‘Forget the diploma’ or the GED

Penelope Trunk was asked to provide career coaching to a 19-year-old dropout with no formal job experience. When the girl was kicked out by her aunt — after fleeing an abusive stepfather and prostitute sisters — Trunk took her into the family.

Forget about earning a diploma or a GED, Trunk is advising Kate.

Kate told me, “I was good at school… Well. When I went. I didn’t really go enough to be good at school. But I would have been good.”

I think what she means by that is that she is curious and smart. Which is definitely true. It’s just that when kids don’t have a consistent place to live, they don’t have a reliable way to get to school. . . . she stayed with kids who were expelled which made it even harder to get to school.

Trunk believes she can help Kate “get jobs to figure out what she likes to do.” If she wants to go to college, she can say she was homeschooled and explain “how she spent her childhood worrying where her next meal will come from, and where she will sleep next.”

Both employers and colleges know that the GED is for kids who couldn’t get through the system. . . . The GED is a distraction from your real purpose as an almost-twentysomething, which is to explain why you are special and different and will make a good employee or a good student and most of all, a good member of the community you’d like to be a part of.

Kate does not need any seal of approval from a high school or a testing center.

Employers don’t like to hire people who couldn’t handle high school, even with a GED. They like people who show up every day.

Unless Trunk has very good connections, Kate will have trouble finding a job. Without a diploma or GED, she won’t qualify for a Pell Grant to cover college costs. Colleges don’t give scholarships for survival skills — not without proof of academic competence.

I’d recommend lying. Teach Kate to claim she was homeschooled in the conventional sense and that she’s employed as a nanny for Trunk’s kids.

She can use free online resources to assess and improve her academic skills, then take a community college class to redefine herself as a college student. When she figures out what she wants to do . . . It will be hard, but not impossible.

Connected to the future

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco's Burton High School.

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco’s Burton High School.

Most students like Gerardo Lopez — Latinos and blacks from low-income and working-class families — enroll in community college, take a few remedial courses and drop out. They’ve been told they should go to college, but nobody’s told them what level of academic skills are necessary to pass college-level courses.

Many think any major will qualify them for a good job. They don’t know how the system works.

“Gerardo Lopez is preparing to turn his dreams into reality,” I write on Open Standard.

“Hands-on” learning opportunities drew Lopez, a Honduran immigrant, to the engineering academy at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School in San Francisco. “As a kid, I loved to make little cars, bringing parts together to make something come alive,” he says.

But he didn’t know engineering was a possible career. His father is a hotel janitor; his mother is a housewife.

Now a senior, he spends two days a week as an “extern” at an architectural firm. Lopez hopes to major in mechanical engineering – or perhaps architecture – at a University of California campus or Stanford. If he hadn’t signed up for the engineering academy, “I wouldn’t have known what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

Burton offers “career academies” in engineering, health sciences and information technology, all high-demand fields. Students take college-prep and career-prep courses together, visit workplaces, do job shadows and compete for summer internships.

“Employers say they can’t find the skilled workers they need,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told business and education leaders at Burton High last week. But CEOs aren’t talking to superintendents. “There’s a total disconnect.

Thirty-five percent of Burton High graduates enroll in four-year universities, said Principal Bill Kappenhagen. Another 43 percent go to community college and 22 percent go straight to the workforce.  The six-year graduation rate is high – 90 percent – for the four-year students, he said. But only 10 percent of those who go to City College of San Francisco graduate in six years.

What’s going wrong for the community college contingent? Some get bogged down in remedial courses or overwhelmed by work and job responsibilities. I’d guess many more would succeed if they aimed for a technical certificate or two-year vocational degree rather than taking general education courses.

‘Career-relevant’ education, but not vo-tech

Instead of training high school students for specific careers, provide “career-relevant” education, writes Dana Goldstein.

. . . we don’t want to limit working class kids to these often low-skills, low-pay jobs. Instead, we should advocate for more creative curricular connections between school and various places of employment.

At Tech Valley High outside Albany, every student pursues an internship in January, reports The Nation.

This year, one teen shadowed an Amtrak engineer riding the Northeast Corridor; another interned at a local graphic design firm.

The flexibility of Tech Valley’s career curriculum—students can choose an internship that matches their interests, from baking to computer coding to marine biology—goes a long way toward scrubbing away the stigma of CTE as the “slow track” for working-class kids with few options. Every academic subject at Tech Valley is organized around projects intended to introduce teenagers to potential occupations. A history class worked alongside local attorneys to put Christopher Columbus and other European explorers on mock trial for decimating Native American populations. For a unit on pH levels, biology students worked with employees of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to collect Hudson River water samples and test whether the river was safe for swimmers.

Students can see how classroom learning can be used in the world of work, without being limited to a specific occupation, Goldstein writes.


Teacher education in the classroom

Instead of a semester of student teaching, University of South Dakota education majors are working in elementary classrooms for a year under a pilot program, reports the Argus Leader.

“I can’t emphasize how wonderful this experience has been,” said Cassie Zomer, a 22-year-old teaching candidate from Brandon working in the third-grade classroom of teacher Julie Sehr at Harvey Dunn. “Everything that you never learn in a college classroom, you learn here. And the collaborating … is huge.”

. . .  these education majors started in August before the students even began to show up.They helped to set up the classrooms. They greeted children when they walked through the door. They have intervened with the behavior problems, developed and taught lessons and communicated with parents from the start.

A foundation grant pays for an experienced teacher to mentor the teaching interns.

The university hopes to expand the program to include aspiring middle and high school teachers.

Via The Quick and the Ed.

All your plan are belong to us

How many different ways can I say ambivalence?  Courtesy of Educationnews.org:

The Oregon House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would make the laying out of a future education or employment plan a requirement towards a high school diploma, The Huffington Post reports. House Bill 2732 requires students to either complete and submit an application to college or internship program, enlist in the military, or attend an apprenticeship orientation workshop before they can receive a diploma.

One the one hand: “Yes!  Kids need guidance and driving everyone to college is silly.”

On the other hand: “School isn’t shouldn’t be about getting a job or going to college.  It should be about developing skills and autonomy.”

But back to the one hand: “Yes but autonomy requires an ability to plan sensibly about the future.  No one is saying that the student has to implement the plan, are they?  Just make it.”

But the other hand replies: “Then why not require all three of every student?  Why risk derailing a kid’s self-image?  Isn’t this just the slightest bit eerie?”

But the one: “It’s no worse than the silly community service requirements that we’ve got these days.”

Then the other: “That’s your argument?  It’s not a flagrant constitutional violation?  You should be able to go to school, learn, and get a diploma based on your demonstrated learning.  What you do with it is your business and your business alone.”

“Paranoid hyper-individualist.”

“Statist commie sympathizer.”

Then my hands start to hurt each other.

More on unpaid interns

Most unpaid internships offered by for-profit employers are illegal, a Labor official tells the New York Times. But the rules don’t apply to nonprofits. President Obama’s Organizing for America offered unpaid internships during the campaign, writes Kerry Picket of the Washington Times (via HotAir). The group is still offering internships today with no pay and no stipends for food, transportation or housing.

The New York Times, which would like to be a for-profit company, uses unpaid interns, reports William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection. Interns receive college credit:

Working alongside our reporters and editors, students can expect to observe news events, evaluate news releases and competitors’ stories for possible coverage, and have their work critiqued by New York Times staffers.

. . . Students should expect to write several articles during their semester at The Times and will receive pay at minimum freelance rates for these news stories, as well as for any legwork or stringing. The internship itself is unpaid.

Jacobson isn’t sure this would pass muster with the Labor Department. If interns are evaluating stories for possible coverage, they’re providing value to the employer.

Of course, any would-be journalist would love the opportunity, even without the chance to freelance for minimum pay.