Home > Essays > A Good Idea That, Alas, Raises Suspicions Because of the Source

A Good Idea That, Alas, Raises Suspicions Because of the Source

September 3, 2021

I try to be open-minded when reading about ideas emanating from the NH Department of Education under the leadership of Frank Edelblut, but am always suspicious of the endgame, even when the ideas are good. Today’s New Hampshire Bulletin article by Ethan DeWitt is a case in point. It describes a pilot program about to be launched in four NH districts, a program that offers opportunities for post graduates to enroll in apprenticeship programs. Here’s a couple of paragraphs describing the idea:

The program, funded by the Out-of-School Time Career Pathway Grant program and intended to be run by the New Hampshire Learning Initiative, would use $1.7 million over two years to develop “expanded learning programs.”

Those programs would allow students to earn “a recognized postsecondary credential” that could follow an apprenticeship or an “industry-recognized certification,” according to a proposal presented to the council by New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut.

I am deeply conflicted by this for two reasons.

First, it looks a lot like the micro-credentialing that is beloved of corporate minded libertarians who would like to see businesses control  the programming offered to non-college bound students. In the ultimate dream world of many libertarians there would be no need for the comprehensive high school. Instead, some students would enroll in apprenticeship programs sponsored by particular businesses who are seeking to provide narrow training for prospective employees… training that would prepare employees for jobs that they could fill for a low wage until such time as the jobs are either taken over by robots or outsourced to employees overseas who are willing to work for even lower wages. And here’s the best feature of this kind of format: if high school is replaced by micro-credentials the local school taxes for the businesses would be reduced adding to their bottom line and/or the revenue stream from the taxpayers would reduce their training costs. Either way, the private sector wins and the taxpayers lose.

Secondly, will the credential be transferrable? Call me paranoid… but I am suspicious of industry-recognized certification because I see it through the same lens as I see propriety software. If I were a guidance counselor, I would urge the prospective student working to attain industry-recognized certification to make certain it is transferrable to other businesses in the field. For example, will a technology-based credential in, say, Apple be accepted in DOS world?

But here’s a complicating factor for me: encouraging high school age students to enroll in apprenticeships is unarguably a good idea for many! As we are coming to see, college degrees are not desirable for everyone. It is expensive and does not guarantee a high paying job upon completion. Yet we continue to encourage “college-for-all” because that’s the path educators took and because the prevailing narrative parents, politicians, and voters have accepted is the only ticket to the middle class is a college degree. Neither my plumber nor my electrician nor any of the tradespersons who work on my residence have college degrees and they all lead comfortable lives and hold secure jobs.

So… Frank Edelblut’s partnerships might pay off for non-college bound high school students if they provide opportunities for students to achieve credentials that are universally recognized in their trade and transferrable to competing businesses. What is frustrating to me is that public schools did not see this opportunity and take advantage of it.

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