Funding cuts hit career tech ed

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.

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  1. dangermom says:

    I’m glad to see some focus on it too. The US needs competent technical workers; why do we have this irrational stigma against encouraging kids to go into those fields? Why do we think everyone should go to college, against all common sense? I lived in Scandinavia for a year or so in high school and was very impressed with how the vocational programs had equal status with the gymnasium. There was no stigma against going into a trade school.

    This is a feature of American education that drives me absolutely bonkers. We do not need more unmotivated college students. We do need more skilled workers.

  2. My father used to teach drafting as a vocational course in a San Antonio school district (in the 60s and 70s). Nearly 100% of his students were employed immediately upon graduation, some of them worked part-time while still in high school. Quite a few of them worked their way up to become architects. These were inner-city poor kids who needed to get right to work to help support their families (their parents and siblings, not their own kids, in those days).

    We still need drafters (although you use a computer these days, rather than a scale), but I guess you need to go to private tech school for that now. I guess the state supports your family now.

    Some progress.

  3. I’ll be honest: I don’t know why college prep should take priority over voc ed, at least in many schools.

  4. That happened because we got rid of tracking in schools (sometime in the mid 80’s), and as a result, vocational education fell by the wayside (jump to 2011, those skills are in demand by a lot of employers, but high schools cannot teach that stuff anymore due to budget, safety regulations, and liability issues).