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.

 

Shop is not a four-letter word

Shop is Not a Four-Letter Word, writes Jim Berman on Edutopia. ”Technical education is the foundation that can work for many of our students.” Berman started his teaching career at a technical high school.

On my very first day, my supervisor, Mr. Wells, walked me through the halls. He introduced me to Mr. Davis, Automotive Technology instructor. Davis explained that his students are almost always in demand, often securing good employment before making the big walk in June.

I saw students working beneath the undercarriage of cars, suspended with myriad of diagnostic cables, wires and hoses that made a surgical suite look plebian.

I saw the Carpentry classroom, complete with a house being built from the foundation, wired by the Electrical Trades students and run with pipe by the Plumbing crew. Mr. Wells hustled me off to Medical Assisting where a patient was splayed out on gurney with all the requisite needles and beeping monitors you would see at Cedars-Sinai or the Mayo Clinic. The Welding room was glowing with the azure, electric-white glow from plasma torches ripping through metal. The din from the Automotive Body Repair garage was deafening. Mr. Wells explained that we were witnessing a team on a hard deadline to finish the repair and paint work on a ’77 Corvette that was heading to a car show the following week.

Berman plans a three-part series.

College students need practical skills as well as liberal arts, writes Scott Carlson in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Students learn about “sustainability” in class, but don’t know how to cook their own food, much less grow it, he writes. They can’t install a thermostat that conserves electricity.

Even science and engineering students lack “a serious enough regard for the way things get made and the way that things arrive on our kitchen table to eat in the morning,” says Robert Forrant, a professor of labor and industrial history at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and a former factory-floor machinist.

Instead his students see themselves as designers, divorced from the dirty work of making. “Somehow we have this notion that we are going to be this country that has all the idea people—that all the Steve Jobses of the world will live in the United States,” Forrant says. “To somehow think that you can dream something up without really understanding what it takes to make it flies in the face of reality.”

My husband, who grew up tinkering in the basement workshop, understands how things work. As an electrical engineer, he holds 30-odd patents.

The death of vocational ed — and the middle class

The death of vocational education is hastening the demise of the middle class, argues Marc Tucker in Ed Week.

Years ago, almost all the larger cities had selective vocational high schools whose graduates were virtually assured good jobs, Tucker writes. Employers made sure these schools had “competent instructors and up-to-date equipment,” so graduates would meet job requirements.

That ended when vocational education became just another class, often crowded out by academic requirements, Tucker writes.

I will never forget an interview I did a few years ago with a wonderful man who had been teaching vocational education for decades in his middle class community.  With tears in his eyes, he described how, when he began, he had, with great pride prepared young men (that’s how it was) for well-paying careers in the skilled trades.  Now, he told me, “That’s all over.  Now I get the kids who the teachers of academic courses don’t want to deal with.  I am expected to use my shop to motivate those kids to learn what they can of basic skills.”  He was, in high school, trying to interest these young people, who were full of the despair and anger that comes of knowing that everyone else had given up on them, to learn enough arithmetic to measure the length of a board.  He knew that was an important thing to do, but he also knew that it was a far cry from serious vocational education of the sort he had done very well years earlier.

Career academies were developed to motivate students, not to prepare them for real jobs, Tucker writes. Voc ed, now renamed “career technical education,” is no longer a “serious enterprise” in high schools.

By contrast, Japan, Singapore, the Netherlands, Denmark and other leading industrial countries “doubled down to improve both their academic and their vocational programs.”

They built vocational education programs that require high academic skills.  And they designed programs that could deliver those skills.  They did not sever the connections between employers and their high schools; they strengthened them.  They made sure their high school vocational students had first-rate instructors and equipment.  Their reward is a work force that is balanced between managers and workers, scientists and technicians.  No one tells an individual student what he or she will do with their life.  But those students have a range of attractive choices.

Tucker links to descriptions of vocational education in the NetherlandsAustralia and Singapore.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called for states to require school attendance till age 18 or graduation. If schools offer no options except the college track, that seems cruel.

 

Who pays for job training?

A North Carolina community college recruits, screens and trains new manufacturing workers for Caterpillar, all part of a state incentives package that lured a new factory to an area with high unemployment.

Minnesota has cut career-tech programs for high school students, despite soaring demand.