Thursday, November 4, 2010

2010 Election, Push for Jobs, Education

Recent federal election results could have a major impact on education policies in the near future. For example the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and other education policies could be affected by the shift of power in the US House to Republicans. The following is an excerpt from an Education Week article written on the eve of the recent mid term elections:

“If the GOP does take the House, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, would likely become chairman of the panel.

Rep. Kline has expressed skepticism about core elements of President Barack Obama’s education agenda. For instance, he said in an interview this fall that he wouldn’t favor extending for an additional year the $4 billion Race to the Top competition, which rewards states for making progress on education redesign goals.

And he said that he wants to make sure that a portion of the stimulus-funded Race to the Top program that provided $350 million to 44 states to create more uniform, richer academic assessments doesn’t lead to a “national test.”

But Mr. Kline also said he and the administration see eye to eye on important issues, including the need to encourage the proliferation of high-quality charter schools and identify ways to reward effective teachers, and remove those that are ineffective.”

We now know that Republicans have won a majority in the House of Representatives and that they will have a major impact on federal education policy. Its ironic that current education fads such as adding more charter schools and firing a certain percentage of teachers are the few areas where there is agreement between liberals and conservatives. Educators should brace for more disruptive reforms that have little or no basis in education research but are knee jerk reactions to our poor ratings on international measures of educational attainment and the recent so called “education documentaries”.

The other development that really should have a major affect on education is the increased emphasis by voters, news commentators, and elected officials on the need to restructure our economy and education system to provide more jobs for unemployed adults and for young people entering the labor force.

Fareed Zakaria, a highly regarded news commentator, hosted a one hour program recently on CNN titled “Restoring the American Dream” where successful CEOs of Coca-Cola Google, Alcoa, and IBM gave their advice on revitalizing the US economy.

Their strongest recommendation was that our young people and our displaced workers need a continuing reeducation program that prepares and retrains them for the changing job needs of the new economy. This continuing education program should focus on career training and essential skills. More emphasis is needed on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) training as well as training for the growing service industries.

It was pointed out that the recent recession has had minimal unemployment impact on Germany for example, because that country has a sophisticated education and retraining program that continually prepares its workers for new jobs. It was clear to me that the growth in education these leaders were recommending is in the area of Community and Technical Colleges, not in the traditional 4 year institutions. Most workers they said, need at most 18 month training programs. Governor Jindal and the director of the Louisiana Workforce authority made the same point recently when recommending more efficient use of our higher education system. A good example are the courses recently offered in the Louisiana Community College system for installing home solar electrical systems and for converting autos and trucks to compressed natural gas systems. These are some of the jobs in demand in the next few years that do not require 4 year college training. And they have the added advantage that they cannot be farmed out to other cheap labor countries. The same cannot be said of some software engineering and other high status jobs that may require a college degree.

I believe that Louisiana would do well to break with the current elitist system pushed by the State Department of Education and higher education officials and concentrate on high tech and practical skills that will make our young people more employable and at the same time revive our Louisiana economy.