Let's start with what a brand actually is. Advertisers and entrepreneurs created brands as we know them in the late 19th century to help distinguish products in a national market place. No longer did buyers (who are transforming into modern consumers as part of this process) make their purchases based on local reputations and knowledge bases. You weren't buying Farmer Joe's milk or Baker Mary's biscuits. You were buying Carnation Milk ("best in the land, comes to your table in the little red can" as one jingle writer put it) and Nabisco's biscuits. To distinguish these products, the advertisers and industrialists created brands that turned commodities (like milk and wheat) into goods.
If we are branding children, we are treating them like commodities. We all know what happened the last time we treated people like commodities, right? Let's have a quick reminder shall we?
The issue isn't that Richardson wants to commodify kids. The problem is he can't see anyway out of it. As a historian that rings some bells. He's like Thomas Jefferson flailing about for some solution that he can't see to a problem that he wishes he didn't have.
The problem here is the way we think about education. We no longer talk about education as a social or moral good. We talk about it almost exclusively as an economic transaction. In so doing, we dehumanize the very people who are most vulnerable. Students become the dollars spent on them rather than somebody's child; teachers become their retirement packages rather than experienced, knowledgeable professionals; school buildings are no longer community centers but fixed costs.
We can think our way out of this, of course. But it starts with us thinking of education not as an economic transaction, but a social one.