STEM apprenticeships should be the future

Apprenticeships aren’t just for future construction workers, writes New America’s Nneka Jenkins Thompson on Ed Central. It’s a form of paid experiential learning that can help prepare students for well-paid, high-demand STEM careers.

A Corning technician tests Gorilla glass.

A Corning technician tests Gorilla glass.

Corning’s Technology Talent Pipeline pays students to study engineering and science at Corning Community College, while they work at least one day a week in company labs. “One hundred percent of Pipeline apprentices have transitioned to technician positions at Corning and remain at the company as full-time worker,” writes Thompson.

The company also has sponsored a new P-TECH school that will let teens train for technical careers while earning community college credits.

STEM requires a strong foundation in math, she writes. Yet only 20 percent of students who took the ACT in 2016 were prepared for entry-level math, ACT estimates.

“Apprenticeship can boost students’ confidence while building competence,” writes Thompson. Students learn to learn from mistakes, which are expected in hands-on learning environments. “When students see the results of what their own hands produce, they grow in confidence.”

Half of jobs that require STEM skills are in manufacturing, health care, or construction. Pay averages $53,000 a year — without a college degree.

Here’s more on the new model of apprenticeships.

83% graduate — but are they educated?

The U.S. high school graduation rate has hit 83 percent, rising to a new high for the fifth year in a row. “We’ve made real progress,” said President Barack Obama at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C.

President Obama greets students at Banneker High in Washington, D.C. The District has raised its high school graduation rate, but still ranks last in the nation. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

President Obama greets students at Banneker High in Washington, D.C. The District has raised its high school graduation rate, but still ranks last in the nation. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

While 90.2 percent of Asian-American students and 87.6 percent of whites earn a diploma, that falls to 77.8 percent for Latinos and 74.6 percent for blacks.

Iowa has the highest graduation rate at 90.8 percent. Washington D.C., despite rapid improvement, is at the bottom with a 68.5 percent rate.

While graduation rates are rising steadily, there’s no evidence students are better prepared for college or careers, note Anya Kametez and Cory Turner on NPR.

. . . scores of high school students on the test known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” are essentially flat, and average scores on the ACT and SAT are down.

. . . “For many students, a high school diploma is not a passport to opportunity, it’s a ticket to nowhere,” says Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a national nonprofit that’s long advocated for higher standards and graduation requirements.

High school graduation exams often require only eighth- or ninth-grade skills. Some states have dropped the exams.

Just last month, in a major school funding ruling, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher excoriated his state for watered down graduation standards that, he says, have already resulted “in unready children being sent to high school, handed degrees, and left, if they can scrape together the money, to buy basic skills at a community college.”

There are lots of ways to raise graduation rate, an excellent NPR series revealed. Monitoring students’ progress and closing “dropout factories” have helped in some places. In others, schools have fudged the numbers or used dubious “credit recovery” schemes.

Fudging grad rates via ‘credit recovery’


Owensmouth High  students received their diplomas on June 8. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Only 54 percent of Los Angeles Unified seniors were on track to graduate in December, due to new (absurd) requirements that everyone complete the college-prep sequence required by state universities.

By the end of March, 68 percent were on track, reports the Los Angeles Times. In June, an estimated 74 percent received their diplomas. What happened?

Online credit recovery courses enabled thousands of students who failed regular classes to qualify for a diploma, reports the editorial board. But did they learn anything?

LAUSD: English Language Arts 11A, which is supposed to be the first semester of junior-year English, could take 50 or 60 hours, reports the Times.

The reading excerpts come from fine and often challenging literature — “Moby-Dick,” “The Scarlet Letter,” great poetry and the like. Video lectures give the background of the works and teach lessons about tone, setting, vocabulary choice and so forth. There are four writing assignments during each semester.

But students can test out of much of the course, including the writing, by passing a 10-question multiple-choice quiz at the beginning of each unit.

With a score of 60% or better — six of the questions — a student passes the unit, without having to go through the lectures, read the full materials or write the essays. Opening up other tabs on the computer to search for answers on the Internet is allowed. That’s not really cheating: The questions aren’t about straightforward facts. Students must interpret passages, for instance. But there’s plenty of help online via Sparks notes and other resources, and a full hour is given to answer the 10 questions.

Students aren’t asked to read a full book in the first semester; the second semester requires one book.

“I’ve seen students make up a semester’s worth of credits in a school year’s final month and then miraculously earn their diplomas,” wrote teacher Mario Gonzalez in response. “I’ve seen kids who don’t even know their multiplication tables or how to reduce a fraction pass algebra (on paper, at least).”

He asks: “What’s the point of patting ourselves on the back for improved graduation rates if the diploma itself is highly devalued?”

Fudging graduation numbers is a lot easier than educating students, concludes the Times editorial board. “Under pressure to produce better numbers, school officials in California and nationwide have often done whatever it takes to get to those numbers, including lowering standards while pretending to raise them, and reclassifying students instead of educating them. These students then go on to college or the workplace, mistakenly thinking they have the skills they’ll need.”

Job training doesn’t require college skills

Students don’t need college-level academic skills to learn marketable job skills, write Northwestern researchers James Rosenbaum and Caitlin Ahearn.

Occupational certificates require 8th to 10th grade-level math and English, according to community college faculty in California and Illinois.

Pump operators with a certificate earn good money.

Pump operators with a certificate earn good money.

A Cisco Certified Network Associate starts at at $45,600 in Florida, they report. Pump operators who’ve earned a certificate are in high demand: 92 percent are employed at an average wage of $56,196. Paramedics and practical nurses also do well with a certificate, but no degree.

Florida’s College and Career Readiness Initiative informs 11th graders if they’re on track for college-level courses, giving them time to remediate in 12th grade, they write. However, it “targets college readiness exclusively, and assumes that the same standards apply to occupational tracks.” Students and teachers have no idea there are community college programs that will admit less-prepared students and train them in marketable skills.

Kentucky gets real about career readiness

Kentucky has gotten real about career readiness, writes Hechinger’s Emmanuel Felton. High schools get the same reward for preparing graduates for “middle-skill” jobs as they do for preparing them for college.

In Louisville, Southern High’s machine tool program enables students to earn an industry-recognized machinist operator credential. The job starts at $15 an hour.

Southern High School teacher Matthew Haynes helps sophomore Dasani Johnson set up a lathe. Photo: Emmanuel Felton

Southern High School teacher Matthew Haynes helps sophomore Dasani Johnson set up a lathe. Photo: Emmanuel Felton

“When the Obama administration made some federal funding contingent on the adoption of college- and career-ready standards, most states decided college and career readiness were one and the same,” he writes.

In Kentucky, however, schools are encouraged to create direct-to-career paths with expectations “focused on technical skills and the ability to find and parse informational texts and apply math in occupational situations.”

At Southern High, which prepares students for many careers, Principal Bryce Hibbard hopes to link the auto shop with the student-run credit union, writes Felton.  “Auto shop students will fix donated cars which will then be sold to Southern’s seniors on a $1,000, 1 percent interest loan by students at the credit union.”

“When most states say college- and career-ready, they just mean college-ready,” says Robert Lerman, an institute fellow at the Urban Institute’s Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population. “If you look at what amount of jobs require Algebra II, for example, it’s maybe 8 to 10 percent, and on the flip side there are all of these employability and occupational skills that students don’t learn and aren’t tested.”

Kentucky students must pass a college admission or placement test to be considered college ready. To be career ready, students must show pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test or ACT’s WorkKeys to demonstrate their math and literacy skills. In addition, they must earn an industry-recognized credential or pass a state occupational skills exam, based on industry standards.

Five years ago, only 13 percent of Southern students were considered ready for life after high school. That’s up to 57 percent, reports Felton. “Of the 270 students who graduated last spring, 117 were college-ready, 45 were ready for careers and 68 left ready for both.”

How to succeed without a degree

High school graduates with “high credentials” — but no college — earn almost as much as four-year college graduates at the age of 26, concludes a Center for Public Education report. High-credentialed workers earn higher wages and are more likely to be working full-time than those with two-year degrees or “some college,” according to Path Least Taken III: Rigor and Focus in High School Pays Dividends in the Future.

In high school, they completed Algebra 2 and advanced science, earned a C-plus average or better and completed three or more related career-focused courses. After graduation, they earned a professional license or certificate in the same career field.

New ways to do high school 

At Omaha’s Bryan High, students may plant potatoes, care for chickens, tour Union Pacific headquarters or sort and ship books at a school-based distribution center, reports Education Week.

“Students can choose from 16 career clusters and two pocket academies—one focused on urban agriculture and natural resources and another on transportation, distribution, and logistics—or TDL, for short.”

Katrina Whitford, another junior, holds a chicken in her lap as she works in an animal science class at Bryan.

Katrina Whitford, a junior, holds a chicken as she works in an animal science class. Photo: Ryan Henriksen, Education Week

The story is part of Ed Week‘s Diplomas Count report, which focuses on new ways to do high school.

Another story looks at a new Denver high school that’s struggling to make its model work.

Northfield High was designed to place all students, regardless of past achievement, in rigorous International Baccalaureate classes. Students can pursue “pathways” in the arts, business, biomedical sciences and other subjects of interest.

The school also pledged to base grades on mastery, rather than homework completion or class participation.

Teachers were supposed to help run the school and share counseling responsibilities.

However, the principal was forced out in October after complaints about discipline. A majority of teachers will not return next year. The advisory program has been changed.

The second year’s incoming class will be predominantly Latino with fewer white and black students choosing the program.

The four-year graduation rate is up to 82 percent, notes Ed Week. Neerav Kingsland adds: “Expected to hit 102% with new credit recovery program.”

From high school to the workforce

Politicians promise to make college affordable for more people, writes Jeffrey Selingo in the Wall Street Journal.  Yet many won’t earn a degree and nearly half of graduates are working jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. What young people really need are

Young people need alternative routes to the education and training required for high-quality jobs. writes Selingo, author of There is Life After College.

Apprentices at Siemens’ gas turbine manufacturing facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Apprentices at Siemens’ gas turbine manufacturing facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For example, Siemens and other manufacturers “developed a high-school apprenticeship program in North Carolina when they couldn’t find enough workers with advanced skills.” Students who complete a three-year apprenticeship earn an associate degree and qualify for a $55,000 starting salary.

At Walla Walla Community College in Washington state, John Deere trains students to “fix million-dollar farm equipment,” a high-paying job that requires
“advanced math and mechanical skills.”

Only 20 percent of teens have a job while in high school, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 45 percent in 1998.

To make youth apprenticeships work in the U.S., policymakers should study Switzerland, where employers take the lead, and Singapore, where the government has created very effective career tech education, writes Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy.

Gatsby meets Dale Carnegie

At the Business & Tourism Academy in Los Angeles, 10th graders read To Kill a Mockingbird — and Dale Carnegie, writes Gail Robinson on the Educated Reporter blog. Eleventh graders read The Great Gatsby and Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On. 

Hieu Nguyen, Kyrene Aganon and Madalyne Salud built a prosthetic arm in their aerospace engineering class, part of a Linked Learning program at Cabrillo High in Long Beach. Photo: Scott Varley, Daily Breeze

Hieu Nguyen, Kyrene Aganon and Madalyne Salud built a prosthetic arm in their aerospace engineering class, part of a Linked Learning program at Cabrillo High in Long Beach. Photo: Scott Varley, Daily Breeze

Combining college-prep academics with an industry-themed career “pathway” is the key to California’s Linked Learning initiative, writes Robinson.

Linked Learning students are 3.7 percentage points more likely to graduate and just as likely to complete a college-prep sequence as students in traditional high school programs, according to a 2015 SRI study.

More than 90 percent of students at Business & Tourism Academy, part of the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, come from lower-income Latino families.

Much of the school’s focus is on professionalism. Throughout their four years, students work on business projects and interact with outside professionals. They “dress for success” — wearing business attire —  every Wednesday. Business people critique videos of mock job interviews with the students and provide other feedback. Many students have internships.

Along with a complement of traditional academic classes aligned with the Common Core State Standards, every year students take a course geared to the school’s theme, such as cultural geography in their freshman year and ecotourism as sophomores. Juniors study entrepreneurship, working on computers to plot a firm’s fixed and variable costs and develop risk analyses for companies. The final project is to create a business plan for a tour company. Seniors run a virtual company and participate in the Virtual Enterprises International competition.

The school’s 80 percent graduation rate is higher than the district’s 74 percent rate, reports Robinson.

Los Angeles Unified will have 44 Linked Learning schools by fall, including programs geared to health and medicine, engineering, design, manufacturing and media studies.

Get practical: ‘A BA in every pot’ is a fantasy


Credit: Christopher Corr, Getty Images/Ikon Images

Vocational education, now known as “career tech ed (CTE),” is back in vogue, says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Young people need a “middle path” to middle-class jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, he tells KUNC reporter Claudio Sanchez. However, Carnevale wouldn’t want his own son or daughter in CTE.

. . . a huge number of technical certificates that take a year to complete, pay more than a [four-year] college degree. You can make a lot more money with a certificate in heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Still, “high school to Harvard” is the “tried-and-true path” to success, says Carnevale. “Until we invest enough to build an alternative pathway and respect real work in the U.S., I wouldn’t risk my child’s [education], even though I know that learning by doing is more powerful than learning with your head alone in school.”

Thirty to 40 percent of young people say ‘school is irrelevant.’ But saying to [parents], ‘I’m going to send your kid to trade school,’ will not appeal to people.

CTE will succeed if it develops a broad set of skills while teaching technical skills, Carnevale says.

In Europe and Singapore, businesses help design training programs and hire the graduates. That’s a “long shot” in the U.S., says Carnevale.

For more than 30 years, the U.S. has rejected practical, applied learning.

Every year, more than 400,000 young people in the top half of their high school class go to college, and eight years later they have not earned either a two- or four-year degree or certificate. So at some point, failure matters. Education reform in pursuit of academic excellence is floundering. We need to change our curriculum. The notion that the Common Core will make people college and career ready is largely a fantasy.

“Politicians want to put a BA in every pot,” says Carnevale.