What about kids who aren’t ‘job material’ either?

Some students aren’t college material and would be better off on a vocational track, Mike Petrilli wrote in Slate. Now, he concedes one of his critics’ points:  Kids who aren’t “college material” aren’t “career- and technical-education material” either. Strong CTE programs require academic skills that many students lack. So what do we do with ninth graders who are way behind?

Sixty-four percent of eighth graders aren’t “proficient” in reading and math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. They’re not on the college or career readiness track. Even worse, “just 14 percent of blacks and 21 percent of Hispanics are proficient in math at the end of eighth grade; for reading, it’s 17 percent and 22 percent, respectively.”

If we push the “pedal to the metal” on every school reform, we’ll still have many ninth graders who aren’t prepared for a true college-prep route or high-quality CTE, writes Petrilli.

 . . . we encourage such students to muddle through “on-level” quasi-academic courses in large comprehensive high schools. Eventually, they drop out or get labeled as “over-age and under-credit.” At that point, various credit-recovery (or dropout-recovery) initiatives kick in. If the students are diligent and lucky, they squeeze out a credential. And then?

That’s hardly a strategy, a system, or a solution. And keep in mind that in some big urban districts, we’re talking about upwards of 80 or 90 percent of today’s kids—and, for all of our reforming, big fractions of tomorrow’s, too!

What would work best for these students? Petrilli doesn’t have the answer, just the question.

Carnegie’s Opportunity by Design is working with urban districts to design high schools that improve the life chances of underprepared students, respond Michele Cahill and Leah Hamilton. Their goal is to raise the number of underprepared students who complete high school, enroll in non-remedial college courses and stay in college for at least two semesters.

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  1. Students with IQ’s above 110 are “college-ready” while those with 90-110 IQ’s are “career-ready”. Below that things start to get kinda bleak. I recall reading something by Linda Gottfredson some years ago stating that there is virtually no place in the US economy for someone with an IQ below 75 except for stuff like prostitution or crime.

    It may well get worse in the future. Long ago we eliminated the really easy jobs like operating elevators or pumping gas. Right now we have McDonald’s but in the not so distant future the typical McDonalds’s may have only 2-3 real people with the rest of the work done by robots.

    On the other hand if the people who are worried about “peak oil” or “peak energy” are right there may be a silver lining. Returning to a more labor-intensive as opposed to energy-intensive form of agriculture could soak up a lot of unskilled labor.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Jim, I’ll bet you don’t have an elderly parent in a nursing home. There are lots of jobs that can be done by people with an IQ of 75. Of course, they don’t pay much, and a lot of them are done by illegal immigrants.

    • So, the idea is to grow artisanal wheat (or whatever)? Back in the Civil War era, low teens were a good yield per acre, now it’s about 40. Who’d buy it? Paying a living wage for it would make Whole Foods look cheap. I suppose the government could buy it at a set price and redistribute it.

      I wonder if ultimately we’ll wind up where some of the Golden Age Sci Fi authors imagined- maybe 40% of the population on “the dole” and “working” for a government subsidy. Sometimes it was a happy world; sometimes … not so much.

  2. Yes, by the time the youngsters get to middle school, some of them may be so behind or so disengaged that they’re a threat to themselves and everybody else on the shop floor. At the same time, though, high government officials are looking for disparate impacts in disciplining elementary school students. Absent the self-discipline, though, it’s the most vulnerable kids who lack bourgeois social capital who will be hurt the most.

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    An old student of mine was enrolled in a “diesel technology” program at a local community college. If he completed the program, he would get a certificate to work on diesel engines. As part of the program, he had to take a two semester “Introduction to Technical Physics.” Well, he started the first course, was lost, considered dropping out, and asked me for help.

    So we starting meeting every week or so, going over ideas and assignments. Contrary to the course’s name, it was just a basic community college Physics 101-102. The good news: he passed both courses with a B.

    The bad news: he never used anything in the course to fix and maintain diesel engines, and undoubtedly has forgotten just about everything in the course. Yet failing the course would have meant failing the program!

    So why was it required? To be very cynical, he was going to a community COLLEGE, not an apprenticeship program or a trade school. Think about the people who work at a CC. Their ego–and their pocketbook–says the program has to include a significant number of academic courses.

    To continue being cynical, this may be useful. This may screen out kids who aren’t so smart or who don’t have the initiative to ask a former teacher for help. But it is extraordinarily dangerous–and factually wrong–to say that the skills required to succeed in a technical career and the skills required to succeed in a “strong CTE [Career Technical Education] program” are the same.

  4. The conservatives here will begin talking about mass genocide of anyone with an IQ under 90 in 3.. 2… 1… (just like in Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany!)

  5. I hate to say it, but too many kids get pushed along without learning, until they get to high school, when their educational deficits can no longer be ignored.

    There are a lot of reasons:
    – parents who won’t hear of remedial services – “my child isn’t Special Ed!”
    – parents who move a lot – there can be huge gaps in the students’ knowledge if they switch districts
    – kids whose teachers didn’t want to face the flack they’d get – from the administration AND from the parents – if they honestly reported the student’s failure. Too often, teachers give C’s and D’s, when they should bite the bullet and give an F.
    – admins who change grades to passing.
    – credit recovery – it fulfills the law, but provides a DIShonest education.

    • Linda,

      I’ve always been skeptical of credit recovery programs which give up to a years worth of credit for 4 to 6 weeks of ‘questionable’ work on the part of the student, or the facility granting the credit.

      In my day, students who failed a course required for graduation were doing one of two things, repeating it the next year, or making it up in summer school. The summer school option was billable to the student and/or his parental units.

      I had teachers who would flunk a student, rather than pass them on, but of course, in the 1960’s, 1970,s and 1980’s, a high school dropout (legal in most states at age 16) could earn a good living working in unskilled/semi-skilled labor, or learning a trade by doing grunt work first.

      Skip forward 30 years to 21st century, high school dropouts aren’t accepted in the military, they usually can’t get hired anywhere, and they’re usually so far behind in education, they can’t function in today’s society.

      I’ve also never been a fan of social promotion, just to keep a kid from feeling bad about themselves. What happens to this kid when they get to middle or high school and don’t know anything?


    • The ed world has deliberately chosen to use methods of instruction designed to obscure the fact that not all kids are capable of learning the same material, in the same classroom, in the same amount of time; failing to group by level/instructional need (including full inclusion), working in groups (where the best students likely do the work), giving lots of points for “effort” and “process” (not right answers), watering down curriculum such that mastery of math facts/algorithms, grammar, spelling, knowledge of history, geography, science and good literature etc. are not required, weakening/eliminating reading assignments and practice of math/spelling/composition etc. . – in addition to the above.

  6. Crimson Wife says:

    Did he really claim that 90% of urban students are incapable of doing high school level work? Wow.

    Yes, there are students who don’t have the brains to do high school. But it’s nowhere near 90% even in the most deprived areas.

    • If by “high-school level work” you mean prep for higher ed or a white-collar job, or what was historically meant by high school, you’re talking an IQ of around 100 to make it.

      Given the documented 1+ standard deviation racial difference (Murray & Herrnstein put it at 1.1 SDs), plus the selection effect of people escaping ghettos if they are able, 90% is probably about right.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “Did he really claim that 90% of urban students are incapable of doing high school level work?”
      No, he does not claim that. He claims that “… in SOME big urban districts, we’re talking about upwards of 80 or 90 percent of today’s kids…” are not capable of doing high school work when they enter high school. He provides Cleveland as an example (about 10% of Cleveland public 8th graders are ‘proficient’ in reading and math … his implicit belief is that folks who are less than proficient in 8th grade won’t be doing true 9th grade work). He could probably have used Detroit as well (Wiki says in 2008 the high school graduation rate was about 25%. I’d be willing to bet that not all these kids actually got a ‘real’ high school education). So, not all urban district kids, but enough districts to matter.

      • I blame the elementary schools for a big chunk of the problem, because neither the curriculum nor the instructional practices provide sufficient foundation for further learning in MS and HS. Without a good foundation and mastery of the fundamentals, far too many kids will never have either – and this is especially true for those kids who don’t have families who can/will make that happen; IOW, lots of low-SES kids. Of course, MS and HS only continue the problems.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Not that long ago, you could get a reasonable job as an illiterate, or run a blacksmith shop knowing just enough to keep accounts.
    Thing is, you had to work. Show up. Produce. That sort of thing. Hispainic immigrants who do roofing or yard work aren’t literate. But they show up, do the work right, do it fast, and don’t insult the customers. Kids who won’t do the homework, won’t study, won’t bother with the tests, aren’t going to be much good even f you could surgically implant literacy and numeracy.
    It’s hard to believe that 90% of kids can’t be taught what used to be thought of as sixth-grade literacy. Once you have that, job-specific training will give you the job’s vocab.
    But you have to show up, do the work, produce, not assault the boss.
    And we know that future time orientation is a Very Bad Thing. Education professionals have said so. See Seattle.

    • The Mestizo immigrants from Mexico do work hard. In most of the wotld there is nothing like the US welfare system. But as they and their children become aware of the US welfare system their work ethic declines.

      I worked at one time with a guy from Mainland China who came from way to the northwest of Beijing near the Mongolian border. He told me that nothing amazed him about America as much as the US welfare system.
      There was remotely nothing like that in China he told me.

      The second most astonishing thing in America to him was Moo Shu Pork. He had never heard of it.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        It is little know, but one of America’s contributions to the world is creating ethnic food: fortune cookies, General Tsao’s Chicken, nacho chips … 🙂

        • Apparently Moo Shu Pork is a southern dish. Fortune cookie however are totally unknown in China.

  8. Everybody is “job material” for some job that exists or might exist. It’s up to the supposed geniuses who dominate our economy to figure out how to provide those jobs. Otherrwise they don’t deserve to be in charge.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Yes, everyone can do something. But it may be impossible to provide jobs where everyone produces $7.25 (or $10.10) plus social security tax, plus unemployment tax, plus heath insurance worth of something.