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Betsy DeVos Watch: A Corporate Education Appointment and Students as Workforce Development

July 6, 2018

In April, we reported on the Department of Education adding another anti-civil rights lawyer, Carlos G. Muñiz. In late June, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, announced yet another confirmation to the Department of Education, Frank Brogan

Brogan has served in several different educational capacities and will serve as Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education. Brogan is the former President of Florida Atlantic University and was later Lt. Governor of Florida in Jeb Bush’s administration. The last position that Brogan held was Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

During Brogan’s tenure in Florida he supported redirecting public money to private schools and the downsizing of educators within the public school system. As the Washington Post reported recently, Brogan was part of Jeb Bush’, “corporate school reform movement that sought to operate public schools as if they were for-profit businesses.” Thus, adding Brogan to the Department of Education is consistent with the education privatization model that Betsy DeVos has been pushing since she became Secretary of Education in 2017.

Students as Workforce Talent

One of the trends in the attack on public education is recent decades has been the way that the business community has framed the role of students. Students are no longer thought of as developing critical thinking skills or as being engaged in the humanities, students are now seen as talent. For the business community, they see students primarily as future employees and they want students to have the skills needed in order to join the workforce.

In West Michigan, this narrative about students is embraced by the leading CEOs in the area, through a group known as Talent 2025. Talent 2025 is one of the organizations that is part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

Betsy DeVos has been promoting student development as talent development for the business community long before she became Secretary of Education. So, it’s no surprise that the Secretary of Education would attend and speak at the annual conference for SkillsUSA.

SkillsUSA is a national organization that promotes a relationship between students, teachers and businesses for the purpose of developing future employees. SkillsUSA has numerous corporate partners, such as 3M, General Electric, Lowes, Snap-On and State Farm. 

Betsy DeVos spoke at the SkillsUSA annual conference and competition in late June. In her speech at SkillsUSA, DeVos uses this opportunity to not only talk about career development, the Secretary of Education also used this platform as an opportunity to talk about the “need” to fill jobs in the manufacturing sector.

In her speech, Secretary DeVos stated: 

We’re fundamentally reevaluating what we do and how we do it. Washington’s bloated bureaucracies do not meet the needs of our global economy and labor market, and they create artificial barriers between education and workforce programs.

This statement makes it clear that what Betsy DeVos is ultimately interested in, as far as students are concerned, is the expansion of US markets. More specifically, the expansion of US markets, through the eyes of Betsy DeVos, really means increased corporate profits. This ethos of education as profit making was underscored by last week’s announcement that the Trump Administration wants to merge the US Department of Education with the Department of Labor.

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