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Education Reporter

STW - Sweeping Down the Plain in Oklahoma
Linda Murphy
Linda Murphy
By Linda Murphy

When Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating vetoed the state mandate for School-to-Work (STW) in May 1995, supporters of traditional education considered it a victory. However, he later approved a state STW plan and appointed a STW Council by executive order in an attempt to oversee and alter the plan according to the Council's direction.

I served on the STW Council in 1996 while also serving as Deputy Commissioner of Labor. Previously, I served as the Governor's education advisor from January through December 1995. In 1994, I ran as the Republican candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction on a platform that focused on academics and rejected OBE. I received 49.5% of the vote.

After the election, Governor Keating appointed me to his Cabinet as Secretary of Education. This infuriated the Democrat leadership, who perceived that their tight control over the education establishment and its allies was threatened. They refused to confirm my cabinet appointment, and waged a battle in the media against the STW Councilmembers who were advocating change. They appealed to the Democrat Attorney General, who stopped the Council and declared that the Governor's executive order was an unauthorized use of power. The end result is that Oklahoma's STW plan remains in place and is moving forward.

Oklahoma's STW Plan 
The Oklahoma plan was written by Vo-Tech, the Department of Vocational-Technical Education, now called the Department of Career Technology, and will mean statewide reform of K-12 education for all students. The system is supported by research produced by the National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE) at the University of California-Berkeley, which sponsors "Statewide Professional Development" conferences for school leaders across the nation.

The NCRVE promotes the adoption of polytechnical education, which it defines as the integration of education and vocational training modeled after the Soviet system, which is based on Marxist-Leninist-theory. The NCRVE research paper "Polytechnical Education: A Step," outlines its philosophy and goals.

After reporting these facts in my report "A Review and Analysis of the Oklahoma School-to-Work Plan," from the Oklahoma Department of Labor, NCRVE contacted me to object to my quotes, claiming their research was valid. The only "democratic form of education," according to NCRVE, is achieved by giving academic preparation and job training equal time or "purity of esteem" in the curriculum for all students. This philosophy gives education reform a political world view and changes the goals and mission of public education.

In June 2000, Oklahomans were surveyed by the Oklahoma State Regents of Higher Education in an effort to determine their desires and beliefs about education. Overall, 92% of parents with 5th -12th graders responded that they are planning for their children to attend college. In direct conflict with this goal, the Oklahoma STW plan states that only 20% of students will "need" a college degree, but 65% will "need" technology training.

One of the most worrisome quotes from STW materials is this: "Parents may be the most difficult audience to sell on STW. They are sure that a four-year degree is the way to success - the only choice that will guarantee their child a better education, a better job, a better life than they've had . . . Few, if any, students will enroll if their parents are opposed, and those who believe STW is an underhanded effort on the part of educators to steer students away from the elite college-prep route may be very vocal in letting friends, neighbors and coworkers know that this new system does not match their perception of the American Dream." (p.33) The Career Connection: A Marketing Plan for the Successful Implementation of Oklahoma's School-to-Work System.

Under the plan, Oklahoma teachers will be required to integrate their academic curriculum with a list of general workplace competencies and job tasks or duty skills being developed by Vo-Tech. Many teachers have found "hands on" or "applied" curriculum less academically challenging. (It requires increased numbers of demonstrations and performances, leaving less time for academics.) However, a plan exists to quiet the concerns of teachers who object. The STW Marketing Plan states: "At some point it may be necessary to let holdouts (educators opposed to STW) know they either need to become positive supporters or look for another line of work." (p.67)

Through STW, a career assessment system is also being implemented which includes career cluster (job category) testing, counseling, career planning, the maintenance of career portfolios, and a permanent career database for each student. By the end of the 8th grade, students are expected to decide on a six-year plan based on the results of the cluster tests. The system outline describes 14 years of public school for all students, including at least two years of guaranteed post-secondary school as called for by Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor.

The entire STW plan revolves around the career majors established by the evaluation of market data and is designed to eliminate the "misalignments" between the workforce preparation system and the marketplace. Many plan details and "how to" implement them are outlined in a series of manuals produced and sold across the country by Vo-Tech's Curriculum and Instructional Materials Center.

One of the nation's largest STW efforts is taking place in approximately 45 Oklahoma schools and in the schools of many other states under the auspices of the Southern Regional Education Board through the "High Schools that Work" (HSTW) program. HSTW is promoted as a system that demands high academic performance, but in reality, allows students less time for academic study, consolidates and renames academic courses, and transitions schools to curriculum and testing that is based on the very controversial new "standards" produced by education councils. A local HSTW site coordinator told me that these new standards for math are "effective," but that the Saxon Math books (which are academically focused) were not "effective," so she had to get rid of them.

The public would not approve these major changes in our schools, but most are gradual and difficult to decipher, even for those who read the detailed plans. Parents are unaware, and teachers are being schooled in the new way of thinking. Unless you take the time to study, then step back and observe the transformation, it is illusive. Those who are well-versed in the underlying philosophies of education reform will see that STW will ultimately parallel OBE. With both, the ultimate goal is de-emphasizing academics and integrating job training into the curriculum for all students.

The German Model  
I represented Governor Keating's office at the National Governor's Association (NGA) meeting for Governors' Education Advisors in Chicago in May 1995, where I met Marc Tucker, director of the National Center for Education and the Economy (NCEE). Tucker's NCEE board members include Hillary Clinton, Ira Magaziner and David Rockefeller Jr.

The NCEE's plans to transform the U.S. education system into a European-style model is one of many programs the NGA staff was promoting in an attempt to gain the support of the governors' advisors. The NGA wanted to maintain its ongoing effort begun under the direction of Bill Clinton when he was Governor of Arkansas. The goal was to get newly elected Governors on board and continue advancing OBE, STW and Goals 2000.

In addition to the NCRVE philosophy of giving academic instruction and job training "parity of esteem" in the public school curriculum, another major influence looms large. The "German Dual System of Vocational Training" is being adapted in many U.S. states under a program called "Workforce Solutions for America's Future," developed by the German-based company, Carl Dunsberg Society (CDS) International Inc.

CDS sent a letter to Governor Keating (May 12, 1995) boasting that it has "organized programs for representatives of government, education, labor and industry from over 20 different states and communities, as well as several major companies and special interest organizations." It promotes itself as "instrumental in assisting American policymakers and practitioners to gain a new perspective and new ideas from the German dual system of vocational training."

An accompanying CDS brochure produced for the German Information Systems states that "Germany's school-to-work transition system helps transfer nearly 70% of its young population, at around the age of 16, from full-time secondary school to spending most of their time building workplace skills as apprentices." The brochure is sprinkled with testimonials from American education, business and government officials. Perhaps most revealing are these words from Carolyn Warner, a consultant and former Arizona State Superintendent of Schools: "America cannot persist in telling high school graduates that a college degree is the only path to happiness and success. We need to borrow a page from the German system and provide the kind of comprehensive, hardnosed career counseling that exposes our young people to real world choices . . . "

While the STW plan in Oklahoma and other states moves forward, many parents, teachers, students, business and political leaders remain unaware of the changes that are being made in K-12 education. The public demands education reform, but as evidenced by the Oklahoma Regents survey, most parents want their children to receive academic preparation, not vocational/technical education. Job training and career counseling are important, and as a former member of the State Job Training and Coordinating Council, I am supportive of developing and improving these areas. The STW plan however, requires all students to have work-site experience at the cost of precious time in academic study.

Some practices, methods, techniques and principles promoted by the STW plan can be applied in a positive manner, but they should only be utilized under the authority and direction of local officials, school boards and parents after federal control is removed. The STW issue is really about freedom and the opportunity for every student to learn to his or her fullest potential without being manipulated for someone else's financial or political gain.

Linda Murphy’s state education appointments were the result of her expertise in the field. She holds several teaching certifications and has extensive experience in special education. She is currently researching and preparing documentation on Oklahoma’s School-to-Work models.

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