Schools Adapt Curriculum to Needs of Business

January 17, 2006

Across the country, the government is carrying forward a campaign to reorganize and "redesign" public high schools.

While the government is still "experimenting" with several forms of reorganization and while various states and cities are adopting somewhat different methods, certain common threads have emerged:

- High school curricula are being redesigned to meet the changing needs of business. This includes tracking students by sending some to college preparatory schools, others to vocational schools, and still others to military "academies," etc.

- Shifting authority away from public control and accountability and replacing it with the direct role of business in curriculum design and school governance.

A recent watershed in the school redesign movement was the February 2005 National Education Summit on High Schools, convened by the National Governors Association in collaboration with business leaders and educational officials.

The overriding theme of the Summit was expressed in the main report: "The message found here is a simple but clear one. High school is now the front line in America's battle to remain competitive in the increasing competitive international economic state."

Business leaders and college presidents lamented the fact that they "must spend billions of dollars annually to provide their employees and students with the skills and knowledge they should have attained in high school." And to save these billions of dollars "governors, business leaders and education officials agreed to ensure that all high schools facilitate all students' successful transition to post-secondary education and the workforce."

The capitalists want to redesign high schools so that public funds are used to train their workforce and the curriculum is geared to turn out "work-ready" employees.

For the youth of our country, this means schools are turned into a tracking system designed to fill the various job classifications required by business.

Thus, for example, in a paper promoted on the Achieve website (created by the National Governors Association to carry through the program of the 2005 Education Summit), James Rosenbaum of Northwestern University, presents the argument for tracking.

Rosenbaum begins by attacking the "misguided college-for-all" policy, emphasizing that not all students deserve to go to college and insisting that high schools must increase vocational enrollment.

Rosenbaum writes that by high school, "many students are 2-3 or more years below grade level in achievement. [educators] cannot count on large numbers of students who have fallen several years below grade level after ten years of school to close that gap . . . even if schools make large new efforts." Instead of such "new efforts" to educate, high schools should expand "vocational programs" that "lead to well-paid careers in a wide variety of fields, including construction, trades, clerical and administrative support, technical specialties, printing, graphics, financial services and social services."

To prepare students for such jobs, Rosenbaum emphasizes that high schools focus on "noncognitive behaviors." He reminds educators that "employers stress attendance, dependability, perseverance, attention to quality.discipline, sociability, leadership and attendance."

Rosenbaum writes: "many employers report that some new workers are absent or late to work several days in their first week at the job, they do poor quality work, and they talk back to supervisors. Youths have learned that these behaviors are accepted in high school.Employers report that many young people.arrive at a job interview bringing a crying baby or a girlfriend to read the job application or they wear headphones, short skirts, torn jeans or t-shirts with inappropriate slogans..High schools are failing to develop soft skills, which employers value much more than academics, and which must be learned before entering the labor market."

In Chicago, the Board of Education (BOE) is developing several new programs, including "Renaissance 2010," and "Education to Careers" (ETC) to track students.

Through Renaissance 2010, the Chicago BOE is building dozens of charter, contract, "autonomous" and other schools (both elementary and high school) to "offer multiple choices." New Renaissance 2010 schools include military academies run directly by the Army or Navy, a "manufacturing polytechnic" high school, an academy for entry level jobs in the hospital industry, etc.

ETC is a separate program which invites business partners to run classes and curricula for more than 55,000 CPS students in 73 high school and 11 "career academies" throughout the city. ETC includes a "manufacturing cluster to prepare students for entry-level jobs and postsecondary careers in manufacturing," as well as curricula in auto body repair, automotive mechanics, Navistar Diesel, masonry, carpentry, sheet metal work, welding, medical assistant work, medical records technology, hospitality and tourism, barbering, child care work, machine operation, and others. Teachers and administrators work directly under the supervision of businesses who often use ETC to directly recruit new workers.

In college preparatory schools, different, more "high-tech" skills may be taught but the curriculum remains designed around the needs of business.

The program of business and government to redesign high school is a program for turning the modern school from a place of learning and broadness of outlook into a training ground which tracks requisite numbers of students into the job classifications needed by business.

Instead of guarantying equality in education, the schools are not to "waste" time and resources on students whose standardized test scores "prove" they are not fit for "academics;" after all such students are needed to fill "rewarding careers" in vocations and the military. Some students get to learn science and literature while others are confined to "hospitality and tourism."

In place of freedom of inquiry and freedom of conscience, schools will instill the "soft skills" "which employers value more than academics" - discipline at work, fear of the employers' authority, etc.

In sum, instead of a place of enlightenment, free from private prejudices and government dictate, the schools are being put directly in service of the capitalists (and the military). Schools are being removed from the public realm and turned over to the lords of wealth, as places of privilege or training for servitude.