Universal trig

Starting with the class of 2014, all California students would have to take the college-prep classes required by the state’s public universities, according to a bill just introduced. The A-G classes, as they’re called, include advanced algebra and trigonometry. Yet the state had to postpone its graduation exam because so many students lack basic math skills. Many students enter high school with elementary reading and math skills. They can’t pass real algebra, geometry and trig or real college-prep English classes. I don’t think that’s going to change in 10 years. Not for every student.

It would be more honest to let students choose between a real college-prep track and a vocational track with real-world standards. The latter would prepare students to take community college courses to improve their job skills. Many students who aren’t motivated by college would work to qualify for a decent job.

I met a nice young man at the car rental place today, after I left my car at the repair shop. He mentioned that he’d met his wife in college. His job requires the ability to drive and to fill out car rental forms. Too bad he didn’t study a trade in high school.

About Joanne


  1. How right you are! The vocational track would fit many students who are not prepared in any way for college. Many people who have acquired vocational skills later go on to a four year college and a white collar career.
    If they stay in a blue collar trade, that’s fine and dandy too.
    Why is it so hard for school systems to understand?

  2. Anonymous says:

    It seems likely that his ambition in high school was not to work at a car rental place. If you’re willing and capable, why not go for the college education, and see what you can do with it? Maybe you’ll fall back on working at Avis, but you’ll get something out of it. This guy found a wife.

  3. Fuzzy Rider says:

    The future of this is very predictable…

    A few years back, our district got a good-sized grant for an Advanced Placement program. The program was working well, producing outstanding results until our illustrious superintendent decided it wasn’t INCLUSIVE enough- he said (with a straight face, too) that we should have 70% of our high school students enrolled in AP classes. The result? AP classes dumbed down to the point that very few students actually can pass the AP exam, with the remaining ‘regular’ classes approaching remedial level. Of course, the grades in our AP classes have not declined, in spite of the obviously lower quality of the students.

    Vocational ed would be wonderful and useful, but how long would it be before a school system got sued for ‘tracking’?

  4. A high school classmate of mine did what her parents wanted, went to college, graduated in four years with a degree in marketing … then followed her own heart, went to beautician school, and is now happily employed as a hairstylist. I’m glad she’s doing what she wants, though I feel a wee bit for her parents paying four years of tuition. Still, since they (presumably) pushed her into it, not a lot of sympathy.

  5. There’s more to college than preparation for a high-paying job. Some people choose majors based on their interests and don’t think very much about the future. Perhaps they wish later on that they’d been a little more practical, or even downright mercenary, but I’ll bet they still feel that college enriched their lives.

    Putting all kids on a college track, though, is absurd.

  6. Walter Wallis says:

    If colleges were places of intellectual challenge and the development of a searching, challenging mind, a bit of college might be good for every one. Political Correctness has blown that all away. Liberal Arts colleges have become intellectual rape rooms.

  7. Walter Wallis says:

    And, of course, “starting in 2014” means that all the folk involved with the program will be safely retired.

  8. Everytime I read your blogs, I am continually amazed – and disgusted – with the totally unrealistic proposals made by “good-hearted” politicians and educators. Though they are almost always offered to “help our children”, they invariably do exactly the opposite.

    The only way to make this plan work will be to further lower the standard and redefine the new norm as acceptable. And rather than help the children, it offers false hope to those who are given undeserved credit and shortchanges those who could have excelled at the higher standard.

    All the children all lose as a result. But, with our unlimited capacity for self deception, our society will simply pride itself on our “improved” level of math mastery while we become ever less compentent as a nation.

  9. I want it both ways at once: offer vocational classes and advanced-placement classes at the same school, plus make it possible for the college-bound students to learn to change their oil and for the non-college bound to study calculus. (The tyranny of conflicting schedules is something that really was a problem for me way back in the 1980s.) High schools should be modelled after community colleges, where arts, trades, remedial classes, and honors classes can all coexist.

  10. Walter Wallis says:

    The agravation is that we have plenty of teachers who knw how and what to teach, but we won’t let them.
    Perhaps armed guards around all schools with instructions to shoot any politicians on sight.

  11. Richard Heddleson says:

    The problem here is that legislators are geting involved in the details of education. That has destroyed what was once a functional public education ssytem for most in this country to one that works primarily for exclusive surbarban districts. Public Education has become an oxymoron.

  12. Unfortunately, vocational education now requires more skills than it did 20-25 years ago when I was in high school. Typically, most students who want to enter a trade (construction, electrical, plumbing, surveying, etc) need to have a SOLID grasp of basic skills including reading, writing, math (through at least algebra I), and the ability to follow instructions well.

    These days, even where schools want to implement vocational programs in electronics, automotive repair (lots of computers these days), and the like, require more than just your basic high school education.

    I took a look at our local comm. college’s automotive technology degree program, and the coursework is every BIT as intensive as a high tech field, or any other field which requires critical thinking and analysis.

    The other issue is the nature of the world of work, unless you want to stay at the same job that you get with only a high school diploma, any chance of advancement is going to have to come with additional education (US Labor Dept), as more and more jobs will require education BEYOND high school, just to have a chance at applying for such a job.

    Look at the classified some days, you’ll find a good job listing for HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), but these positions require at least 2-5 years worth of work BEYOND high school just to even apply.

    Electricians, the same thing. In order to get an apprenticeship with the local union, the applicant has to pass a math exam and basic electrical codes knowledge. Most people don’t pass the math section of the exam, due to a poor selection of classes in high school.

    The simple fact is that without rigorous preparation in high school (including 4 years of english, 3 of math, and 2 to 3 of science), a student will find themselves unable to handle even work in the trades anymore (just my opinion).

  13. Bob Diethrich says:

    I can feel for the guy who was working at the car rental place.

    I earned a BA in history and poli. sci. from a good northeastern Catholic school in 1991. I wanted to go to law school, but then I worked for lawyers. That cured me of that thought right away.

    During the next few years I found that most entry level positions, outside of technical and computer fields, consisted of phone calls or data entry type jobs for about $7.50/hr. I worked in food service, serving, bartending and despite the scorn of my family (“Get a real job”) I enjoyed it. Not to mention that I learned a lot on these jobs: interpersonal skills, leadership, managmenet and even got to do some “sales” Learning never stops.

    I had a friend who was working in her “field” with her business degree, working 60 hour weeks, managing a chain store in a bad neighborhood and she was probably only makeing about 2 grand more a year than me, and I worked a lot fewer hours.

    I decided to become a teacher in 1994, and I think my expereinces have made me a better one than someoone who enterst classroom right out of college at 22.

  14. Walter Wallis says:

    This site helps give me some hope for the future. They are not all “them”.

  15. I know college graduates from excellent schools (Top Ten, etc) who can’t get arrested by employers. And they are very very angry that they blew upwards of $100,000 so they could do clerical work like alphabetizing files and answering the phone. You know. Work they could have done when they were fourteen.

  16. I have to join Bill in a disserting view. The bar is being raised in two ways:
    1) skills for vocational jobs or subsequent improvement
    2) international competitiveness.
    It’s also worth having an informed educated citizenry, rather than a subclass of service drones. Anyone recall A Nation at Risk? or does anyone doubt that there are critical questions ahead of everyone which require more than basic math skills or powerpoint? or did anyone read todays NY Times/Friedman piece on “Losing our Edge” http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/22/opinion/22FRIE.html (free registration req’d)

    Substitute reading for math for ease of understanding: if the goal were to be reading at a 12 grade level, then the argument that many graduates can’t currently read at the 9th grade level falls short of a good counter argument for low literacy. Likewise, an anecdote (or even a broad statistical core) that graduates can’t find challenging jobs also misses the mark.

    and as to 2014: much better if it were sooner, but skills need to be build from the base. It does take time. Those who get there earlier will be ahead

    – Chris

    I do understand the issue of politicians dabbling in education — part of additional damage of centralizing education. But strong standards and goals remain important.

  17. Steve LaBonne says:

    “I know college graduates from excellent schools (Top Ten, etc) who can’t get arrested by employers. And they are very very angry…” Thus they have now entered on the most important phase of their education- learning that the world doesn’t owe anybody a living. When that lesson is fully absorbed they will have a chance of becoming fully employable.

  18. it’s not that they think the world owes them anything. they just think it’s ridiculous to go to Harvard, so you can do clerical work that a trained monkey could do. and they’re bloody correct.

    your post is, to be blunt, snide and condescending. go to hell.

  19. As for that bit about “international competitiveness”, many of the skilled blue-collar workers have an edge on the rest of us. You aren’t going to ship your car to an auto shop in India, nor pay for plane tickets from India to here to get someone to frame the new addition on your house. But for most office workers right up to engineers and CPA’s, the issue isn’t whether the job could be done in India, but whether the lower wages over there are worth dealing with cultural misunderstandings as to how the job should be done, time zones, and nearly unintelligible dialects of “English”.

  20. Steve LaBonne says:

    No, you can go to hell. Just beacause you went to Harvard (which, for the record, I did) doens’t mean anybody owes you a “good” job. They need to get over the entitlement thing, and make an effort to acquire marketable skills.

  21. Steve LaBonne says:

    One thing they didn’t teach me at Harvard is typing. 😉

  22. international competitiveness also has a job protection side as well. Without it, one day, you’re left importing a element which reduces the role of those service jobs. ever tried repairing a VCR or camera lately?

    Moreover, those sheltered local service jobs pale when people can’t afford to repair cars or to add additions to houses.

  23. linden:

    One of the problems I continually see is college graduates who CAN’T file alphabetically, and who haven’t the faintest idea of good phone etiquette.

    And most fourteen-year-olds haven’t been civilized enough yet to be considered part of the human race. If you don’t believe me, go hang out at a mall some weekend and watch.

  24. I agree with Steve on this one. Society doesn’t OWE anyone a damn thing. The fact that someone wants to spend 100-160K on a college education (I recall spending much less than that, even today when I take classes, and 20 years ago).

    I wish every high school student and college graduate would read Charles Sykes “Ten Things they didn’t teach you in school”, but i’ll post it here for informational purposes:

    1: Life is not fair. Get used to it.

    2: The real world won’t care as much about your self-esteem as much as your school does. It’ll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.

    3: Sorry, you won’t make $60,000 a year right out of high school (or college). And you won’t be a vice president or have a car phone either. You may even have to wear a uniform that doesn’t have a Gap label.

    4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait ’til you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure, so he tends to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he’s not going to ask you how you feel about it.

    5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity. They weren’t embarrassed making minimum wage either.

    6: It’s not your parents’ fault. If you screw up, you are responsible.

    7: Before you were born your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. And by the way, before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your bedroom.

    8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn’t. In some schools, they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. Failing grades have been abolished and class valedictorians scrapped, lest anyone’s feelings be hurt. Effort is as important as results. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.

    Rule No. 9: Life is not divided into semesters, and you don’t get summers off. Not even Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours. And you don’t get a new life every 10 weeks. It just goes on and on. While we’re at it, very few jobs are interested in fostering your self-expression or helping you find yourself. Fewer still lead to self-realization.

    10: Television is not real life. Your life is not a sitcom. Your problems will not all be solved in 30 minutes, minus time for commercials. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop to go to jobs. Your friends will not be as perky or pliable as Jennifer Aniston.

    Rule No. 11: Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them. We all could.

  25. speedwell says:

    I was alphabetizing, filing, and answering the phone when I was 12. I didn’t go to Harvard, either. 🙂

    After a number of entry-level missteps after high school, I got into an office as a receptionist (based on the fact that I could do the work correctly and efficiently). Four years later, I was the manager of an international firm’s branch office. Two years and one job change later, I am working as an engineering assistant, using my secretarial skills for “extra credit,” and my engineer bosses are urging me to “join the church” (that is, become a mechanical engineer). I won’t be going to Harvard for my engineering degree this time, either.

    I don’t need anything from Harvard. Neither, linden, do your Harvard graduates. I guess that puts me two hundred thousand dollars ahead of them.