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.

 

AFT: College isn’t for ‘cranking out’ workers

Corporate interests are trying to turn community colleges into “job training factories,” charges the American Federation of Teachers, which represents California community college instructors.

Andy Grove, who helped found Intel, and Bernie Marcus, who founded Home Depot, are encouraging young people to pursue vocational training, but it’s hard to fight the college-for-all mentality, Grove complains.

Low expectations for other peoples’ kids

Stop Limiting Poor and Minority Kids with Low Expectations, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. The Harvard Ed report advocating multiple pathways — career tech as well as college prep — dooms low-income and minority students to dumbed-down curricula, instruction and expectations, Biddle believes.

He criticizes my call for  “realistic pathways” for struggling students.

What she fails to consider is that the reason why they are struggling in the first place: Low-quality instruction and abysmal curricula throughout their times in school, especially in the early grades.

The reading, math and science skills needed to earn a bachelor’s degree are the same skills needed to succeed at a community college or technical school, Biddle argues. Everybody needs a high-quality education whether they’re heading for Harvard or trade school. They’ll only get that on the college-prep track.

Expectations matter. If teachers and administrators think that poor and minority kids aren’t capable of college prep education, then they won’t actually put any work into even the most basic instruction and curricula. They won’t develop intense reading remediation for kids in the early grades.

. . . “Realistic pathways” in schools means ability tracking and denying poor kids entree into the college prep courses that teachers and guidance counselors often reserve for kids they think can learn. It means magnet schools that don’t actually reflect any sort of diversity. It means the lack of school choice in any form.

Biddle has a valid point. (And I appreciate the thoughtful way he makes it.) If expectations are low in elementary and middle school — if nobody intervenes to help the kid who’s not learning to read or multiply — then students will start high school so far behind that it will be very difficult for them to succeed in college-prep courses. It will be hard for them to succeed in vocational courses.

I see the risk of creating a separate, less demanding track for other people’s kids. But the “forgotten half” of students aren’t getting high-quality college-prep. They take classes with college-prep titles and dumbed-down content, because the teachers aren’t allowed to fail most of their students.  They go to community college and four-year colleges and fall into the black hole of remedial education, never to emerge with any credential.

Nearly all high school seniors plan to go to college; 89 percent think they’ll earn a four-year degree.  Expectations are high. Achievement is low. In a Florida study, 20 percent of high school seniors with C averages or below went on to earn a college credential of any kind, including a short-term certificate.

We need to do a much better job educating children in K-8 so they’ll have real choices in high school. But I think more students would succeed if they had the option of a high-quality career track or a high-quality college-prep track. Making sure those options offer strong academics will be a challenge. But it’s one we should tackle.

Charter school is ‘labor of love’ for union

For the Laborers’ Union, a Cranston, Rhode Island charter school is a “labor of love,” writes Julia Steiny in the Providence Journal.

Struggling to recruit high school graduates as members, the union worked with the school district to create the New England Laborers’ Career Academy, which prepares students for construction apprenticeships and work in other jobs. The school provides an alternative to students who aren’t motivated by academic learning and are likely to drop out.

At Laborers, Cranston academic teachers and instructors who are journeyman laborers themselves jointly craft an academic program geared to the construction trade. For example, math involves everything from learning financial literacy to calculating the volume of concrete needed for a job. The skills are the same as those taught in traditional schools, but applied to the world of construction.

Some students want an alternative to a traditional high school but aren’t interested in construction work. So the school also offers a general career program to motivate them to earn a diploma.

School staffers develop summer and post-graduation jobs for students. Those who want more education are “on a fast track to an associate’s degree in applied science” at the local community college.

Via Flypaper.

Rosie the Riveter High 'can do it'

Students are Nailing a trade at Rosie the Riveter High, a Long Beach charter school, reports the LA Times. The 50-student school “was created in 2007 to help prepare teenage girls for careers as welders, plumbers, carpenters, electricians and other trades.” However, it’s attracted a co-ed student body of primarily Hispanic and black students.

Students say they are proud to be associated with Rosie the Riveter and the “We can do it” attitude.

“Coming here has opened my mind up. Before, I had thought I might become a special-ed teacher. I never thought about a nontraditional job,” said 18-year-old senior Alaina Servin, a senior who has begun her third year at the school.

“They encourage you to do a lot of things here. My goal now is to work in an oil refinery. It won’t be easy, but I’m a strong person and they make good money there.”

Several students told the Times they like the individual attention they get at the school and the chance to earn college vocational credits, but don’t plan careers in the building trades. Frankly, Rosie the Riveter isn’t good preparation for a future pediatrician — early test scores are very low and it doesn’t offer strong college-prep classes — but maybe it’s better than getting lost at a comprehensive high school.

Students need more than college prep

Students are bored by college-prep classes might be motivated by good career and technical education, writes Liam Julian. They deserve a choice.

Imagine a 17-year-old who does not want to attend college (or at least not right away); who finds parsing Macbeth maddeningly immaterial; who yearns to learn a practical skill and put it to use; who feels his personal strengths are being ignored and wasted; who is annoyed by his school’s lackluster teachers, classroom chaos, and general atmosphere of indifference. Too often, such a pupil has no other options. He has no educational choice.

No surprise, then, that a recent Civic Enterprises survey found that 77 percent of high-school dropouts quit school because they were bored. Past surveys have reported similar findings. According to a 2006 Gates Foundation study, for example, 88 percent of dropouts had passing grades—i.e., they didn’t abandon school because they couldn’t do the work; they abandoned school because they thought the work was unchallenging and pointless.

At many high schools, the choice is between college-prep classes — often watered down for the minimally motivated — or dropping out.

The worry that a that a plumber’s life is determined by early manual training arises from the popular but skewed 21st-century dogma that the ideal worker must be able and willing to hop from job to job and industry to industry—that “knowledge workers,” as they’re called, must be highly adaptable, mobile generalists. But the current recession has illuminated the expendability of precisely this type of white-collar worker. Those who work in the skilled trades (the kind taught in today’s CTE classes) are far less dispensable: The New York Times reports that although unemployment is at 9.4 percent, certain “skilled trades like welding and pipefitting are in high demand now, among the jobs that cannot be filled with unskilled labor or outsourced overseas.”

The new Career and Technical Education courses combine thinking and doing, he writes. Some 80 percent of CTE students graduate with as many math and science credits as non-CTE students; 60 percent go on to college. And at-risk students are much more likely to graduate if they’re enrolled in CTE.

Standards for college and career readiness are essentially the same, argue drafters of common core standards. Therefore, the college-prep track serves students who plan to go into vocational training. Not true, writes Michael Kirst on The College Puzzle. Some jobs require high-level reading, writing and math skills, but others demand a lot less.

Shop Class as Soulcraft

The college track shouldn’t be the only path through school, says Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, in an interview with Popular Mechanics. Crawford spent a year teaching Latin in high school to students who were trying to boost their SAT scores to get into college, which they’d been told was obligatory for everyone.

MC:  . . .  Half of them were jacked up on Ritalin just trying to stay awake. I felt like if I had been able to take some of these kids aside, and say “Hey, let’s build a deck,” or “Let’s overhaul an engine,” they would have perked right up.

PM: The obverse of that is that now it’s very difficult for car dealerships and independent repair shops to find the type of people who have the math and computer and diagnostic skills to fix anything, because it’s a profession that’s not respected.

MC: That’s right, I think. And the truth is that some kids who are very smart would rather be learning to build things and fix things, but they’re being hustled off into office work. . . .

PM: The kid who can’t pass algebra and get into college, who gets shunted into the Voc-Ed track, won’t have the math and computer and diagnostic skills to fix a modern car.

MC: And a lot of schools don’t even have an auto shop any more. I heard from an educator in Oregon that one of the fastest growing segments of the student body at community colleges is people who already have a four-year degree and go back to get a trade skill because it’s more marketable.

When I remodeled my kitchen, I was struck by the fact that all the workmen were immigrants. I had Mexicans, Israelis, Russians, a wonderful Ethiopian carpenter, you name it. But only the bosses — some of them — were American born and raised.

Students rehab houses, learn skills

Vocational students in Philadelphia are rehabbing houses as an after-school activity, reports the Inquirer. One team is working on a former drug house.

For two hours a day, five days a week, the students strip floors, frame walls, install plumbing, paint rooms, and lay tile.

But the members of a construction after-school club are also learning about the value of a job done well, the satisfaction of transforming a neighborhood eyesore.

Bok High’s first house took four years to gut and remodel; it sold to a first-time buyer for $75,000, which pays for supplies and $5 hourly salaries for students.

Construction club members aren’t allowed to work on the house unless they’ve gone to class, which has boosted attendance.

Andrew Meak, 16, a junior, paused from prepping the kitchen for its paint job.

“Maybe it’s a guy thing,” he said, shrugging. “I really like learning how to do stuff.”

I saw this on a visit to ISUS in Dayton, Ohio, a dropout-recovery charter school that lets construction students build houses from scratch and rebuild historic homes with green technology. For kids who aren’t academically inclined, hands-on learning — with a realistic shot at a job if they master the skills — is very motivating.