Jeff Bryant, Yves Smith: How Corporations Use Public School Workforce ‘Pipelines’ to Harvest Students’ Data and Train Narrowly Skilled, Exploitable Staff
Independent education journalist Jeff Bryant and Yvews Smith (Naked Capitalism) examine how CTE programs have been taken over by corporate interests.
Nearly all public schools in the United States (98 percent) offer some form of career and technical education (CTE), and these programs, which were previously called vocational education or voc-ed, aren’t new to public schools. But what is new is the extent to which CTE programs have become exploited by big businesses and powerful actors in the marketplace to serve their own needs rather than those of students.
With the 2018 revision to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (Perkins IV) Act of 2006 (the main source of federal funding for CTE training)—which was replaced by the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century (Perkins V) Act of 2018—and other legislation, there are new pressures that these “programs of study must align with industry” and, as a result, ensure CTE is opening the door for businesses to exploit education resources and get unfettered access to students beginning as early as kindergarten.
Businesses are naturally attracted to public education because students are a source to meet their future labor demand, and schools can be places to inculcate students and families to become loyal customers. For these reasons alone, educators have traditionally resisted the idea of businesses having a disproportionate role in defining education programs. However, the already thin wall separating businesses from public schools has for years been getting gradually worn away.
In a 2011 report titled “Partnership Is a Two-Way Street: What It Takes for Business to Help Drive School Reform,” Frederick Hess and Whitney Downs of the American Enterprise Institute declared, “Business can provide the leverage, expertise, and leadership that will help educators and public officials make tough decisions and take hard steps they may not take on their own.”
In 2014, meanwhile, then-CEO of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson echoed similar views about the role of public schools in shaping the future workforce for corporations, saying, according to an article in the Washington Post, “I’m not sure public schools understand that… we, the business community, are your customer.” That same year, then-president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation John R. McKernan assigned the public education system the task of providing businesses with “a steady pipeline of talent” and declared, “Business is the largest single consumer of the education system. We can’t afford to be passive consumers.”
This thinking has welcomed the lobbying of powerful business leaders to assume that public education is up for grabs and can be molded depending on the workforce requirements for their future streams of operations at any point in time. Well-funded lobbying has led to legislation being passed that backs corporate influence and even promotes the idea of marketing K-12 students as a potential workforce to attract companies like Amazon to set up shop.
For instance, to attract Amazon to build its East Coast headquarters in Virginia, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Stephen Moret consulted economist Enrico Moretti, who “advised that the best way to lure more tech employers was to build out the pipeline of highly skilled employees through investments in education,” according to Washingtonian. “How did Virginia win Amazon HQ2?” Moret askedduring a 2019 Education Summit after the deal was inked. “Other states pitched incentives; we pitched our educated workforce,” he said, according to a tweet by Chamber RVA, the chamber of commerce representing the entire Richmond area.