Will Public Education Survive the Next Administration?

Donald Trump has called Common Core a “disaster.” The leaked DNC emails refer to the standards as a “political third rail.”

At this point, however, the controversial standards may be more of a red herring than anything else.

While the public remains largely in the dark, a massive upheaval of our public school system is well underway, and recent proposals from both major political parties indicate that the transformation will move full speed ahead regardless of who is elected president this fall.

The new system is designed to expand the education market by allowing out-of-district providers – including  online programs, non-profits, local businesses, and even corporations- to award credit for student learning.  At the same time, it doubles down on workforce development by aligning educational outcomes to the needs of industry leaders.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, students will “no longer [be] tethered to school buildings or schedules.” Instead, the system will require students to earn “digital badges” that they will display in individual competency-profiles accessible to potential employers and investors.

“By collecting skill-based badges, the record of achievement begun in secondary school becomes the foundation upon which workers build their capabilities and tell their stories to employers,” explains the infamous testing-behemoth, Pearson Education.

Knowledgeworks recently described the new learning system as an “ecosystem,” in which the role of the traditional teacher will soon be obsolete.

With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for “personalized,” competency-based policies and “innovative” assessment systems.

(The American Legislative Exchange Council and the major teacher’s unions and their associated networks are encouraging states join the innovative assessment pilot program designed by the International Association of K-12 Online Learning and the Gates-funded Knowledgeworks Foundation and now allowed by the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.)

Now, both major political parties have put forth proposals that will kick the system into high gear.

Three years after the Clinton Global Initiative partnered with Mozilla, the MacArthur Foundation and “a consortium interested in virtual learning” to expand the use of digital badges, Hillary has unveiled a “New College Compact” that calls for federal funds to be used “to build on experiments allowing federal student aid to be used for high-quality career and lifelong learning programs with promising or proven records.”

“Many students are rebooting their careers and improving their economic prospects through innovative on-line programs offering badges, nanodegrees, and certificates,” the Compact states.

(In 2009 Bill Clinton, who was paid 16.5 million between 2008 and 2012 by online learning giant Laureate Education, honored CEO of the Lumina Foundation, Jamie Meristotis, for his work in the advancement of digital badging systems. Meristotis’s foundation is a spin-off of the student loan behemoth Sallie Mae, whose profits skyrocketed after the Clinton administration advised them to become a private corporation beginning in 1994.)

On the other side of the aisle, the Republican Party – known for its support of vouchers and school “choice” – appears ready to move forward with the same agenda. The recently unveiled plan calls for states “to allow a wide array of accrediting and credentialing bodies to operate.”

“This model would foster innovation, bring private industry into the credentialing market, and give students the ability to customize their college experience,” the platform states.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has recently called for an expansion of “community schools” – a concept that may sound like music to many parents’ ears, but likely means something quite different than many assume.

Across the country, Knowledgeworks has teamed up with Target, United Way, and Wall Street investors to create data-sharing networks where the “community” actually is the school. In Salt Lake City, parents are actually being encouraged to waive their FERPA rights by the United Way. In Pittsburgh, a partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, Common Sense Media, and Digital Promise, called Remake Learning Network, is currently attempting to turn the city into “a campus for learning.”

Where will all of this transformation leave traditional brick and mortar schools? Will teachers still have a profession eight years from now?

Only time will tell.

There’s no question, however, that no matter what happens in November, defenders of public education are going to need to be prepared to fight.

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