One constant in the education world over the past 25 years has been the periodic release of reports warning that American workers will be unable to compete in the global economy unless education becomes a seamless web of government-managed workforce preparation. Think Common Core State Standards (CCSS), most recently. But in the 1990s, CCSS had a precursor in the Goals 2000/School-to-Work crusade for nationalized education standards, and soon it may have a successor, which could be a rebranded Common Core enforced through the considerable powers given the U.S. secretary of Education in the new Every Student Succeeds Act.
All groundwork-laying reports have sounded a note of urgency, as does the very latest: a “No Time to Lose” 28-pager released August 9 by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Within the elitist network pushing systemic change, there have been occasional lineup changes of sponsors since 1990. For instance, the trade groups for governors and chief state school officers — not state legislators — birthed the Common Core State Standards in 2009.
One individual has been a constant presence: Marc Tucker, now 76, the one-time University of Rochester professor of education. As president of the nonprofit National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), Mr. Tucker has worked relentlessly to yoke all schooling to workforce preparation. Mr. Tucker and his staff are partners in the NCSL No Time to Lose initiative, as is The Business Roundtable, which also has been present from the start.
In keeping with the pattern of NCEE jeremiads, No Time to Lose picks out supposedly high-performing countries the United States should copy posthaste. Among building blocks presented as essential are early education that steps up pressure on kids to learn in kindergarten and 1st grade (one of the controversial elements of Common Core), a professionalized teacher workforce, career and technical programs, and”a comprehensive aligned system of education.”
In receiving a major award from the Education Commission of the States two years ago, Mr. Tucker expressed anger that, in his view, the widespread embrace of American exceptionalism has deterred the United States from adopting as its own other countries’ workforce-based transformations of education.
Mr. Tucker indicated he is not retiring because he still wants to make that happen. And given the continued sway he holds within the education-industrial complex, that may put back in play the original vision from 1990.
That was when NCEE tapped Arkansas lawyer Hillary Clinton to promote its call for radically transforming education in the report America’s Choice: High Skills or Low Wages! A key proposal was all students must earn a skills-based “Certificate of Initial Mastery” by age 16, which would be required to go to work, college, or to attain additional training.
When Bill Clinton was elected president in November 1992, Mr. ucker could not contain his ebullience. In an 18-page “Dear Hillary” letter, he told the incoming first lady, who many at the time viewed as a co-president of sorts, the time had come “to remold the entire American system” into a “seamless web that extends literally from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone.” Via national standards, the system would be all-controlling: curriculum, pedagogy, testing, teacher training and licensure, and virtually everything else. Workforce boards would tweak curricula to meet state-determined labor needs.
With Hillary Clinton climbing in the 2016 presidential polls, it is not far-fetched to assume Mr. Tucker is drafting a new “Dear Hillary” letter, perhaps for transmission on November 11, the 24th anniversary of the original. While criticizing Common Core’s bungled rollout, Mrs. Clinton has continued to praise its essence. It is reasonable to assume these two believers in Soviet-style education for the masses would relish a chance to make the web stick this time.
They face one problem, the one that stopped School-to-Work in its tracks and that has stymied Common Core (one-half to three-fourths of participating states have dropped out of the two federally funded CC testing consortia). That problem is the American parent, particularly the moms.
Mom would be delighted to hear of job-related classes her children might choose voluntarily as part of a well-rounded education. Mom is not on board, however, with grand plans of government and industrial elitists to make her children cogs in an economic machine without regard to their individual aspirations. So, the moms may just have to keep fighting for their right to direct their children’s education in 2017 and well beyond.
• Robert Holland is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.