Education for upward mobility

I’m in Washington D.C. for Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference, which will look at what schools can do to help children born into poverty move up in the world.

Mike Petrilli, the moderator, hopes to question the idea that college is the only path to the middle class.

What if by spending all of our efforts trying to boost the proportion of low-income students who are making it through college from 10 percent to, say, 20 percent, we’re ignoring the needs of the other 80 percent?

He hopes to “find a middle ground between the utopianism that characterizes so much of the reform movement (‘Let’s get every child college and career ready!’) and the defeatism that emanates from too many corners of the education system (‘There’s nothing we can do until we end poverty!’).” 

I’m on the Multiple Pathways in High School panel, which will look at adding “high-quality career tech ed and youth apprenticeships to the “college prep for all” model.

In Hard Work, High Hopes, I look at district, charter and private high schools with lots of lower-income, Latino or black students and a college-prep mission.

“President Obama wants the U.S. to lead the world in college graduates, but college dreams
usually don’t come true for the children of poorly educated, low-income parents,” I write.

Half of people from high-income families earn a bachelor’s degree by age 25. Only 10 percent of those raised in low-income families complete a bachelor’s degree.

Tech ed: Where’s the money?

“The goal of an education is not a degree; it’s a career,” said Snap-on CEO Nicholas Pinchuk at the American Association of Community Colleges’ workforce development conference. Business, government and education leaders must invest in technical education and make it a legislative priority, he said.

Career-tech ed boosts reading

Career tech motivates students to improve their reading skills, writes Randall Garton on Shanker Blog.

It seems commonsensical that kids who are not academically oriented (not a crime, by the way) could be motivated to learn if they see and understand the relationship of that learning to their real world aspirations.  This is one of the reasons that kids in CTE programs tend to complete high school and enjoy post-secondary success in occupations, training, and education at greater rates than their comparable peers.

CTE students will need strong reading skills to “read and absorb technical manuals, understand and program computers, write and respond to memos on technical and professional matters, and interpret tables of instructions,” Garton writes.

. . . the learning of CTE students is “contextualized” – students who are interested in a subject are taught about it, and the more they learn the more complex the text the are able to read about it.

CTE is incorporating literacy and training teachers, but research on what works is in the early stages, Garton writes.

Instead of “the failed mantra of  college for all,” education reformers should promote  “multiple pathways to success,” he writes. The literacy strategies being field tested in CTE “will extend to the broader population of struggling students who need them desperately.”

 

A future for all

Despite fears of tracking, high-quality career tech programs are overcoming the voc-ed stigma, writes Dana Goldstein in The Nation.  At Aviation High, a five-year career and/or college prep school in Queens, junior Noel Adames taught her about welding.

A member of ROTC, Noel spends his mornings preparing to become an FAA-certified aircraft mechanic, learning the forty-three skills—from welding to air-conditioner maintenance to electrical wiring—required to service planes and helicopters. He spends his afternoons in traditional academic courses, including one college-level class, and will graduate from Aviation’s five-year program with a New York State Regents diploma. His ambition is to attend the Air Force Academy.

“If you understand how the inside of the plane works, it’s a whole other level of being a pilot,” he says. But if that doesn’t work out, Noel’s FAA certification will qualify him for a union job that pays about $55,000 per year with benefits, and could help him finance a college education.

While the Obama administration is pushing science and math education, it’s not funding hands-on programs to prepare students for STEM careers, Goldstein writes.

On Dewey to Delpit, which I’ve just added to the blogroll, Max Bean writes about the unrealistic expectations at no-excuses, college-for-all charter schools. Here’s part three.

“Ideally, every student not suffering from severe biological handicaps should receive the kind of rigorous academic training that would provide an avenue to college; but, even in ideal circumstances, not all students should actually attend college,” Bean writes. “Moreover, the rigid, uniform format in which college prep is currently being implemented in many inner-city schools is absurd and counterproductive.”

Discuss.

Funding cuts hit career tech ed

Career technical education — vocational ed to us old folks — provides an alternative path to success for students who lack the motivation or academic ability to earn a bachelor’s degree.  Yet the Obama administration has proposed a 20 percent reduction in its fiscal 2012 budget for career technical education, even as it seeks to increase overall education funding by 11 percent, reports the New York Times.

President Obama has instead made it a priority to raise overall academic standards and college graduation rates, and aims to shrink the small amount of federal spending for vocational training in public high schools and community colleges. 

European countries offer a vocational education for many students. (Nearly half of Finnish students enter vocational programs in 10th grade.)  But the U.S. prefers to pretend that all students will complete a four-year degree.

Last year, fewer than a third  of all 25- to 29-year-olds in the United States had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

About 75 percent of students who start public high school earn a diploma within four or five years, according to federal data. More than 90 percent of career-tech students graduate, claims the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

In an analysis of testing data from Massachusetts, Alison L. Fraser, author of the Pioneer Institute study of 27 regional vocational and technical education high schools in the state, found that vocational students vastly improved their passing rates on English and math standardized tests between 2001 and 2007, a period in which the schools focused on integrating academic instruction into technical classes. In fact, by 2007, the vocational students were actually passing at higher rates than students in the rest of the state.

 There are decent jobs for people with technical skills and vocational certification: 27 percent of certificate holders earn more than the average worker with a bachelor’s degree.  But the good jobs require reading, writing, math and problem-solving skills that many students don’t master in allegedly college-prep classes.

This is the first in a Times series on vocational education.  I’m pleased to see attention focused on the issue.