This past week the president outlined a proposal to merge the Department of Education with the Department of Labor. This new department would be called the Department of Education and the Workforce. According to Education Secretary DeVos, “This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools”.
However, the consistent call from professional educators has been that public education needs to be fully funded. Likewise, those who work in worker advocacy have been calling for a national minimum livable wage with more robust worker protections. In addition, the consistent call from employers has been that there are not enough qualified workers to fill the jobs available. Nowhere in these long-standing discussions has anyone articulated a need to merge Education with Labor.
From my professional experience as an educator, I believe that merging education with labor will lead to tracking in schools. Tracking is the practice of placing students in the 7-12 grade into specific academic tracks that lead to separate tracks: college or career. This practice was the norm in the US in the past and produced a lot of low & lower-middle class workers, but also few managers, thinkers and creative people to lead companies forward. Bringing back tracking is something that neither educators nor employers consider a desirable outcome.
As with all mergers, jobs in these departments will be eliminated, and resources will be reduced to focus on a narrower scope. Specifically, we will be reducing the ability of each department to do what they do now. This will have significant impact on their ability to set policy. The mission of the Department of Labor is to provide resources that better serve American workers at all levels. If merged with Education, they will have fewer resources to meet the needs of American workers, which will inevitably reduce wages, worker protections, and retirement benefits.
The Department of Education sets educational priorities, provides equity and access, and informs state curricula so that we educate a globally competitive workforce. By merging this department with Labor, these policies will become truncated to serve a more insular, narrow, and trade-focused mission. This in turn will create more lower and lower-middle-class jobs, but not create a dynamic workforce that can compete on a global scale.
How this trickles down to the K-12 curriculum is that it will force states to re-direct resources to meet more trade-oriented skills and aptitudes. In essence we would be reducing the arts, humanities, and social sciences to better serve this new mission. This is tracking, plain and simple. As we now know, tracking has many undesirable outcomes, not the least of which is a less educated, less competitive, less diverse, and low-income earning workforce.
Instead of moving backwards, we should be moving forward.
This blog post is part of a newsletter I publish weekly called The Gigster 'Zine. It is a production of the Colégas Group, an organization that seeks to offer new opportunities for anyone with a college degree. To learn more about us, to receive valuable strategies for improvement, and to find innovative employment opportunities, sign up for the complete newsletter at colegasgroup.com.