U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told a group of mayors in Washington on Thursday that there is “a fundamental disconnect between education and the economy.”
“Today, across states and industries, there are 6 million job openings, as the ‘blue collar’ jobs of yesterday become the ‘blue tech’ jobs of today,” said DeVos, citing Department of Labor statistics in her address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Coding is as common and necessary a skill today as riveting or stamping was a few decades back. But employers—many in your communities—report that they cannot find qualified people to fill those openings. Those jobs require specific skill sets and customized certification.”
DeVos urged the mayors to act to change this by helping to forge connections among K-12, postsecondary education, and the business community. Her speech was closed to the press, but prepared remarks were distributed to reporters.
“You know what kinds of people are needed for the new plant or enterprise that is opening or expanding in your city,” DeVos said, according to the prepared speech. “And you probably know a few folks who, with additional education, could thrive in some of those jobs.”
Cities, she said, need to consider educational options beyond a four-year college degree, and think more about apprenticeships and other career-focused certifications.
“When it comes to higher education, too many implicitly or explicitly suggest there is only one path to success. That must stop!” DeVos said. “There are many avenues to gain what individual students want and what employers need: industry-recognized certificates, two-year degrees, stackable credits, credentials and licensures, advanced degrees, badges, four-year degrees, micro-degrees, apprenticeships ... All of these are valid pursuits.”
The secretary also hit on one of her favorite themes—the need for schools to “rethink” education—through more personalized forms of instructions, instead of relying on a model that, in her view, “hasn’t changed much since the 1800’s.”
“‘Rethink’ means we question everything to ensure nothing limits a student from pursuing his or her passion, and achieving his or her potential,” DeVos said. “This means focusing less on the school building or the school funding stream and more on each individual student.”
And the secretary encouraged mayors to get to know their state plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law, she said, empowers local leaders to make the best decisions for students. (While it’s true that ESSA does allow for a lot more local decision-making than its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, there are still plenty of mandates that states need to comply with, including annual standardized testing.)
“You can seize the opportunity to truly transform education,” DeVos said. “Embrace the imperative to do something bold ... to challenge the status quo ... to break the mold.”
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