-in the targeted industries, and will inherently limit the career choices of all Americans.

In Oregon, fifth graders are participating in a job program for pay. In Pennsylvania, there is a kindergarten curriculum where the children spend time on an assembly line building peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, all the while being instructed that they are "workers," not students. As team members, they must do their part. If they don't, they won't get their peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

This is the "new" education system. Can we honestly say it is the future we want to give our children?

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