Future prep

College prep for all is failing many students, writes Time‘s Joe Klein in Learning That Works, a rousing endorsement of vocational education. Seen as “a convenient dumping ground for minority kids,” voc ed was abandoned. Schools adopted “the theology that every child should go to college (a four-year liberal-arts college at that) and therefore every child should be required to pursue a college-prep course in high school.”

The results have been awful. High school dropout rates continue to be a national embarrassment. And most high school graduates are not prepared for the world of work. The unemployment rate for recent high school graduates who are not in school is a stratospheric 33%. The results for even those who go on to higher education are brutal: four-year colleges graduate only about 40% of the students who start them, and two-year community colleges graduate less than that, about 23%.

“College for everyone has become a matter of political correctness,” says Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University. “But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than a quarter of new job openings will require a bachelor of arts degree. We’re not training our students for the jobs that actually exist.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. has begun to run out of welders, glaziers and auto mechanics–the people who actually keep the place running.

What’s now called career and technical education (CTE) can be done so well that it motivates low and average achievers and attracts high achievers, Klein writes.

About 27% of the students in Arizona opt for the tech-ed path, and they are more likely to score higher on the state’s aptitude tests, graduate from high school and go on to higher education than those who don’t. “It’s not rocket science,” says Sally Downey, superintendent of the spectacular East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, Ariz., 98.5% of whose students graduate from high school. “It’s just finding something they like and teaching it to them with rigor.”

Auto dealers, who are desperate for trained technicians, donate cars and high-tech equipment to the school’s auto shop classes. “If you can master the computer-science and electronic components,” Downey says, “you can make over $100,000 a year as an auto mechanic.”

As college costs soar and college dropout rates remain high, career tech is looking better and better.

About Joanne