Not your father’s shop class

Career Technical Education (CTE) is Not Your Father’s Shop Class, writes Harry J. Holzer in The Washington Monthly.

In “old-fashioned voc ed,” low achievers trained for “low-wage or disappearing jobs, if any job at all,” he writes. “Even worse, the programs tracked students, particularly minorities and disadvantaged students, away from college.”

By contrast, the best models of high-quality CTE today integrate rigorous academic instruction into the teaching of technical and employment skills and thus prepare young people for college just as well as a traditional “college prep” program does.

. . . there are now several thousand “career academies” around the country, where students take classes that prepare them for jobs in a particular sector (like health care, finance, or information technology) as well as participate in more general academic classes. To complement their classwork, students are placed into jobs in their chosen field during the summer or the academic year. For example, the Ballard High School Academy of Finance in Seattle trains students in financial literacy and banking activities within a broader academic curriculum, and also helps students get internships with local financial firms.

These career academies improve the post-high school earnings of disadvantaged students, especially at-risk young males, by nearly 20 percent, according to research studies.

Other models, such as High Schools That Work and Linked Learning integrate high-level academics with career exploration, Holzer writes. In some places, high school students can earn associate degrees in vocational fields.

Levi McCord and Nehemiah Myers are students at the Lehigh Career and Technical Institute in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania.

McCord . . .  plans to head straight into the workforce after graduation. “I’ll already have most of the skills I need to know to get a job,” said McCord, who is learning to become a welder. As a certified welder, he can eventually expect to earn as much as $67,000 in some parts of the country.

Myers, on the other hand, has been studying electromechanics and mechantronics part-time at Lehigh. He plans to enroll in a co-op program at a four-year college next year, where he can get paid work experience while working toward a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

CTE can benefit all students, concludes Holzer.

California will put $250 million — out of a $55 billion education budget — into “shop plus.”

The death of vocational ed — and the middle class

The death of vocational education is hastening the demise of the middle class, argues Marc Tucker in Ed Week.

Years ago, almost all the larger cities had selective vocational high schools whose graduates were virtually assured good jobs, Tucker writes. Employers made sure these schools had “competent instructors and up-to-date equipment,” so graduates would meet job requirements.

That ended when vocational education became just another class, often crowded out by academic requirements, Tucker writes.

I will never forget an interview I did a few years ago with a wonderful man who had been teaching vocational education for decades in his middle class community.  With tears in his eyes, he described how, when he began, he had, with great pride prepared young men (that’s how it was) for well-paying careers in the skilled trades.  Now, he told me, “That’s all over.  Now I get the kids who the teachers of academic courses don’t want to deal with.  I am expected to use my shop to motivate those kids to learn what they can of basic skills.”  He was, in high school, trying to interest these young people, who were full of the despair and anger that comes of knowing that everyone else had given up on them, to learn enough arithmetic to measure the length of a board.  He knew that was an important thing to do, but he also knew that it was a far cry from serious vocational education of the sort he had done very well years earlier.

Career academies were developed to motivate students, not to prepare them for real jobs, Tucker writes. Voc ed, now renamed “career technical education,” is no longer a “serious enterprise” in high schools.

By contrast, Japan, Singapore, the Netherlands, Denmark and other leading industrial countries “doubled down to improve both their academic and their vocational programs.”

They built vocational education programs that require high academic skills.  And they designed programs that could deliver those skills.  They did not sever the connections between employers and their high schools; they strengthened them.  They made sure their high school vocational students had first-rate instructors and equipment.  Their reward is a work force that is balanced between managers and workers, scientists and technicians.  No one tells an individual student what he or she will do with their life.  But those students have a range of attractive choices.

Tucker links to descriptions of vocational education in the NetherlandsAustralia and Singapore.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called for states to require school attendance till age 18 or graduation. If schools offer no options except the college track, that seems cruel.

 

95% grad rate for career-tech students

California’s career academy students are more likely to graduate and complete college-prep courses required by state universities, according to a new Berkeley report on “partnership academies.”

These programs create a small school with a vocational focus for students in grades 10 through 12.  Business partners provide mentors and internships and sponsor field trips. At least half the students must be high-risk for dropping out due to low grades, poor attendance and other factors.

Despite this, 95 percent of seniors in California Partnership Academies graduate, compared with 85 percent of seniors statewide. Fifty-seven percent of academy graduates complete the courses required by the state university systems, compared with 36 percent of graduates statewide.

I wrote about a San Jose electronics academy in the ’80s, when the program was new and all the students were high-risk. “Teachers care about us,” said students, who bragged about teachers calling home to get them to show up every day. The chance to qualify for a summer job was a major motivator. I remember a Mexican-American kid who became the first in his family to graduate from high school. A mentor told him he needed straight A’s at community college, so he could transfer and earn an engineering degree. He was earning straight A’s in pre-engineering courses while working half-time as a technician at a high-tech company.

Sixty percent of academy seniors plan to go to community college and another 28 percent hope to attend four-year universities, the report found. Nearly all plan to work while attending college.

Of 500 partnership academies in California, about 200 risk closure due to budget cuts, California Watch reports.

Build non-degree paths to the middle class

Can the Middle Class Be Saved? asks Don Peck in an interesting (and depressing) Atlantic story.

College graduates with a four-year degree are doing better than non-graduates, whose prospects are “flat or failing,” he writes. But the only people earning more are those with postgraduate degrees.

The less-educated middle class — people who made a decent living without a bachelor’s degree — is suffering financially and socially, Peck writes.

In a national study of the American family released late last year, the sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox wrote that among “Middle Americans”—people with a high-school diploma but not a college degree—an array of signals of family dysfunction have begun to blink red. “The family lives of today’s moderately educated Americans,” which in the 1970s closely resembled those of college graduates, now “increasingly resemble those of high-school dropouts, too often burdened by financial stress, partner conflict, single parenting, and troubled children.”

. . . Between 2006 and 2008, among moderately educated women, 44 percent of all births occurred outside marriage, not far off the rate (54 percent) among high-school dropouts; among college-educated women, that proportion was just 6 percent.

National policy is to turn everyone into a college graduate.

Grants, loans, and tax credits to undergraduate and graduate students total roughly $160 billion each year; by contrast, in 2004, federal, state, and local spending on employment and training programs (which commonly assist people without a college education) totaled $7 billion—an inflation-adjusted decline of about 75 percent since 1978.

Peck likes the idea of “career academies” within larger high schools and apprenticeships linked to community colleges as ways to help students find “paths into the middle class that do not depend on a four-year college degree.”

Career ed bill vetoed

California students will not be able to to take career classes instead of art or foreign language to earn a diploma. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill. An advocate of vocational education, Schwarzenegger said he was worried the bill would impose new costs on school districts and could require funding of more career academies.

He also vetoed a bill creating “green tech” career academies in high schools using a small surcharge on electricity. The funding source would set a bad precedent, the governor said.

The governor signed a bill requiring kindergartners to turn five by Sept. 1 and creating “transitional” classes for children affected by the switch. The cut-off date has been Dec. 2.