Career-tech school tries to improve

Students at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School work on a car as part of the automotive program at the school.Students at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School work on a car as part of the automotive program. Photo: Jessica Glazer

Two years ago, a low-performing vocational high school in the Bronx escaped closure. Under a new principal, attendance and morale have improved, reports Chalkbeat New York. But enrollment is way down at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical High.  Test scores and graduation rates remain low.

Principal Evan Schwartz hopes to reach a “90 percent attendance, 80 percent of first-year students earning 10 or more credits, and a 70 percent four-year graduation rate” this year.

Smith has been known for its attendance problems — Schwartz said that in years past, you couldn’t tell when the day ended because students trickled in and out of the building all day — but last year, the attendance rate increased to 83 percent, according to his estimates. (Official numbers for last year are not yet available.) That’s up from 73 percent in 2011-12.

Graduation rates have been more stubborn. In 2012-13, Smith graduated just 51 percent of its students in four years, according to the city progress report, including August graduates. Last year, 61 percent of students graduated, Schwartz says.

That increase is likely related to the fact that the school convinced nearly 100 over-aged, under-credited students who attended class intermittently to transfer out of Smith and into transfer schools or more flexible Young Adult Borough Centers.

Last year, Smith opened a “cutting-edge” auto shop. It’s also added some AP classes.

Yet, the school has trouble attracting students. Enrollment is down from 950 three years ago to fewer than 400. And the “transformation grant” is running out.

Voc ed can be a path to college

Minuteman’s biotechnology students, here seen dissecting dogfish, aspire to careers in biomedical engineering and forensic science. Most go to college. Photo: Emily Hanford

Massachusetts’ vocational high schools are preparing students for college, not just for the workforce, writes Emily Hanford on Marketplace.

At Minuteman Regional High School in Lexington, students can learn carpentry, plumbing and welding — and “high tech fields such as video game design, engineering, and biotechnology.”

Minuteman students spend half their time in vocational classes – often referred to as “career and technical classes – and half their time in academic courses. About 60 percent of the school’s graduates go on to college. That’s not the way things were when principal Ernest Houle learned welding at a vocational high school back in the 1980s.

“The highest-level math I ever had in high school was an Algebra 1,” says Houle. “And that only happened my sophomore year because it fit in the schedule.”

These days, “career tech” students can take a full range of college-prep courses.

In 2013, students at regional vocational high schools in Massachusetts did as well on the state English tests (92 percent proficient) as students at traditional high schools (93 percent proficient), notes Hanford. In math, 78 percent of vocational students were proficient compared to 82 percent at traditional high schools.

After years in private school, Sean and Brandon Datar chose Minuteman.

“Being an engineer myself, I like the fact that schools like this cater to making an actual living,” says their father, Nijan Datar. He wasn’t impressed by the top-rated public and private high schools in the Boston suburbs.

. . .  the main goal seemed to be getting students into the best, and most expensive, colleges. But no one seemed to be talking about what kids were going to do with their college degrees once they got them.

His wife, Teresa Datar, says high school students need more direction.

“My feeling is that in many high schools, students don’t know why they’re in the classes that they’re in. They’re just kind of biding time,” she says. “And then they go off to college and they flounder.”

Brandon is now a freshman at the Colorado School of Mines, working on a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering. Sean is a sophomore at Minuteman, majoring in robotics.

Rethinking voc ed

Rethinking career technical education is the theme of this month’s American Educator, published by the American Federation of Teachers.

California OKs 4-year degrees at 2-year colleges

Fifteen California community colleges will be allowed to offer bachelor’s degrees in vocational fields. That makes California the 22nd state to let students earn four-year vocational degrees at two-year colleges.

U.S. lags in vocational credentials

The U.S. isn’t first in the world in college-educated adults — the Obama administration’s goal — because Americans earn fewer vocational degrees than our competitors.

‘Some college’ pays — for some

California faces a shortage of “middle-skill” workers with technical certificates and associate degrees. The wage premium is high in “allied health” fields, where demand is growing. However, “some college” workers in other fields, such as child care and solar installation, earn no more than people with just a high school diploma.

Vocational certificates requiring one year of schooling or less can raise earnings significantly, a new study finds.

CCs add 4-year degrees, but face pushback

Community colleges in 22 states now offer four-year degrees — usually in technical and vocational fields — but universities are fighting the trend.

Study hard, work hard

Young people are told they must earn a bachelor’s degree to get a good job, says Mike Rowe, who hosted Dirty Jobs. That’s not necessarily so.

(Photo via mikeroweWORKS)

As a high school student in the late ’70s, Rowe decided to go to community college, which he could afford, rather than going into debt at a four-year university. His counselor pointed to a poster urging students to “Work Smart, Not Hard.” The smiling “smart” person had a diploma.

It was “the worst advice in the history of the world,” Rowe says. “Skilled trades are in demand.”

He’s created a new poster that advises: “Work smart AND hard.” In Rowe’s version, the college graduate looks glum, while the worker is smiling.

On his Profoundly Disconnected web site, Rowe challenges the idea that college is right for everyone. Hisfoundation gives trade school scholarships to students who show a strong work ethic and financial need.

Not your father’s shop class

Career Technical Education (CTE) is Not Your Father’s Shop Class, writes Harry J. Holzer in The Washington Monthly.

In “old-fashioned voc ed,” low achievers trained for “low-wage or disappearing jobs, if any job at all,” he writes. “Even worse, the programs tracked students, particularly minorities and disadvantaged students, away from college.”

By contrast, the best models of high-quality CTE today integrate rigorous academic instruction into the teaching of technical and employment skills and thus prepare young people for college just as well as a traditional “college prep” program does.

. . . there are now several thousand “career academies” around the country, where students take classes that prepare them for jobs in a particular sector (like health care, finance, or information technology) as well as participate in more general academic classes. To complement their classwork, students are placed into jobs in their chosen field during the summer or the academic year. For example, the Ballard High School Academy of Finance in Seattle trains students in financial literacy and banking activities within a broader academic curriculum, and also helps students get internships with local financial firms.

These career academies improve the post-high school earnings of disadvantaged students, especially at-risk young males, by nearly 20 percent, according to research studies.

Other models, such as High Schools That Work and Linked Learning integrate high-level academics with career exploration, Holzer writes. In some places, high school students can earn associate degrees in vocational fields.

Levi McCord and Nehemiah Myers are students at the Lehigh Career and Technical Institute in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania.

McCord . . .  plans to head straight into the workforce after graduation. “I’ll already have most of the skills I need to know to get a job,” said McCord, who is learning to become a welder. As a certified welder, he can eventually expect to earn as much as $67,000 in some parts of the country.

Myers, on the other hand, has been studying electromechanics and mechantronics part-time at Lehigh. He plans to enroll in a co-op program at a four-year college next year, where he can get paid work experience while working toward a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

CTE can benefit all students, concludes Holzer.

California will put $250 million — out of a $55 billion education budget — into “shop plus.”

Career ed gets kind words, few dollars

The Obama administration is promoting career education, reports Joy Resmovits on the Huffington Post. President Obama called for career education funding on a visit to Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in New York City, a partnership with IBM.

The president’s push for more college degrees has drawn criticism. There are few pathways to success for career-minded students. Now the rhetoric is shifting.

Mixing career and college courses is “just something I absolutely believe in,” Duncan told the Post. “When young people have a chance to take college-level courses, when they’re thinking of careers as well, that’s just hugely important.”

“For the most part, they’ve been about academic standards,” said Anthony Carnevale, leads Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “I’m glad to see them open up another front here.”

“Academic reform has been too much of a good thing and we’ve overdone it, and moving to a point where we have only one pathway to college, which is the high school to Harvard model,” Carnevale said. “That model is only applicable to the 25 percent of college-going students who attend four-year-colleges,” he said. “It’s the only one we understand. … they’ve added another pathway here, and seem to be more and more serious about it.”

Carnevale says he sees education reform floundering on subjects like Algebra II, with Texas’ recent move to drop the course as a high school graduation requirement serving as a sign of things to come.

Duncan has pushed for Common Core  standards, which aim at “college and career readiness.” But all the stress has been on college prep. Only 13 states have defined “what it means for a high school student to be career- or work-ready,” concluded a Center on Education Policy survey.

“College and career readiness” has come to mean that every student has to take three years of university-track math, pass standardized tests and jump through college-prep hoops, writes teacher Mark Gardner on Stories from School. Doing “career ready” right isn’t cheap, he points out. Schools need “a shop, a technology lab, tools, an industrial kitchen, consumable materials, a greenhouse” and a lot more.

The administration has released a blueprint for revising the Perkins Act, which funds vocational education, “but has had little success in increasing its funding,” writes Resmovits.

Here’s the Republican take on reauthorizing Perkins. Everybody wants employers involved — because they want them to foot part of the bill.

Both Democrats and Republicans oppose the administration’s proposal to make school districts compete for the $1.1 billion in Perkins funding, reports Ed Week. Competitions favor large districts that can afford grant writers.

Yesterday, the Department of Labor announced $100 million in YouthCareer Connect grants to high schools. By federal standards, that’s very small potatoes. Schools will compete for career-tech grants. Programs must integrate career and college prep, let high school students earn college credits, provide “work-based learning” and/or partner with employers.

YouthCareerConnect came as a surprise to House leaders, who held a hearing on reauthorizing the Perkins Act yesterday, reports Ed Week. Because the funding comes from H-1B fees, the grants don’t require congressional approval. But legislators like to be consulted.

Even though the competitive career-tech program involves a relatively small pot of money, the administration’s proposal essentially an end-run around Congress, which isn’t really the most helpful way to kick-off a bipartisan reauthorization.

The administration likes models that offer career training and college options. But there are quite a few students who are strongly motivated to learn job skills and turned off by academics. They need pathways too.