I remember it well, a casual conversation with a neighbor on the sidewalk. It was a brief exchange, the kind that should’ve been quickly forgotten. At the time I knew nothing of Marc Tucker’s “Dear Hillary Letter” or the National Center on Education and the Economy. I hadn’t yet started mapping IBM and Digital On-Ramps, and Ideas42, the behavioral science research institute incubated at Harvard. I can’t remember the exact year, though it was probably some time after the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) but before Colorado and Washington State started talking about adopting the Swiss Apprenticeship model.
But it happens sometimes, certain moments stick with you over the years, important, even if you didn’t know exactly why at the time. Over the course of this particular chat, it came up that the board of the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) had begun to weigh-in on what courses would be offered at the school. Evidently classes were expected to align to economic indictors. For example, pre-architecture courses would need to be phased out, because “the numbers” indicated there wouldn’t be enough architecture jobs.
Source: Closed Door Event on Business and Education, January 29, 2018, more here
Whose numbers? Not enough architecture jobs? At the time the city even had a charter high school specifically for architecture and design. Philadelphia’s four-year universities, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, and Temple, all offered architecture coursework. So why should students choosing to pursue an Associate’s Degree first be shut out of the field?
In 2012, then mayor, now what works, Moneyball government talking head, Michael Nutter, appointed himself and six allies to the fifteen-person board of CCP. The president would be let go within the year, replaced by Dr. Donald Generals. Generals had formerly worked as an administrator at a questionable, now defunct, for-profit secretarial college in New York. The faculty did not support the appointment.
All of this happened shortly after the city accepted a Smarter Cities Challenge grant from IBM to develop our “human capital” via Gates and MacArthur Foundation-funded badging and career pathway initiatives. Did I mention Lisa Nutter, wife of the mayor now social impact investor, was executive director of Philadelphia Academies, the Digital On Ramps project lead, at the time?
Source: IBM Smarter Cities Challenge, Philadelphia Report, 2011
Source: Josesph DeiStefano, Philadelphia Inquirer
Quite a few of Nutter’s new board members were cozy with the Chamber of Commerce. You remember, that influential group that held a closed-door meeting on business’s role in public education at Girard College during the winter of 2018 (see below).
Well, this is the current board of CCP:
Patrick Clancy: CEO of Philadelphia Works who implemented Pennsylvania’s Welfare to Work program and helped draft the state’s WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) plan.
Harold Epps: Philadelphia Director of Commerce and co-chair of Comcast’s National African American Advisory Council
Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend: CEO of Philadelphia Youth Network, data-driven school-to-work effort and Digital On Ramps partner
Lydia Hernandenz-Velez: Long-time board member of Aspira charter schools and retired administrator from the city’s Department of Aging
Steve Herzog: Former Vice President at Philadelphia Energy Solutions and board member of Philadelphia Academies, work-based learning and original host of IBM’s Digital On Ramps Program
Sheila Ireland: Executive Director Philadelphia Office of Workforce Development and co-founder of West Philadelphia Skills Initiative
Sharon A. Jean-Baptiste: Regional Director for Solutions and Technology at Jacobs, an architecture, engineering, and science firm
Rosalyn McPherson: President of The Roz Group, publishing and cultural consulting, former President of the Urban League and board member of the National Philanthropic Trust
Mindy Posoff: Managing Director of Golden Seeds, institutional investor on board of the Philadelphia Foundation and Ben Franklin Technology Partners
Hon. James Roebuck: Pennsylvania State Representative 188th Legislative District, board member Philadelphia NAACP
Michael Solieau: Vice President of Strategy at Comcast (Comcast was a sponsor of the Chamber event above)
Jeremiah White: CEO White Associates, business development and non-profit fundraising and co-founder Intercultural Family Services
A scan of credentials indicates a group representing the interests of technology, finance, and data-driven human capital investment. No educators in the mix. Skills, skills, and more skills! For the past few years the media has been beating the drum around the “skills gap.”
Industry needs more “middle skill” workers they cry. Harness education to industry and re-skill as needed to facilitate “pay for success” payouts. Earn a badge, and investors take their cut. That’s the program Bill Gates and the tech sector have been setting up since at least the early 1990s.
Leverage research coming out of the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative.
Turn education into training.
Put it online.
Track people, especially the poor, using screens, phones, and wearable tech.
Internet of Things “life” shifts to “anywhere” surveillance.
Collect data, lots of it.
Profile people through their digital competency badges.
Predict their futures.
Gamble on their life outcomes.
As in the matrix, people will be the batteries for these hedge fund games.
The image below touting Pay for Success finance for workforce training from the Federal Reserve? That is a direct descendent of Art Rolnick and Steven Rothschild’s Human Capital Performance Bond program, developed in the mid 1990s in Minneapolis-St. Paul (more on that here).
Source: Pay For Success: How Emerging Finance Tools Are Supporting Workforce Development, Federal Reserve of Richmond white paper, 2019
So, I think it best to pause a moment and reflect on the nature of today’s globalized economy. Is it serving the interests of the legions of precarious workers with erratic schedules, heavy workloads, and few, if any benefits?
Is it killing the planet?
Now imagine the consequences of allowing corporate interests to dictate what coursework can be offered in public education institutions. What happens once members of the chamber of commerce are able to order up talent in quantities to flood the markets? They’ll be able to to cherry pick top applicants for bargain-basement wages, and tax payers will have footed the bill for this just-in-time training, too.
Good for c-suite executives, bad for regular folks.
And what happens when a majority of gigs are STEM-related and entail people building and maintaining the technological infrastructure of the “smart” (extremely hackable) police surveillance state? And why do we have to have so many STEM jobs? Because those in power are systematically diverting manufacturing, service, and knowledge work to robots and synthetic humans. So all that is left for most us to do is to code the shadowy surveillance mixed reality world?
No thank you.
Does it make sense to feed coming generations into a machine designed to shred their souls, while lifting up a few exceptional individuals whose role it is to convince everyone to stay in the game in the hopes that they, too, can come out a “winner?”
As the mom of a nineteen-year-old, humanities-loving kid, that’s a definite NO from me.
Once the career pathways programs are locked down, plays and poetry and foreign languages and philosophy and history will be pushed so far to the margins as to be almost non-existent outside some dumbed-down Common Core State Standard. Books? Who reads books? They’re raising up cadres of students that know little more than screens and video games.
Already, many young teachers are in a bind. Their education took place under regimes of standards-based repression. They don’t know what it was like before everything was tied to a rubric. Corporate interests play a long game. They look 20-30 years out. They’re patient. Over the past few decades they systematically pushed out veteran teachers and created a school culture that would meet their requirements for a marginally-educated, compliant labor pool that would play well with robots and know their place (or be too afraid to step out of line).
So what exactly is going to happen in this brave new world of “work” and engineered economies when people want to leave their home state or get off their assigned pathway? Where are you supposed to go if regional workforce boards control the types of careers on offer and act as gatekeepers for required credentials? If you do a certain type of work can you only reside in a certain region?
It’s strange to me that so few are talking about any of this as corporate America builds out the cradle-to-gray “lifelong learning” pipelines, and Naviance and Clever and the ACT are tracking our children data point by data point to calculate in precise measure their future productivity ratings for a wretched, broken system.
I direct you now to Pennsylvania’s 2018 WIOA plan. It notes the fastest growing employement sectors in my state are dominated by low wage jobs, wages that are insufficient to support a family especially in areas where housing costs are rising. In addition, many of the jobs are physically taxing, unstable, and come with few benefits. As people are working into their 70s with no retirement security, what are they supposed to do? Now Walmart is eliminating greeters and embracing robot shelf scanners. Even THAT work is gone. People’s labor is being made redundant as levels of wealth inequality grow precipitously.
Source: WIOA State Plan for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania FY-2018
The excerpt below, from another section of the 2018 WIOA plan for Pennsylvania, makes it crystal clear that the state is looking to short-change its OWN staff, giving preference to online self-serve CareerLink portals over bricks-and-mortar centers with actual people who can assist job seekers face to face and develop relationships with them.
We are aligning education to a crap economy AND the most vulnerable are going to be the ones harmed in the process. They will be funneled into jobs that will never let them achieve independence and they will become ALICE data fodder for the impact investment predators.
So WHO set up these pathways?
The effort really started to gain traction in the mid 1990s after Bill Clinton took office. It very much parallels advances in technology, the idea being that as economic changes speed up, human capital will have to do the same. Over the past twenty-five years education has become more and more data-driven, because Clinton harnessed it to the tech sector when he created the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative through Executive Order 13111 in 1999. IMS global emerged from Educause, heavily funded by Gates, and education was pushed more and more towards the banking model of information consumption to feed growing global computing markets and eventually human capital investment markets via Pay for Success.
Source: Advisory Committee on Training Opportunities and Executive Order 13111
In addition to creating a federal infrastructure to grow online learning for government employees and ALL Americans, Clinton also created an advisory committee tasked with linking that digital training to employment. The two committee co-chairs were Christine Hemrick of Cisco Systems and Hilary Pennington who served on the Clinton transition team as a tech advisor and had for many years been CEO at Jobs for the Future (JFF). Eventually Pennington left JFF to work for the Gates Foundation and is now Vice President for programs at the Ford Foundation. In 2017, the Ford Foundation made a commitment to place $1 billion of its endowment into impact investing over a ten-year period.
Source: Ford Foundation Is an Unlikely Convert to ‘Impact” Investing, NY Times, April 13, 2017
One of the Ford Foundation’s current grantees (above) just happens to be the Poor People’s Campaign based out of the Kairos Center. I can imagine the workforce pathway impact investment program dovetailing with this initiative.
Clinton had signed the School-to-Work Opportunities Act in 1994, a year or so after Marc Tucker sent the “Dear Hillary Letter.” That jump-started work-based learning efforts. Jobs for the Future, the American Youth Policy Forum and the National Association of Secondary School Principals developed a paper on “revitalizing” high schools to advance the career pathway effort. This 1995 report embraced many of the ideals promoted in Tucker’s letter to Clinton and includes concepts I have called Ed Reform 2.0: certificates of completion, alternative work-based learning programs , competency-based education with performance assessments, and alternative credentialing systems. The plan was to create a workbased-learning program that would be attractive to employers due to its flexibility, responsiveness, and alignment to regional workforce goals. Excerpts from the report below.
It is no coincidence that JFF brands itself as a social-impact enterprise. Tracking “opportunity youth,” immigrants, and returning citizens into training and employment has become an enormous “pay for success” investment sector in recent years. In fact the US Department of Education awarded JFF and Social Finance $2 million in 2016 to pay the cost of giving technical assistance to partners interested in piloting pay for success financed work-based learning initiatives. This award was one of the first two issued after the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA included authorizing language for the controversial pay for success finance initiative. These are JFF’s partners.
Below is a list of grants from four of the organization’s major funders, including a combined $120 million in grants from the Gates Foundation.
Nellie Mae grants link JFF to the competency based education model.
Lumina Foundation grants link JFF to talent development and alternative digital credential systems.
William and Flora Hewlett foundation grants link JFF to Open Education Record (OER) meta-data and impact philanthropy.
So now we imagine college students placed on digital on-ramps to lifelong-learning pathways defined by plug-and-play competencies. Students set up to exhaust themselves curating portfolios of high-demand micro-credentials in the hopes they can successfully run the algorithmic, gig-economy gauntlet that is being built around them.
In this current landscape of economic uncertainty, education at all levels is becoming less about knowledge creation and more about training for the next job and the next and the next; because the only constant is that there will always be the NEXT job. The idea of career stability swept away as the door closed on the twentieth-century.
Interactive version of map here.
People are expected to suck-it-up-buttercup, because life on the Blockchain is coming. Earn your badges and integrate yourself into the borg. That’s why schools are pushing ten year olds to start career portfolios; why middle schoolers must have Naviance accounts so Hobsons can data-mine them; and why high school students are expected to participate in work-based learning so they can find their “passions” while having their “soft skills” assessed, even though most experts agree the “future of work” in a mixed-reality world industrial automation remains one big question mark.
After that conversation I wondered what other changes were underway and what was motiving those changes. Fast-forward a few years. I now see how we’re moving towards an engineered economy designed to serve the interests of transnational global capital. Our futures increasingly shaped by the mandates of workforce-planning boards, each region assigned a handful of growth industries.
The letter Marc Tucker sent to Hillary Clinton as Bill prepared to take office in 1992 proposed a vision that was “very complex, will take a long time to sell, and will be revised many times along the way.” And so it began, this kernel, evolving over twenty-seven years into a tech-mediated program of global human capital management where people are reduced to the stackable credentials in their learning lockers and predictions about their productivity as workers.
Source: New Alliance Will Invest In Education And Workforce Development Companies, October 29, 2018
Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, Every Student Succeeds, all advanced the vision fronted by Tucker, step by step with the support of Democrats and Republicans and the computer industry and the military research often carried out in the labs of esteemed universities. It was a vast network of public-private partnerships that generated the framework for this coming cybernetic dystopia.
And so as I went back over the “Dear Hillary Letter” in detail, it sunk in that these people must have envisioned a future of financialized humanity. Maybe they didn’t know it would involve Blockchain smart contracts, but they certainly understood the policy changes that would be needed to turn people into commodities in vast talent marketplace managed by transnational corporations who expected to be able to bend the law to their will, operate above it if need be. IBM, Exxon, Battelle, the true “globalists” would harness people to an Internet that was insinuating itself into our lives in unsettling and intrusive ways.
Tucker carried the ball as far as he could and recently retired after a long career at the National Center on Education and the Economy, founded under the guidance of the Carnegie Corporation. This January he turned the reigns over to Australian Anthony MacKay, ushering in a new era of openly globalized education for digital age learners. MacKay also co-chairs the Global Education Leaders Partnership with Valerie Hannon of the UK Innovation Unit and has ties to the OECD, “deeper learning,” and innovative schools across a dozen countries.
Interactive version of map here.
I suspect given levels of economic uncertainty, some find solace believing this digitally engineered system will work for people. I mean who wouldn’t want students to have good options? Isn’t that what they are pitching? Follow the pathway to prosperity. Trust us… we’re the techocrats.
We WANT for students to be able to get good jobs that allow them to pay back their debt. But do we REALLY think schools and employers will prioritize the interests of students and workers over those at the top of the economic pyramid (looking at you Bill Gates)? Especially when those students and workers are Black and Brown and poor?
It doesn’t take much looking around to realize the Fourth Industrial Revolution is offering no guarantees of living wage work that might enable a majority of people to support their families in dignity and contribute to their communities. Keyword searches “Task Rabbit,” “gig economy,” or “just-in-time workforce” for confirmation of that. In fact, the workforce plan for Southeastern Pennsylvania specifically references the gig economy as a GROWTH AREA.
The top ten high-growth jobs for our region? Six of them pay well below $15 per hour.
How will we ever escape our collective Stockholm syndrome if we allow our public institutions to be subsumed within toxic public-private partnerships? Testimony given by former Ohio Senator Ralph Regula on the High Skills Competitive Workforce Act of 1991, stated that “Business knows what sort of formal education is best and what would help their employees and their profit margins, and I think if this is to be successful, the business and industrial community needs to be very much a part of shaping a final package.”
But education, alone, is insufficent. Credentials are meaningless if after 13, 15, 17, 21+ years of knowledge creation young people are pushed into a world where their talents have no perceived economic value. We must reimagine an economy of care, not austerity. One that is just, cooperative, and works within the environmental constraints of our dangerously compromised planet. That will not emerge from this straight-jacketed model. Chamber of Commerce-endorsed pathways of human capital processing will only usher in greater inequality and ever more repressive labor tactics.
To successfully navigate the immense challenges coming our way, the next generation needs a system of education that acknowledges past harms and pushes towards collective liberation. It will have to heal the damage caused by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, no small task. It will require free thought, creativity, human relationships, and opportunities to experiment freely and learn from mistakes. It will require culturally responsive practice and time and space to relearn how to be together in community.
It will also require a decisive redistribution of resources and power away from predatory consultants, think tanks, bean counters and “vulture philanthropy” back into the hands of people at the local level. If we hope to get to a future that is less financialized, less data-driven, less debt-burdened, less racist, there will have to be a great reckoning and a rebirth. It won’t be easy, but what else is there to do but try?
I highly recommended the book Between Earth and Empire by John P. Clark. It includes some difficult truths but is balanced with a sense of hope, too.