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Education Reporter

Fed Ed in Minnesota's Classrooms 
'Smaller Learning Communities' prepare workers for a state-planned economy

Michele Bachmann
Michele Bachmann
By Senator Michele Bachmann

Until 1965, public education was truly a local affair, with state departments of education stepping in to assist local school districts. In an unprecedented move, President Lyndon Johnson created the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which for the first time provided federal money to the local classroom.

Federal money was targeted specifically to lower income students to help "level the playing field" of educational opportunity. Unfortunately, the practical effect of pumping millions of federal dollars into the classroom was to lower the playing field, not level it.

With the public clamoring for answers, the federal government responded in 1994 by creating a top-down reform movement known as Goals 2000/School-to-Work/ Workforce Investment.

Designed as a mandate for all publicly educated youth, these three federal bills work together like interlocking puzzle pieces to reveal the picture of a restructured American society focused on the best interests of the state rather than on the best interests of the child.

Educational 'Reform'  
Heavy on bureaucracy, light on academics, Goals 2000 and the accompanying reauthorization of the ESEA forced all 50 states to accept federal education standards. The latest reauthorization of the ESEA, known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), continues the school restructuring that was set in motion in 1994 with Goals 2000/School-to-Work and the education funding bill, H.R. 6. Assistant Secretary of Education Mike Cohen stated in a presentation to Fordham Foun-dation's NCLB conference in February 2002, "This legislation builds squarely on the foundation laid in 1994, and extends it.." NCLB seeks to "raise academic standards for all" with a bizarre twist: by lowering the bar of achievement to a level where all children could pass the tests.

Goals 2000's eight national standards focus heavily on attitudes, values, and beliefs instead of on academics, giving us dumbed-down national standards, a national test, and national teacher licensing standards.

School-to-Work/ Smaller Learning Communities 
Goal 6 of Goals 2000 states in part, "Every major American business will be involved in strengthening the connection between education and work." Implicit in Goals 2000 was the creation of a space for the silent but more revolutionary twin of the educational reform movement: School-to-Work.

School-to-Work (STW), renamed under NCLB as Smaller Learning Communities (SLC), is actually the star and the purpose of education reform, and it is mandated for all children and adults in the public system.

It is a philosophy and the focal point of the new restructuring of American society. It is a means for appointed bureaucratic central planners to link government-directed education with government-directed economic development and workforce preparation.

STW/SLC slots children into career clusters which determine their high school coursework, often by the 8th grade. The only career paths available to students are those determined by bureaucrats appointed to seats on state and local work-force boards. Career paths are pre-selected by these boards, based on their perceptions of the needs of local industries, and guided by government generated labor market statistics.

Children are, in practice, human resources for a centrally planned economy. Taxpayers shoulder the burden of financing job training for businesses. Academics are substantially reduced; vocational education is mandated. Local control means local implementation of pre-determined results dictated by government workforce boards.

While STW/SLC is a revolutionary approach for American schools, the concept is anything but new to nations around the globe. Im-plemented particularly in the last century, STW/SLC is the practical outworking of a state planned economy, with government bureaucrats making basic life choices once properly deferred to the individual. Freedom to truly choose an occupation is gone under this system.

In South Carolina, the Career Pathways program begins tracking students in the 5th grade, and suggests "selecting" a career pathway by the 6th grade. All classroom studies from that point forward will focus on the skills required by the student's career path.

Texas was the first state to widely implement STW/SLC, with Dallas-area 10th graders spending part of the school day learning how to place lemon wedges on luncheon glasses. In Minneapolis, MN, all 8th graders were required to "apply" for a career cluster by January 2002. Only 60% of the students applied, the other 40% were assigned a career. Students will spend the next four years focusing on careers in beauty, automotive mechanics, or childcare, per their government pre-selected options.

A liberal arts career-track exists, but it will accept only a limited group of applicants. There is no longer a traditional, academic, four-year high school education available for all Minneapolis youth.

STW/ SLC Evangelists 
The adjective most often employed by early promoters of STW/SLC was "revolutionary" and, unfortunately, they weren't kidding.

Dr. Robert Beck of the University of Minnesota wrote a 1990 report urging American schools to adopt an eastern European version of School-to-Work called Polytechnical Education.

State marketing literature called STW/SLC "a whole new way of thinking, a revolutionary approach to education and workforce development."

Marc Tucker, originally of the Carnegie Forum and later president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, was an early key player in the promotion of STW/SLC. Tucker became one of the largest commercial distributors of STW/SLC promotional materials, parlaying his efforts into a multi-million-dollar scheme to transfer U.S. tax dollars through his various non-profit organizations.

Dr. Shirley McCune of the U.S. Department of Education said, "What we're into is the total restructuring of society. What it means for education is that we no longer see the teaching of facts and information as the primary outcome of education." Dr. McCune wasn't shy about disclosing the radical goal of STW/SLC when she said, "What we're into is the total restructuring of society."

Initially promoted for acceptance by all nations through UNESCO, the educational and cultural arm of the United Nations, STW/SLC was designed to bring about third-way economics similar to that promoted by renowned economist Peter F. Drucker.

In his book Post-Capitalist Society, Drucker called for a new economy based not on proven free market principles, but rather on an economic hybrid between capitalism and socialism. That's like arguing a mother is "just a little bit pregnant." An economy is either free market based, or it is at some level of slippage toward centralized economic planning.

Drucker proposed that America move even further away from the concept of freedom of individual economic choice. But what would this mean? Economic choices would continue to be made, but who would make them? Advocates of STW/SLC long for an economy that puts more choices in the hands of business and government conglomerates, thus reducing the economic choices available to the individual.

Economic socialism has long been the goal of radical economic progressives, but socialistic philosophy has consistently failed to take root in American experience and culture. Why? Because American public schools, for the most part, taught young minds the basics of free market thought. STW/SLC changes all that by teaching a new way of thinking through the new federal curriculum, and by restructuring the school experience.

New Federal Curriculum Delivers STW/SLC Philosophy  
In effect, American classrooms now have a federal curriculum based on the newly written national standards. Chief among the newly adopted standards are those for civics education, written by the federally subsidized nonprofit organization, Center for Civics Education (CCE).

Adopted in January 2002, the reauthorized ESEA (known as NCLB) mandates that schools receiving federal ESEA money assess children in grades 3-8 with state tests that mirror the national NAEP test. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in turn, is based on the national standards, including those written by the CCE during the 1990s.

In the classroom, the simple maxim prevails: Tests drive the curriculum. National tests, based on national standards, now drive locally administered curriculum. The burning question becomes, what information or attitudes are assessed by the newly mandated national tests?

It is difficult to determine what is measured, because the NCLB federal law actually prevents parents or citizens from discussing the content of the mandated tests, stating specifically that revealing a test question is punishable as a felony! Without meaningful public access to the nationally aligned assessments, accountability to the public is a near impossibility.

Although NCLB prohibits discussion of the actual content of the NAEP, we can review another government document that tells us what 9th graders are learning in Civics education.

In April 2001, the National Center for Education Statistics issued a report entitled, What Democracy Means to Ninth-Graders: U.S. Results from the International IEA Civic Ed Study.

Results show that 84.2% of the American 9th graders surveyed believe it is gov-ernment's responsibility to keep prices under control; 65.4% believe it is gov-ernment's responsibility to guarantee veryone a job; 63.5% believe government should reduce differences in income and wealth among people; 66.2% believe government should provide industry with the support they need to grow, and 87.6% believe government should provide basic health care for everyone.

The new federal curriculum appears wildly effective in capturing the hearts and minds of the uninitiated, as youth now overwhelmingly demonstrate agreement with the socialistic basis for a state-planned economy. With the next generation buying into third-way economics, students may hardly blink an eye when they find their school day restructured around entry-level job skills training.

STW/SLC Restructure the School Day 
Not only is STW/SLC a new way of thinking for all students, it radically restructures the school experience and the school day by joining with the third piece of the puzzle, the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Passed in 1998, WIA erects in every state and local community an appointed workforce board charged with the practical impossibility of determining local economic and work-force needs.

Bureaucrats determine which career paths will be offered in local schools, with schools acting as human resource suppliers filling labor needs for local industry.

There are three core elements common to every state and locally created STW/SLC program:

  1. School based learning restructures the educational experience so that all students learn how academic subjects relate to the world of work and develop workplace skills. The limited class time spent on academics will now focus on how a particular subject- math, for example - relates to a career path such as small engine repair. Students will learn only the math, history, or English needed to function as a worker in small engine repair.

  2. Work based learning focuses on career exploration, work experience, structured training and mentoring for all students at job sites. All students will leave the school campus to work off-site during regularly scheduled school hours, at local places of employment, often in violation of former child labor laws. Work-based learning is the reason many schools are adopting block scheduling, so that students will have the time to leave campus to become worker/learners.

  3. Connecting activities impose involuntary community service, invasive career and labor data collection systems, training for mentors and work supervisors according to government standards, and partnerships to match students with participating employers as dictated by government fiat. All are components of the ever-burgeoning bureaucracy necessary to advance a centrally planned economy.

STW/SLC emulates the failed, centrally-planned economic systems littering the trash heap of history. With its heritage of freedom and free market economics, America has produced the most prosperous and educated nation in the history of the world. The question is whether, through implementation of NCLB and the WIA, we will accept bureaucrats choosing careers for our children and directing our economy, or whether liberty will remain our children's future.

Minnesota State Senator Michele Bachmann, a champion of traditional education, easily won re-election last November. (See Education Reporter, Dec. 2002.) This article was excerpted from a booklet she wrote and produced. Complete unabridged version (including footnotes) is available from Sen. Bachmannís office, 100 Constitution Ave., 141 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Saint Paul, MN 55155.

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