U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said last Tuesday that she advocated the expansion of training and apprenticeship programs to give students more choices than just attending four-year universities – this, however, contradicts many of the cuts made in President Donald Trump’s budget.
DeVos said there’s a stigma around people who choose not to attend four-year universities and this is one of the key reasons over 6 million jobs are currently unfilled. She highlighted that we’re not training and educating people for many of the jobs that exist in the economy because the government and society at large tells everyone that attending university is the only path to prosperity.
According to the latest Census data earlier this year, 33.4 percent of Americans who are 25 years or older said they had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is a distinct rise from the 28 percent with a college degree ten years ago. However given that only a little over a third of Americans have a college degree and millions of jobs are vacant, DeVos suggested expanding apprenticeship and training programs.
“We need to expand our thinking on what apprenticeships actually look like… we need to start treating students as individuals and not boxing them in. They need more choices.”
The Trump administration already announced in June of this year that they would pour $200 million into ApprenticeshipUSA, a grant program, using funding already allocated for the Labor Department.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta concurs with DeVos, making the point earlier this week that it is critical to change the perception among young people that colleges are the only pathway to a productive career. Since becoming labor secretary in April, Acosta has made apprenticeships a top priority, hoping to expand apprenticeship programs beyond just trade industries.
Trump, Acosta, and DeVos hope to fill some of the current open jobs by investing in and expanding apprenticeship programs, which usually occur in offices or factories. However, Trump’s budget would significantly cut funding for job training programs that offer more classroom-based learning.
President Donald Trump’s federal budget for next year said it would reduce funding for job training by $1.1 billion, or 40 percent, shifting the majority of responsibility to states and employers.
Apprenticeships which are typically good for employees with some skills and educational background are only one piece of the unemployment and labor shortage puzzle. For those lacking basic skills, job training programs are better suited and tend to offer more classroom time to develop new skills. Currently there are no plans to expand federal funding for apprenticeships or job training at the Department of Education.
Speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council in Washington D.C. last Tuesday, DeVos said that it was important for local businesses and companies to work with local schools and community colleges so that their curriculums can be based more on the skills businesses need. She said this would allow more students to take classes tailored to certain professions at community colleges, without paying outrageous sums. Such collaborations and partnerships, DeVos hopes, will narrow the gap between those unemployed and employers looking for skilled and available workers to fill their open positions.
Once again, President Trump’s proposed budget clashes with her goals. Trump’s budget will cut $2.25 billion from a program that currently provides federal grants to states to train and recruit teachers and would slash $43 million from another program that offers professional development and training to current and prospective teachers. Funding would also be reduced for federal work study and literacy grants.
Changing the curriculum of schools and community colleges to better suit the needs of businesses and prepare students for “real world” jobs requires training and development of teachers so that they can confer new skills upon their students.
As the Journal of Education and Practice said in a report last year, “teachers need training and workshops, which are geared toward professional development to be able to contribute to curriculum development. Thus, teachers play an integral part in the process of developing the curriculum; then students’ outcomes.”
The White House has said that teacher training programs are unnecessary and burdensome on the budget and instead wants to channel money into its top priority in education–school choice. The administration wants to spend approximately $400 million to enlarge charter schools and voucher programs for private and religious schools. Another $1 billion would be used to encourage public schools to adopt school choice friendly policies, according to the Washington Post.
School choice is indeed front and center in DeVos’ education policy priorities. She said on Tuesday that inequality in education occurs across the country because most Americans don’t have a choice as to what kind of school they send their child to.
“We haven’t tried empowering parents yet and giving each individual student their own path and choice,” DeVos said.
DeVos argued that a big part of the reason inequality and lack of choice exist within education is because our schooling system is still based on a model and approach that the Prussians used 150 years ago. Educational reformer and politician Horace Mann traveled to Germany in 1843 to observe the country’s education system which then led to the establishment and eventual proliferation of the “factory model” school programs in the United States.
The Atlantic in an article from 2012 describes this model as “a publicly-funded system where, in every American classroom, groups of about 28 students of roughly the same age are taught by one teacher, usually in an 800 square-foot room. This model has been the dominant archetype ever since.”
The purpose of the model was to “simply create a tolerant, civilized society,” in the most efficient way possible, it wasn’t designed for individuality and creativity which is the point DeVos made on Tuesday, saying that we need to modernize our schooling system to accommodate each individual student’s trajectory. She said she hoped to accomplish this by expanding school choice and ensuring that the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 is implemented uniquely in states and districts around the country, as Congress intended it to.