‘Middle’ skills lead to middle-class jobs

Career technical education is “the missing middle ground in American education and workforce preparation,”  concludes a new report. There are 29 million jobs paying middle-class wages — $35,000 to $75,000 a year — that are open to workers with employer-based training, industry or college certifications, apprenticeships and associate degrees.

Students need to know there’s a third path to success that gets them much farther than a high school diploma and doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree, writes a community college president.

How the Germans (and others) do voc ed

Nancy Hoffman’s Schooling in the Workplace: How Six of the World’s Best Vocational Education Systems Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life reminds us of how much the U.S. has neglected vocational education, writes Graham Down in an Ed Next review.

Believing in equality of educational opportunity, U.S. schools promote the same goal — some sort of college — to all students, Hoffman writes. Our competitors — Germany,  Austria, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland – integrate job training with academics, increasingly moving learning from the classroom to the workplace.

In the U.S., Hoffman sees promising  CTE (Career and Technical Education) in Big Picture Learning schools, Project Lead the Way and Linked Learning  However, the U.S. culture makes it very hard to offer vocational training without promising that most students will end up going to college.

States create career pathways

As four-year college for all falls out of favor, six states will develop career pathways that combine academics with technical education. The idea is to help students finish high school, earn a vocational credential and find a job, while leaving the door open to higher education.

IB adds career certificates

International Baccalaureate, known for challenging academic diplomas, will offer career certificates in subjects such as engineering, culinary arts, business and automotive technology.

 

Future prep

College prep for all is failing many students, writes Time‘s Joe Klein in Learning That Works, a rousing endorsement of vocational education. Seen as “a convenient dumping ground for minority kids,” voc ed was abandoned. Schools adopted “the theology that every child should go to college (a four-year liberal-arts college at that) and therefore every child should be required to pursue a college-prep course in high school.”

The results have been awful. High school dropout rates continue to be a national embarrassment. And most high school graduates are not prepared for the world of work. The unemployment rate for recent high school graduates who are not in school is a stratospheric 33%. The results for even those who go on to higher education are brutal: four-year colleges graduate only about 40% of the students who start them, and two-year community colleges graduate less than that, about 23%.

“College for everyone has become a matter of political correctness,” says Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University. “But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than a quarter of new job openings will require a bachelor of arts degree. We’re not training our students for the jobs that actually exist.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. has begun to run out of welders, glaziers and auto mechanics–the people who actually keep the place running.

What’s now called career and technical education (CTE) can be done so well that it motivates low and average achievers and attracts high achievers, Klein writes.

About 27% of the students in Arizona opt for the tech-ed path, and they are more likely to score higher on the state’s aptitude tests, graduate from high school and go on to higher education than those who don’t. “It’s not rocket science,” says Sally Downey, superintendent of the spectacular East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, Ariz., 98.5% of whose students graduate from high school. “It’s just finding something they like and teaching it to them with rigor.”

Auto dealers, who are desperate for trained technicians, donate cars and high-tech equipment to the school’s auto shop classes. “If you can master the computer-science and electronic components,” Downey says, “you can make over $100,000 a year as an auto mechanic.”

As college costs soar and college dropout rates remain high, career tech is looking better and better.

Voc ed vs. music, art, foreign language

Music and art teachers are complaining about a new California law that expands graduation requirements:  Students can take one career or technical education course in place of art, music or a foreign language, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Arts and foreign-language courses are twice as likely as vocational classes to be certified as college-prep courses, so students who choose career tech could be ineligible to go from high school directly to the University of California and California State University systems.

Some urban districts, such as Oakland Unified, San Jose Unified and East Side Union in San Jose, use UC’s college-prep curriculum as their graduation requirement.

The new law will lead to two tiers, of college-prepared and unprepared students, opponents say.

Proponents disagree. “We already have a two-track system,” said Eric Guerra of (Assemblyman Warren) Furutani’s staff. “It’s called college or nothing.” Students who aren’t on a college track leave school without useful skills, he said. California’s class of 2010 graduation rate is a dismal 74.4 percent. “There’s got to be a different way to deliver secondary education,” he said. “The status quo is not working.”

The law’s opponents seem to think that many students will prefer career tech to music, art or foreign language. If so, why force them to take  art or music to earn a diploma?

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.