Career-tech for all

At a high school in southern Georgia, career-tech ed is for everyone, writes James Fallows in The Atlantic. Camden County High School, located near a huge naval base, sends about 60 percent of graduates to postsecondary education or training.

In 2001, the graduation rate was only 50.5 percent. Now that is up to 85 percent. What happened?

CCHS was divided into six “academies.” After a year in Freshman Academy, all students choose one of the five career-tech academies. While they take the normal academic subjects, they also get an introduction to the world of work. Some will go from high school to the workforce or the military, but many will go to community college or to four-year colleges and universities. 

In the “law and justice” curriculum, which is part of the Government and Public Service Academy, a former Navy-Kings Bay NCIS official named Rich Gamble trains students in conducting mock crime investigations, and preparation for testimony in court.

On the day we were there, he had staged a mock robbery, in which the perp grabbed a cashbox from an office, ran through the hallways, and dumped the box as he was escaping. . . . Gamble divided his students into three teams to investigate the crime — making plaster casts of footprints (below), taking evidence, filing reports, preparing a case. “We emphasize a lot of writing,” he said. “I give them issues where they have to defend themselves, in very few words, because courts don’t like you to waste words.”

In the Engineering and Industrial Technology Academy, students design, build and sell small houses, do welding and electrical work and run an auto-repair shop that handles county vehicles.

In the Health and Environmental Sciences Academy, students were preparing for certification tests by administering care to dummies representing nursing-home patients.

Students also can choose Business and Marketing and Fine Arts.

Success relies on grit, Rachel Baldwin, the school’s career instructional specialist, tells Fallows. “I think you are more likely to learn grit in one of these technical classes. The plumber who has grit may turn out to be more entrepreneurial and successful than someone with an advanced degree.”

Skipping university was ‘smartest decision’

An excellent student from a blue-collar family in Canada, Kathy Shaidle thinks not going to university was “one of the smartest decisions of my life.” With a two-year media degree from a community college, she launched a successful career and “paid off my relatively puny student loans in short order.”

Poll: High school doesn’t prep for work

High schools got so-so marks from most 18- to 24-year-olds in an AP-Viacom poll: Only 42 percent were strongly satisfied with their high school education, while a fifth were unsatisfied.  College students and graduates were much happier with their education:  59 percent were “very” or “extremely” satisfied.

While most were satisfied with college-prep classes, they said high school counselors didn’t help them choose the right college or vocational school or find college aid.  And high school students got little guidance in choosing a career or  field of study, they said.

While nearly two-thirds want to get at least a four-year degree, about half will not reach that goal, AP notes. Only a third of today’s 25- to 34-year-olds have earned a bachelor’s degree and  less than 10 percent get an associate’s degree.

So getting students ready for work remains central to high schools’ mission. And most young people say their school didn’t do a good job of preparing them for work or helping them choose a future career. They also give high schools low marks on exposing them to the latest technology in their field and helping them get work experience, according to the poll conducted in partnership with Stanford University.

A strong majority of college students and recent graduates said their college prepared them for employment, helped them choose a field of study, exposed them to new technology and helped with internships and college aid.

Forty percent say their high school or college teachers helped them significantly; less than 25 percent say counselors were a lot of help.

Counselors get low marks

High school counselors didn’t provide much help with college or career planning, young adults tell Public Agenda. In a national survey, Can I Get A Little Advice Here?, 60 percent of those who went on to higher education “gave their high school counselors poor grades for their college advice.” Nearly half said they felt like “just a face in the crowd.”

Many high school counselors are overwhelmed with students in crisis and have little time for anything else.

Downtown College Prep, the charter school in my book, Our School, invests a lot in helping students and their parents understand what it means to prepare for college, how to pay for it and how to succeed once you get there. It’s essential for students who are the first in their families to aspire to college.

KQED Radio’s Michael Krasny is hosting a special two-hour broadcast on first-generation college students from Downtown College Prep in San Jose on March 10. To join the live audience, call (415) 553-3300, or email [email protected]

Students seek career prep, not classics

To be “relevant” to students, some colleges are dropping unpopular classics and philosophy majors and pushing career prep, reports the New York Times.

The University of Louisiana, Lafayette, is eliminating its philosophy major, while Michigan State University is doing away with American studies and classics, after years of declining enrollments in those majors.

And in a class called “The English Major in the Workplace,” at the University of Texas, Austin, students read “Death of a Salesman” but also learn to network, write a résumé and come off well in an interview.

Students and their parents want a return on their degree — in dollars and cents, not enlightenment. In 1971, 37 percent of UCLA freshmen said it was essential or very important to be “very well-off financially,” while 73 percent said the same about “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” In 2009, 78 percent identified wealth as a goal, while 48 percent were after a meaningful philosophy.

Business has been the top major for 15 years. Now students also are turning to health fields, environmental science and  bio-anything. Chinese and Arabic are hot, while French and German are not.

Employers surveyed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities take a broader view:

. . .  89 percent said they wanted more emphasis on “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing,” 81 percent asked for better “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” and 70 percent were looking for “the ability to innovate and be creative.”

I majored in English and Creative Writing.

Singapore does voc ed too

Known for high scores in math and science, Singapore also offers high-quality career training in 11th and 12th grade to students who aren’t academically inclined, reports Education Week.

“Streaming” works in Singapore partly because all students receive a strong grounding in core academic subjects, such as math, early in school, said Alan Ginsburg, the director of policy and program studies at the Education Department. As a result, students enter career-oriented classes with skills that help them in class and on the job, said Mr. Ginsburg, who has studied math curriculum in Singapore.

. . . Too many American students with a strong career focus, by contrast, do not receive sufficient academic content, and thus “never get the skills they need to be employable,” he said.

Singapore’s vocational schools work closely with employers so students graduate with marketable skills.

Louisiana creates 'career option' diploma

Louisiana students will be able to leave the college-prep track at age 15  with their parents’ permission.

Graduates who took the new curriculum would get a career-option diploma that would not qualify them for a four-year college or university. Instead, they could attend two-year technical schools or community colleges.

Critics, including the state superintendent, say career students risk graduating with inadequate reading and math skills. But proponents want to cut the dropout rate by giving students an option that matches their interests and abilities.

The bill was modified to require students who do poorly on an eighth-grade test to take remedial classes in summer school before moving on to ninth grade. Currently, students who fail the test have to repeat eighth grade.

Lowering expectations is a mistake, editorializes The Advocate.