Students are bored by college-prep classes might be motivated by good career and technical education, writes Liam Julian. They deserve a choice.
Imagine a 17-year-old who does not want to attend college (or at least not right away); who finds parsing Macbeth maddeningly immaterial; who yearns to learn a practical skill and put it to use; who feels his personal strengths are being ignored and wasted; who is annoyed by his school’s lackluster teachers, classroom chaos, and general atmosphere of indifference. Too often, such a pupil has no other options. He has no educational choice.
No surprise, then, that a recent Civic Enterprises survey found that 77 percent of high-school dropouts quit school because they were bored. Past surveys have reported similar findings. According to a 2006 Gates Foundation study, for example, 88 percent of dropouts had passing grades—i.e., they didn’t abandon school because they couldn’t do the work; they abandoned school because they thought the work was unchallenging and pointless.
At many high schools, the choice is between college-prep classes — often watered down for the minimally motivated — or dropping out.
The worry that a that a plumber’s life is determined by early manual training arises from the popular but skewed 21st-century dogma that the ideal worker must be able and willing to hop from job to job and industry to industry—that “knowledge workers,” as they’re called, must be highly adaptable, mobile generalists. But the current recession has illuminated the expendability of precisely this type of white-collar worker. Those who work in the skilled trades (the kind taught in today’s CTE classes) are far less dispensable: The New York Times reports that although unemployment is at 9.4 percent, certain “skilled trades like welding and pipefitting are in high demand now, among the jobs that cannot be filled with unskilled labor or outsourced overseas.”
The new Career and Technical Education courses combine thinking and doing, he writes. Some 80 percent of CTE students graduate with as many math and science credits as non-CTE students; 60 percent go on to college. And at-risk students are much more likely to graduate if they’re enrolled in CTE.
Standards for college and career readiness are essentially the same, argue drafters of common core standards. Therefore, the college-prep track serves students who plan to go into vocational training. Not true, writes Michael Kirst on The College Puzzle. Some jobs require high-level reading, writing and math skills, but others demand a lot less.