Monday, May 13, 2002

The Millenium Project -- Who benefits?

Last fall Utica's local newspaper, the O-D, gave a ringing endorsement to the Millenium Project, calling it "progressive education" and a "Giant Step." Please excuse me, but given the experimentation and lack of results produced by "educrats" over the last 30 years, why should we expect anything different for 37 million more of our dollars? Project descriptions are long on rhetoric and short on detail. And the few details given - after some "critical thinking" - are troubling!

The Project will create 4 themed "houses" to "personalize" education. Students have always completed a "core curriculum" that is "personalized" by electives - so what makes the Project better? Perhaps there will be more "specialized" coursework. The Project's segregation is new, with "finance/business" types going to one "house," the "science/techs" to another, "health" to a third, and "human/public services" to a fourth. What will be the result? Expect health providers that are illiterate in broad science/technical issues, scientists who don't understand the impact of their discoveries on society, and public servants who don't have a clue about their effect on business. The logical result of encouraging students to specialize before they develop a broad knowledge base in common with others is a fragmented society -- one unable to communicate with itself.

Students must select their "theme" before entering high school. Given the difficulty a lot of college students have in picking their major, asking an 8th grader to do so seems rediculous. Forcing an 8th grader to make what may be a career-determinative choice before we've given him or her a solid foundation of knowledge is unjust. The choice will likely be made or strongly influenced by "counselors" who can only have limited knowledge of each student's true potential. The end result: Many will wind up in jobs they hate, and without a strong broad foundation that would otherwise enable them to easily retrain for something different.

Each house will have its own administrative and support staff to create "smaller schools." While there may be some studies that suggest smaller schools can help student achievement, it is the subject matter presented and how it is taught that is more important. This is where the real beneficiaries of the Project become apparent. In an era where public funds are becoming scarce, we are spending 37 million dollars to create a facility that will require administrations in quadruplicate -- ensuring that more funds will be required for administrators and support on an annual basis. Administrators and support staff don't teach. The end result will be a more expensive system with no return for the investment.

Class and "work place learning" will be connected through "focused" courses and "mandatory internships." This begs the questions "What workplace?" "What is the focus?" "Who will get the interns?" Workplace learning is labor intensive specialized learning. It is what normally happens when one starts on the job. Since this is going to happen anyway -- with the student's first "real job," which might not even exist in this area -- what purpose is served by a "mandatory" internship? Time in high school is precious -- the last opportunity for many to take purely academic pursuits. The time should not be wasted by forcing students to take jobs they don't want.

Don't expect the Millenium Project to accomplish anything for the students. Do expect it to create jobs for those already milking the system.


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