In their daily email update, the education team over at Politico reported that representatives from big business are to sit down with national education policymakers (including Arne Duncan and Jeb Bush) to discuss Common Core. The idea, it sounds like, is to make sure schools are teaching students the things that business wants to see. This is not new. This sort of plan is as old as schooling itself.
From the email: “More than 40 CEOs representing some of the biggest companies in the U.S. sit down Wednesday with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former governors Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels at the Business Roundtable’s third quarter meeting. On the agenda: Collaborations between the business community and policymakers to better align education with the needs of a changing workforce. The group will also discuss the Common Core State Standards. The Business Roundtable is considering a national ad campaign to promote them but the CEOs have yet to decide exactly how to roll that out – or how much they’ll spend. President Barack Obama is also expected to drop by the meeting, though it’s not clear whether he’ll be in the room for the Common Core talk.”
The problem is that phrase “a changing workforce.” School policymakers have never been able to tell what specific skills the business world is going to desire next. It is better policy to teach rigorous critical thinking – lots of reading, writing, math, and science with the aim of leading the students toward critical analysis.
This is not a call for “back to the basics.” Of course you need “basics.” They get you to the more advanced levels of reading, writing, and analysis – i.e. “thinking.” Business and government and public civil society need all of these no matter what sorts of skills the marketplace wants at any given moment.This is what was termed, long ago, a liberal arts education. You can let kids pursue their particular interests while still encouraging them to read, write, and think hard about difficult topics. That’s the sort of people that make up a strong democratic society, and strong democratic societies make up strong economies.
In the end, business needs to pick up more of the slack and do on-the-job training. School systems cannot be expected to carry the whole burden.