Algebra II or welding?

 States are dropping college-prep-for-all requirements  in a school standards rebellion, writes Stephanie Simon on Politico

Florida students no longer need chemistry, physics or Algebra II to graduate from high school. Texas just scrapped its Algebra II requirement. And Washington state has dropped its foreign language mandate.

. . . They’re letting teens study welding instead of Spanish, take greenhouse management in place of physics and learn car repair instead of muddling over imaginary numbers.

The college-for-all idea is elitist, say career-tech proponents. With rising college debt and more film studies graduates working as bartenders, there’s growing interest in “middle skill” technical jobs. 

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been talking up vocational education recently, but they want all students to have college-level skills, writes Simon. “Especially worrisome” is “the risk that low-income and minority students, as well as children with disabilities, could be pushed into the vocational tracks.”

New Mexico state Rep. Mimi Stewart, a Democrat, has introduced a bill to drop the Algebra II graduation requirement. “We are supposed to be doing college and career readiness, not college and college readiness,” Stewart said.

Indiana State Rep. Wendy McNamara, a Republican, wants to design a vocational diploma with input from local employers.

College prep has crowded out vocational options, argue The Jobs for Texas Coalition. “For 20 years, we’ve been ratcheting up the rigor required to get out of high school, and we started to see unintended consequences,” said Mike Meroney, a spokesman for the coalition.

Letting kids opt out of college prep doesn’t mean they’ll spend a lifetime flipping burgers, Meroney said. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists two dozen fast-growing occupations that don’t require higher education and pay $35,000 to $55,000 a year, including heavy equipment operator and car mechanic. “What is the real purpose of education if not to prepare your students for jobs?” Meroney said. “Seriously. That’s what we keep asking.”

While Texas has dropped the Algebra II requirement, Minnesota and Connecticut are phasing in Algebra II mandates, writes Simon. 

New York set new college-ready benchmarks, but won’t expect graduates to be college ready till 2022. Louisiana is aiming for 2025.

Apprenticeship: Is it time?

Unable to find “middle-skill” workers, BMW’s South Carolina factory has created an apprenticeship program at local high schools and a work-study program at technical colleges. Demand is high for workers who can repair robots and run computers.

2-year tech degrees pay off

Community college graduates with technical degrees start work at higher wages than four-year graduates. While some bachelor’s degree graduates catch up after a few years, nearly 30 percent of “middle skill” workers earn more than the average four-year graduate. But only 10 percent of U.S. workers have vocational certificates and associate degrees compared to 24 percent of Canadians.

More jobs for 2-year graduates

Employment is surging for community college graduates while four-year graduates wait tables — and wait to start their professional careers.

Employers want universities to collaborate on job training, but it’s a tough sell.

Getting to Graduation: How — and how many?

Getting to Graduation will require state and federal policies that encourage new and established higher ed providers “to compete with one another on the value they deliver to their students,” argues a new book on the completion agenda in higher education. And don’t forget apprenticeships, vocational certificates and associate degrees that qualify graduates for “middle-skill” jobs.

Low tuition, long wait lists

California’s community colleges charge the lowest tuition in the nation, but can’t afford to provide enough classes for students.  The Legislature may let colleges charge more for some classes. Why not let colleges charge a sustainable tuition for all classes?  Students are willing to pay more: They’re turning to the much costlier for-profit sector, which has no wait lists.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Community colleges have the capacity to train workers for rapidly growing “middle-skill jobs,” but too many students fail to complete a credential.

Harvard: ‘College for all’ fails students

There’s one path to success — go to college to earn a bachelor’s degree — most high school students are told.  Only about 30 percent will earn a degree. “College for all” isn’t working for most students argues a new report by Harvard’s Pathways to Prosperity project.  Young people need alternative paths to adulthood, including better counseling, high-quality career education, apprenticeships and job training based at community colleges. Those who lack the academic skill or motivation to earn a bachelor’s degree should know about “middle-skill jobs” that pay middle-class wages.

. . . while the United States is expected to create 47 million jobs in the 10-year period ending in 2018, only a third of these jobs will require a bachelor’s or higher degree. Almost as many jobs – some 30 percent – will only require an associate’s degree or a post-secondary occupational credential.

The report asks employers to create more work-based learning opportunities for young adults.

“We are the only developed nation that depends so exclusively on its higher education system as the sole institutional vehicle to help young people transition from secondary school to careers, and from adolescence to adulthood,” says Robert Schwartz, academic dean and professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, who heads the Pathways to Prosperity Project.

In response to the “college for all” movement, districts and states are requiring a college-prep curriculum based on four-year universities’ admissions requirements   for all high school students. “Unless we are willing to provide more flexibility and choice in the last two years of high school, and more opportunities for students to pursue program options that link work and learning, we will continue to lose far too many young people along the path to graduation,” Schwartz says.

Career and technical education has been “the neglected stepchild of education reform,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the report’s Washington launch. “That neglect has to stop,” Duncan said.

Some fear disadvantaged students will be tracked into “watered-down programs that curtail their prospects,” notes Education Week. But Schwartz is “a prominent champion of higher academic expectations for all students” and co-author, Ronald Ferguson, director of Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative, “is a national expert on improving learning opportunities for disadvantaged children.”

Rather than derailing some students from higher learning, their system would actually open more of those pathways, (the authors) say, by offering sound college preparation and rigorous career-focused, real-world learning, and by defining clear routes from secondary school into certificate or college programs.

“College for all” advocates say it’s too early to give up. The college-readiness agenda is very new, said Michael Cohen, who succeeded Schwartz as the president of Achieve, which works with states to raise academic expectations. “To say we’ve tried this and it failed seems a bit premature, like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” he said. Besides, Cohen said, “college for all” really means “some form of training after high school.”

“Every single time we create multiple tracks, we always send disproportionate numbers of poor kids and kids of color down the lesser one,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust.  College expectations are not the norm for black and Hispanic high school students, who are half as likely as white classmates to enroll in a “full college-ready curriculum.”

If we were teaching all of our kids to the levels reached by 10th-graders in Finland, students and their parents might have a base of knowledge and skills strong enough to make informed choices of the sort imagined in this report – real choices, rather than those forced on students who weren’t prepared for much of anything.

. . .  in the German system the authors hold up as an example of success, the three high school tracks have been deeply segregated by income and ethnicity, with mainly affluent Germans attending the college-prep schools while low-income and immigrant students are assigned to the two lower options.

Education Trust is working with ConnectEd California and several school districts on linking career-oriented learning with college-prep classes.

The report praises ConnectEd California’s Linked Learning initiative and Massachusetts’ network of regional vocational-technical schools.

At Construction Technology Academy at Kearny High School in San Diego, students  study architecture, engineering, and construction as well as the typical core curriculum. Some go on to construction apprenticeships, while others study at  community colleges or universities, said Gary Hoachlander of ConnectEd.

Update:  Everybody needs college-prep skills — including future welders, tool and die makers and elevator installers — argues Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

The 52-page report along wrongfully perpetuates a century-old philosophy — that poor and minority kids aren’t capable of high-quality, college-level education — that is condemning far too many young men and women to poverty and prison.

What condemns young people to poverty is the failure to learn reading, writing and math (and science, history and civics), followed by the decision to drop out of high school.  I think many low achievers could be motivated to learn academic skills in order to train for a job. If the only motivation is the chance to spend more years in a classroom — almost certainly a remedial classroom — with a better job as a vague hope for the distant future . . .  Maybe a few kids will catch college fever and go all the way to a bachelor’s degree. But not very many.

Ready to work? Prove it

Ready to work? Prove it. New and retrained workers need a way to prove their skills, argues ACT, which calls for building a national workforce skills credentialing system.  The U.S. has plenty of low-skilled workers and just enough college graduates to fill jobs requiring a four-year degree, concludes a new report. The challenge is to close the “middle-skills gap.”

Also on Community College Spotlight:  As part of President Obama’s Startup America initiative to boost new businesses, community colleges in 10 states are piloting the Virtual Incubation Network to provide online support to small business start-ups.

The forgotten 'middle-skill' jobs

In Labor Day and the American Dream, William McGurn laments the tendency of our high schools to push college for all students.

In a paper called “America’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs,” two economists—America University’s Robert Lerman and Georgetown’s Harry Holzer—say that there are still plenty of jobs that don’t require college but pay above the national average. The catch is that for high school graduates to get these jobs, they need to upgrade their skills through apprenticeships, community college, on-the-job training, certification programs, etc.

Of course, young people who haven’t mastered reading, writing and math skills can’t take advantage of vocational training.