Career Clusters

Career Clusters Will Transform Secondary Schools To Job Training Centers

October 29, 2001

A U of M nursing school graduate is grateful her family moved to America, because inEngland she couldn’t have become a nurse. Why? England tests children to determinetheir vocational track, and her track didn’t allow for nursing degrees.

Students in Minnesota may soon face the same predicament. As stated in the St. Paul Public Schools Education Blueprint, "students will participate in structured career education starting in elementary school." They will be directed into a career focus by eighth or ninth grade and spend their remaining high school years in one of five or six "career clusters;" examples include health services, human services, and business. This restructuring will limit students’ choice of courses and change the focus of education to job training.

This isn’t just limited to St. Paul schools, but is a trend we’re seeing invarious stages of implementation around the state. For example, The CaledoniaArgus states in January 2000, "students plan their four year high school careerbeginning with registration in the eighth grade." The principal added in a letterparents received the day after the above newsletter arrived: "…there will be nochanges made once the final schedule is in place."

The purpose of K-12 education is not to train workers for specific jobs. In thisinformation age, students need a good foundation of knowledge that will provide futureoptions such as college, technical training, professional career, and raising a family.

Career clusters, on the other hand, will focus on specific job skills, making it moredifficult to move into new interests or vocations later in life. More importantly,students won’t get the broad knowledge necessary for living and governing ourselvesin a free society. Hitler once said, "It is enough if citizens can count to ten andread simple instructions." He believed an educated citizen was a future enemy of hisstate.

Minnesota’s recently passed K-12 education bill states: "A school districtmay develop grade-level curricula or provide instruction that introduces students tovarious careers, but must not require any curriculum, instruction, or employment-relatedactivity that obligates an elementary or secondary student to involuntarily select acareer, career interest, employment goals, or related job training."

The intent of this legislation is to ensure that we don’t replace a broadknowledge-based education with job skills training. Yet, St. Paul, which many see as amodel for the rest of the state, appears to be contradicting this statute as theyrestructure their secondary schools into career clusters. Please consider the followingquotations (with my comments in parentheses) from the St. Paul Public Schools EducationBlueprint, the document written by St. Paul Schools to promote career clusters.)

"Learning must also be more closely connected to industry standards…" (In 1992, the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills [SCANS], under the U.S. Department of Labor, compiled entry-level occupational skills. Students across the nation will be trained toward these standards/skills, which form the backbone of the "high-standards" curriculum being implemented throughout Minnesota.)

"All students participate in…job shadowing, mentorships, internships, andservice learning." (Time that could be spent on academics will be used for entry andlow level job skills training on and off school premises.)

"Students identify a career cluster through which their work on standards [SCANSskills] is made relevant, challenging, and engaging." (Career training is not morerelevant, challenging, and engaging than the wealth of knowledge found in subjects such ashistory, literature, science, mathematics, art. Adding such training to the school dayinevitably takes time from other subjects.)

"Based on federal and state research on where job growth is anticipated, St. Paulsecondary schools will consider six career clusters as a focus of their small learningenvironment." (Government-appointed workforce boards will determine the labor needsof regions throughout Minnesota and guide students into career clusters to meetstate-defined needs. Government and schools should not tamper with our students’futures and our free-market economy.)

"The percentage of students participating in…work and community-basedlearning opportunities will grow to…100 percent by 2005-06." (Every studentshould have access to a broad-based academic foundation in grades K-12, with an optionalvocational track in high school. Under the Education Blueprint, allsecondary students must choose one of five or six career clusters.)

This emphasis on vocational training is driven by federal legislation and is beingimplemented in every state, eventually affecting home and private schools. Citizens mustbecome informed; a good start is by looking up www.mredco.com or www.mredcopac.org or bycalling the Maple River Education Coalition at 651-646-0646 for information and resources.

I applaud the many dedicated teachers who truly want the best education for ourchildren, but we as citizens must be vigilant and oversee the educational system itself.Our children’s futures and our freedoms are at stake.

By Jean Swenson, September 2001. You may contact the author at jswenson@minn.net .