Swiss: Voc ed is key to prosperity

In Switzerland, which has one of the strongest economies in the world, 70 percent of high school students are in their vocational education system, while only 20 percent prep for universities. All vocational students spend part of their time in multi-year apprenticeships.

Obama touts job training, but where’s the money?

President Obama’s “rhetorical support for vocational training” hasn’t been matched with money. In 2012 the federal government spent more than $180 billion on aid and tax benefits for college students, but only $1 billion on vocational education.

Rubio: American Dream must be affordable

Education and the American Dream was the theme of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s keynote speech at Making Community Colleges Work, a National Journal event at Miami Dade College. The son of immigrants, Rubio started his career as an attorney with $100,000 in student loans. He proposed income-based repayment of student loans and Income Sharing Agreements, expanding vocational education, easing accreditation for online educators and testing to prove competency.

Pay It Forward repayment schemes for student borrowers are flawed but fixable.

A future for all: Build paths to skilled jobs

While President Obama focuses on sending more young people to college, vocational education and apprenticeships, which build pathways to skilled jobs, are neglected.

Vo-tech joins the 21st century

Vo-tech, now known as career technical education, isn’t for low achievers any more, but the stigma remains.

High schoolers learn do-it-yourself engineering at a community college’s STEM summer camp.

Career tech ed for all

Stereotypes about Career and Technical Education (CTE) may be crumbling, writes Randall Garton on Shanker Blog. According to a National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) report, the old distinctions between “CTE” and “academic” students are no longer useful. Nearly all high school students, including high achievers, enroll in some CTE courses.

States classify students as “vocational” or “academic” based on 50-25-25 rule that goes back to the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917.

Vocational education students spent 50 percent of their time in the shop, 25 percent of their time studying closely related topics, and 25 percent in academic subjects. Although the classifications were eventually broadened to include general students (neither vocational nor academic) and dual (both), the underlying concepts remained unchanged.

Over time, “federal and state policy increasingly emphasized” academics, which influenced the Perkins Vocational Education Act of 1984. But even as voc ed became “career and technical education,” the academic-or-vocational divide remained, writes Garton.

Using NRCCTE’s new template, researchers estimate that 92 percent of public high school students take at least some CTE courses. Nearly 17 percent  complete both high-intensity CTE courses and academic requirements in an “occupational area.”

I worry that schools are unwilling to offer pathways that lead directly to work or even apprenticeships, believing that all programs must be — or pretend to be — college prep.

The diamond economy

The U.S. economy resembles an hourglass with a pinched middle, writes Marc Tucker. Singapore has a diamond economy, thanks to its educated workforce.

(Singapore) built a very high floor under the entire workforce by providing a world-class academic curriculum to all their students and creating a world-class teaching force to teach that curriculum.  They built a system of polytechnics as good as any in the world to provide very highly skilled senior technical workers for a wide range of industries.  Perhaps most impressive, they created a set of post-secondary vocational schools for the bottom quarter of their students as fine as any I have seen anywhere in the world, with facilities that rival those of many American universities.  They turned vocational education and training from a dumping ground into a sought-after alternative that attracts more and more students every year.

Ninety percent of Singapore’s vocational graduates have job offers in their chosen fields within six months of graduation, Tucker writes.  Youth unemployment is very low.

Few girls take shop: Is it a problem?

A “shop stigma” is keeping girls out of traditionally male vocational courses, NPR worries.

Forty years ago, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX, which said no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from any education program or activity. Vocational education courses that barred girls — such as auto mechanics, carpentry and plumbing — became available for everyone. But it’s still hard to find girls in classes once viewed as “for boys only.”

Zoe Shipley, 15, is also the only girl in her high school’s auto tech course. Her parents are pressuring her to switch to engineering, which they see as less greasy.

Her high school’s construction management courses attract only a few girls, NPR adds.

It’s up to schools to “take extra steps” to recruit girls to “courses that lead to higher-paying careers in technology and trades,” instead of low-paying fields, such as child care and cosmetology, says Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center.

I think schools should make sure students know how much they’re likely to earn if they pursue auto mechanics, carpentry, child care or cosmetology. But the low female enrollment in auto shop isn’t really about bias — or parental pressure.

Update: In praising Title IX in a Newsweek commentary, President Obama said it’s a “great accomplishment” for America that “more women , , , now graduate from college than men.”  I know he didn’t really write it, but he should have read it before he let it be sent out. Far too many males are doing poorly in school, failing in college and — because they didn’t learn vocational skills such as auto mechanics — struggling in the workforce. This is a serious problem for America — and for the young women who’d like to marry a guy with a decent job.

Mechatronics: It’s not your dad’s shop class

Virginia high school students will begin learning “mechatronics” to prepare for engineering tech classes in community college, well-paid jobs in high-tech manufacturing and possible transfer to Virginia Tech for a four-year engineering degree.

‘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.