Career technical education — vocational ed to us old folks — provides an alternative path to success for students who lack the motivation or academic ability to earn a bachelor’s degree. Yet the Obama administration has proposed a 20 percent reduction in its fiscal 2012 budget for career technical education, even as it seeks to increase overall education funding by 11 percent, reports the New York Times.
President Obama has instead made it a priority to raise overall academic standards and college graduation rates, and aims to shrink the small amount of federal spending for vocational training in public high schools and community colleges.
European countries offer a vocational education for many students. (Nearly half of Finnish students enter vocational programs in 10th grade.) But the U.S. prefers to pretend that all students will complete a four-year degree.
Last year, fewer than a third of all 25- to 29-year-olds in the United States had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
About 75 percent of students who start public high school earn a diploma within four or five years, according to federal data. More than 90 percent of career-tech students graduate, claims the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.
In an analysis of testing data from Massachusetts, Alison L. Fraser, author of the Pioneer Institute study of 27 regional vocational and technical education high schools in the state, found that vocational students vastly improved their passing rates on English and math standardized tests between 2001 and 2007, a period in which the schools focused on integrating academic instruction into technical classes. In fact, by 2007, the vocational students were actually passing at higher rates than students in the rest of the state.
There are decent jobs for people with technical skills and vocational certification: 27 percent of certificate holders earn more than the average worker with a bachelor’s degree. But the good jobs require reading, writing, math and problem-solving skills that many students don’t master in allegedly college-prep classes.
This is the first in a Times series on vocational education. I’m pleased to see attention focused on the issue.