In an op/ed written last week for Education Week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that merging the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor would emulate what she saw during a trip to Europe.
Education and workforce policies have always been intimately linked, yet for decades the federal government has addressed them separately with two different departments. President Donald Trump recently announced a bold plan to remedy that with a new Department of Education and the Workforce that would reduce the federal footprint in education and make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students and workers. It would also help catch us up to how students in other countries pursue their education.
I saw such approaches during my first international trip as the U.S. secretary of education to schools in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Each country takes a holistic approach to education to prepare students for career and life success.
She addressed how the Netherlands use taxpayer funding for private schools (no mention of the likely strings attached though) and how the United Kingdom offers schools similar to charter schools. She then turned her attention to Switzerland to bring it back to workforce development.
Switzerland is known for its robust apprenticeship program, with more than two-thirds of high school students engaged in one of the roughly 300 government-recognized apprenticeships. We saw the efficacy of this approach at Asea Brown Boveri’s plant in Zurich. ABB is one of many companies that partner with the country’s education system to offer students experience in high-earning fields like machinery and electronics. Students are exposed to many rewarding career paths, but they also have the choice to pursue an education at a traditional university. It’s not an “either/or” decision—as the Swiss say, “there are no dead ends in Switzerland’s education system.”
Hey, students, you can do apprenticeships, but only one that the government recognizes.
What could possibly go wrong there? Also, there’s no mention of how Europe tracks students and decide by middle school whether they will be on a university track or a vocational track.
Do we really want to emulate Europe’s managed economy with its high unemployment?
The countries that Secretary DeVos visited have highly centralized education systems, but she made no mention of that fact.
The U.S. shouldn’t seek to emulate Europe.