DeVos’ Swiss Agreement Overlooks Deep Problems with School-to-Work Model

December 12, 2018

by Karen R. Effrem, MD


U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, along with the Secretaries of Labor and Commerce, recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Swiss government to collaborate in the area of workforce development.

Secretary DeVos visited Switzerland in June of this year and was highly complementary of their school-to-work (STW) system, saying that there was much the U.S. could learn from the Swiss. On her U.S. Department of Education blog announcing the agreement, she also listed 15 facts about the Swiss apprenticeship program. The first fact was that these Swiss students are spending a minority of time learning academics:

Most Swiss vocational programs are dual-tracked. Students participate in an apprenticeship for 3 to 4 days a week to gain hands-on experience and receive classroom instruction for the remainder of the school week.

She also notes that two-thirds of Swiss students participate in apprenticeships, which she compared to 17 percent of American students in another column. Another related fact she lists is that there are a total of only 57 college degree programs.

The majority of the Swiss education system is geared towards vocational education, with employers playing a major role in what is taught, and DeVos writes that “training is geared to actual demand for vocational qualifications and to available jobs.” Fact 12 notes that companies start recruiting students in the seventh grade to begin their apprenticeships in the tenth grade. This is reminiscent of the Gates Foundation “Smaller Learning Communities (SLC)” initiative that preceded their Common Core push. In that program, students were funneled into choosing a career path in sixth grade with little option to receive a broad-based academic education and before they had any idea what they wanted to do. Gates spent between $650 million and $1 billion on that school-to-work scheme, and it failed miserably, just like almost every other Gates education initiative, including Common Core.

Besides these concerns, there is a clear link between apprenticeships and competency-based education (CBE), Common Core, and social emotional learning (SEL). As previously noted, Anthony Carnivale — a board member of the National Center on Education and the Economy when Marc Tucker wrote his infamous “Dear Hillary” letter urging the remolding of “the entire American system” into “a seamless web that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone” — wrote in the Washington Post this summer that the new American workforce should include the following elements:

  • Assessments of “values and personality traits” — i.e. psychological screening and data mining, as does the OECD and education technology companies that want to do affective data mining.
  • “Firsthand exposure to alternative occupational pathways through internships and other applied learning opportunities” — which is edu-speak for further diluting the academic curriculum that has already been devastated by Common Core.
  • “Work experience to cultivate basic employability skills such as conscientiousness and collegiality in diverse workplaces” — translation: training in group-think and becoming worker bees.

In speaking to Dr. Susan Berry of Breitbart News about this signing, American Principles Project senior fellow Jane Robbins said:

“It’s troubling that so many education policy-makers, including Secretary DeVos, are drawn to the European system of the school-to-work pipeline. Revamping our entire system to create cogs for politically connected companies isn’t the way to ‘catch up.’”

Similarly, Eunie Smith, president of Eagle Forum, told Dr. Berry “she was concerned the type of education a child receives would be influenced by crony corporations dictating to schools the skills needed for future workers.”

Mrs. Smith is correct that “[c]entralized, government-planned economies do not work, and that’s not the free market system under which America and our economy have prospered.” As history shows, government is utterly incapable of predicting economic trends and workforce needs. Five-year plans have failed spectacularly. Even Tucker, when recently discussing career and technical education, admitted his scheme’s great danger is to “condemn a large fraction of our youth to narrowly conceived training programs at the very time that advances in artificial intelligence and related disciplines are on the verge of wiping out entire industries…” Although Tucker and colleagues tout European education-workforce systems, none have produced or will produce American levels of freedom and prosperity.

America must choose. Will this nation choose the Tucker-Gates-Clinton failed methods that view “human value only in terms of productive capability” or our children as “products” (per Rex Tillerson)? Or will we return to promoting, as framed by C.S. Lewis, education over training so that American civilization continues to produce the freedom, prosperity and generosity that have made it the greatest civilization in human history?

Photo credit: US Department of Education via Flickr, CC BY 2.0


Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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