Parents block career-tech requirement

I’d love to see more and stronger career-tech courses in high schools, but I’m not surprised that San Diego parents rejected a career-tech requirement. From the Hechinger Report:

San Diego Unified School District  proposed new high school graduation requirements mandating two years of career and technical education courses—or two to four courses. . . .  Parents circulated an online protest petition and school officials spent hours in a meeting to assure hundreds of parents that courses like computerized accounting, child development and website design could be in the best interest of all students.

But afterwards, when parent leaders asked the crowd who favored the requirement, every single parent at the meeting voted against it.

Many San Diego parents said their children needed to take AP courses to compete for selective colleges. They had no time for child development or web design.

After meeting with La Jolla parents, the San Diego Board of Education voted to rescind the requirements.

People think career-tech ed is “great but for someone else’s kids,” said Kenneth Gray, an emeritus professor of education at Penn State. Still, the mandate was a bad idea, he said. “To say everyone has to take it is as ridiculous in my view as saying everyone has to take calculus.”

Few high schools offer a variety of well-designed, well-taught CTE courses that meet the needs and interests of all students, from those striving for elite colleges to those just barely passing. Some students will get turned on by a CTE elective. Others will wish they’d had time in their schedule for jazz band or theater or journalism.

Career-tech advocates are trying to push CTE as college prep plus, not as an alternative to college for all, notes the Hechinger Report.

The quality and availability of the programs vary. At the top end, students in medical courses might spend time at a hospital, learning key vocabulary and technical skills like drawing blood. Students can learn engineering design programs on computers or spend time taking apart electronics to learn how they work. Students in cosmetology programs might study the chemistry behind hair dye.

Why do career-minded students have to do college prep? If you want to learn chemistry, take chemistry. If you want to work in a beauty salon, get a part-time job sweeping up and ask the boss how to move up. Do you need a license? If so, would community college courses help?

Taking vocational college classes in high school boosts graduation rates — and college success — for disadvantaged students and underachievers, reports a new study.  Dual enrollment isn’t just for high achievers any more.

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  1. Sigivald says:

    Accounting might be useful (it’s in wide demand both specifically and as a useful thing to know a little about – and double entry doesn’t change much, even if the software varies).

    But web site design? As if they’re going to be able to teach what’s current and have it still be useful by the time any of the students could even attempt to use the skill? It changes too much, too fast.

    Hopefully that district is at least managing to teach the kids to read, write, and do math already…

  2. Cranberry says:

    73% of the adult residents of La Jolla, California, possess a bachelor’s or associates’ degree (38%), or graduate degree (35%).

    A grand total of 2% work in Construction, and 5% in Manufacturing.

    In contrast, 20% work in “professional,” 29% in “education/health,” and 11% in “finance/real estate.”

    Perhaps the parents of La Jolla, California are correct that their children are very unlikely to end up as child care workers, and their time in high school would be better spent taking AP courses.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      Child development isn’t useful just for daycare workers. Surely many of the La Jolla students will grow up to be parents themselves some day. Some will likely become teachers, pediatricians or other health practitioners with pediatric patients, and so on. I wanted to be a pediatrician when I was in high school, and I would’ve liked to take a high-quality elective in child development (which I did at college).

      • Cranberry says:

        There are many courses which “might be useful one day.” The problem comes when one tries to force every foot to fit the same shoe.

        There is hardly enough time in an average high school schedule to fit in the standard college prep curriculum. Kids in our town regularly do without lunch to fit in a college-prep course, or to have the chance to take an arts course. (Child development, not so much.)

        Four years of a foreign language.
        Four years of English, math.
        One year US history, one year other history.
        Four years of science (Bio, Chem, Physics, + AP B,Ch or P)
        Health, PE.
        One year of arts.

        Requiring career-tech as well means the students can’t double up in a favorite class, such as science or math, and ends arts electives. Hmm, child development or AP computer science?

        And, as a district, they’re going to have to hire lots and lots of Career-tech teachers, but fire the teachers who teach the subjects the kids don’t have time for anyway, such as upper level science, math and arts teachers.

        • My older kids attended a HS where all APs had honors prerequisites and all AP sciences were double-period, every day. Their coursework looked like this, for scheduling purposes, with a 7-period day)

          4 years honors English
          4 years Spanish (2 honors, 2 AP)
          4 years history (2 honors, 2 AP)
          4 years math (3 honors, I AP calc BC)
          8 years science (4 years honors, 2 years double-period AP)
          1 year PE

          28 periods available, 25 used for classes – so, not much lunch.
          Also, they were athletes, so their extracurriculars didn’t include a class period – unlike the musicians. As a family, we really resented PE, because the kids were all full-time travel team athletes and did the HS varsity season,as well.(In one case, two varsity seasons) They had zero need of PE – their travel teams also covered nutrition, hydration, rest, injury recognition/prevention etc. very well.

          Piling on more across-the-board requirements is idiotic. Not all kids are the same and not all kids should be forced into the same pattern.

        • Crimson Wife says:

          I had a lot of wasted time in my H.S. schedule. Most semesters I had a study hall. I was required to take 4 years of PE even though I was spending 10 hrs/week training as a figure skater (only varsity athletes were eligible for PE waivers). I was also required to take 2 years of studio art even though I had ZERO talent or interest in that discipline. I would’ve gladly substituted a high-quality CTE course for one of those.

          • Crimson Wife says:

            Oh, and I was on the honors college prep track. I took 4 years honors English, 3.5 years honors math (long story), 3.5 years honors science (ditto), 4 years honors social studies, 4 years French, 3 years Latin, 1 year Spanish, and the aforementioned electives.

          • You have my sympathy; 4 years PE and 2 of studio art. My kids – or their parents -might have been carried off in straight-jackets under that regime. What a waste of time and effort, not to mention the waste of opportunities to do something of interest/benefit to the kid(s) in question. It’s like requiring all kids to wear the same size shoes.

  3. Well, I guess that parents have bought into the hype that college for all somehow makes sense, and here is a BIGGER question, how are the parents of these kids GOING to be able to pay for it (since tuition has far outstripped inflation), and
    that students are graduating with an average of $25,000 in student loan debt (and in most cases much more than that) with in many cases no ability to actually EARN enough to pay off the loans in question.

    Seems to me that the entire model of higher education needs to be brought into line with reality (but that’s me).


    • Cranberry says:

      Average household income in La Jolla, California? $113,521.


      I think they can pay college tuition, with reasonable household budgeting, and careful choice of college–which most adults in the community are able to do.

      Communities in the US have radically different income and adult education levels. Offerings which make sense in one community may not make any sense in the next community.

      • Crimson Wife says:

        With sky-high housing costs in the San Diego area, a family making only $113k is going to have very little disposable cash for college tuition unless they were fortunate enough to have purchased 15+ years ago. The median housing sales price in La Jolla for the quarter ending June 15th was a whopping $973k.

        $113k may be “rich” in many places in the U.S. but not in the San Diego area.

  4. lightly seasoned says:

    I don’t think there’s an objection to the courses existing, but rather making them mandatory. Cranberry is very correct — kids who are taking a full college prep curriculum (because they are… wait for it… preparing to go to college) hardly have time to get it all in. My own kid has to do summer school and zero hour to get all her academic cores in, state requirements (the new one is personal finance…) and her foreign languages.

    In our county, there are tech schools funded by a separate tax and considered a separate district — if a kid wants to be a welder or beautician, she can choose to be in tech school part of the day and graduate ready to work.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:


    Interesting question: If we compute the time value of money, the welder who starts at, say, nineteen earning more than burger-flipper wages and doesn’t pay the college costs, comes out how far behind the average college grad by retirement? Now, of course, the physical requirements of welding might cause a career change or early retirement, but not necessarily.

  6. I wouldn’t support the vo tech requirement in question, but I also wouldn’t support the new SD requirements for this fall’s incoming freshmen: chem, physics and algebra II, in addition to the old reqs of biology, algebra I and geometry. I see both as equally undesirable/unnecessary as an across-the-board requirement for all kids. We need to get away from the one-size-fits-all approach and let HS kids/parents choose college prep or vo tech or general ed, as appropriate to their kids’ preparation, interests and talents.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I support the availability of voc-ed courses – I just don’t see the need to require them. I have been to LaJolla – its adjacent to UC San Diego and I don’t think you can buy a basic home there for less than $1M. It’s slightly cheaper than Malibu, but on par with Beverly Hills.

  8. Cranberry says:

    I think vocational education is a good idea, for the students who have a concrete plan. Requiring all students to take a certain number of courses from the Voc-ed category makes no sense.

    A student whose parents are making rational plans for graduate degrees is not a budding welder, or childcare worker. Likewise, a student who wants to become an HVAC technician would be wasting her time in a high school dental assistant class.

    For Voc-ed students, general college prep classes are more useful to their future plans than voc-ed classes in different career tracks. Does the dental assistant need to know how to weld? No. She does need math and science, though.

  9. What @Lightly Seasoned points out should be obvious to all — the issue is making these courses mandatory.

    This comment is contemptuous, baseless and unfair (and anyway, shouldn’t everyone involved with Penn State be laying low right now)?

    People think career-tech ed is “great but for someone else’s kids,” said Kenneth Gray, an emeritus professor of education at Penn State.

    No, we think it’s a great option for whatever kids wish to pursue it.

  10. Momof4, I make a point of commenting on posts on this topic (on various education discussion forums), and often find people who strongly disagree on other issues agreeing with me on this.

    It takes a high level of disconnection from reality to think it’s sensible or feasible to require all kids to do college prep and then shame them and deprive them of other options if they don’t actually attend college. Then there’s the separate level of disconnection from reality by those who don’t get the difference between *mandatory* and *an option.* And THEN there’s the issue that other nations are graduating students from secondary skill with career/vocational/technical skills and the U.S. isn’t — doesn’t that seem foolishly impractical, to say the least?

    By the way, in the college world, $180,000/year is considered the point at which financial aid is truly not in the picture. (I did a college admissions blog for a while a few years ago.)