Get practical: ‘A BA in every pot’ is a fantasy


Credit: Christopher Corr, Getty Images/Ikon Images

Vocational education, now known as “career tech ed (CTE),” is back in vogue, says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Young people need a “middle path” to middle-class jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, he tells KUNC reporter Claudio Sanchez. However, Carnevale wouldn’t want his own son or daughter in CTE.

. . . a huge number of technical certificates that take a year to complete, pay more than a [four-year] college degree. You can make a lot more money with a certificate in heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Still, “high school to Harvard” is the “tried-and-true path” to success, says Carnevale. “Until we invest enough to build an alternative pathway and respect real work in the U.S., I wouldn’t risk my child’s [education], even though I know that learning by doing is more powerful than learning with your head alone in school.”

Thirty to 40 percent of young people say ‘school is irrelevant.’ But saying to [parents], ‘I’m going to send your kid to trade school,’ will not appeal to people.

CTE will succeed if it develops a broad set of skills while teaching technical skills, Carnevale says.

In Europe and Singapore, businesses help design training programs and hire the graduates. That’s a “long shot” in the U.S., says Carnevale.

For more than 30 years, the U.S. has rejected practical, applied learning.

Every year, more than 400,000 young people in the top half of their high school class go to college, and eight years later they have not earned either a two- or four-year degree or certificate. So at some point, failure matters. Education reform in pursuit of academic excellence is floundering. We need to change our curriculum. The notion that the Common Core will make people college and career ready is largely a fantasy.

“Politicians want to put a BA in every pot,” says Carnevale.

Linking school to careers

Career readiness is an afterthought for most U.S. high schools, concludes Jobs for the Future in a new report. However, High Tech High Schools, Cristo Rey schools, Big Picture Schools, P-TECH models, and early college schools provide “applied learning related to the labor market.”

Cristo Rey students share a single full-time job (in a law firm, bank, hospital, or other setting), with each student working one day a week to pay school tuition.

At Worcester Tech, students run a veterinary clinic in partnership with Tufts.

At Worcester Tech in Massachusetts, students work in a veterinary clinic in partnership with Tufts.

Big Picture students make personalized learning plans that take them out to work several days a week with mentors, and a goal of defining their passions and finding work that is satisfying.

Massachusetts vocational schools typically host companies on site and provide the clinical training required for industry certifications. Worcester Tech, for example, hosts Tufts at Tech, a veterinary clinic serving the community.

The Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART) in Clovis, California, provides half-day programs for 11th and 12 graders in four career clusters: professional sciences, engineering, advanced communications, and global economics.

. . . students complete industry-based projects and receive academic credit for advanced English, science, math, and technology. Students do everything from testing water in the High Sierra, to making industry-standard films, to trying out aviation careers by actually flying planes. Teaching teams include business and science partners, and many teachers have extensive professional experience.

Only 24 percent of U.S. teens have jobs, down from 44 percent in 2000. Teens from well-to-do families are the most likely to have jobs, while few lower-income teens are in the workforce.

In Switzerland, students apply for internships at the end of ninth grade.

For the next three or four years, your week consists of three days at work, two days at school, and an occasional stint in an intercompany training organization (like the Centre for Young Professionals, in Zurich, Switzerland). Your company pays you between $600 and $800 a month to start, moving up to $1,000 or $1,200 or more by the end of your third year.

Seventy percent of young people use this system, completing “the equivalent of high school (and a year or so of community college).”  Swiss youth unemployment is 3 percent.

Linked Learning integrates career tech education with academics.

Earning a technical certificate or associate degree at a community college significantly boosts earnings. However, most community college students — including those who place into remedial classes — are trying to earn academic credentials.

Employers are doing more to train workers for skilled blue-collar jobs, reports U.S. News.

Magical thinking on school tech

School technology inspires a lot of magical thinking, writes Larry Cuban.

Massive Open Online Courses — free to anyone with an Internet connection — were supposed to “revolutionize” and “transform” higher education. Cuban writes. In the Gartner “hype” cycle, MOOCs have reached the “Trough of Disillusionment” in only three years.

The move to teach coding in elementary school and computer science in high school is in the “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” writes Cuban.

Britain’s national curriculum now requires “computing” in secondary schools.

In the U.S., coding and computer science “are being sold to school boards and parents as ways of teaching logic, thinking skills, as well as preparation for future jobs,” Cuban writes. He’s dubious.

Chicago Public Schools is “rolling out computer science classes at all levels” and plans to make computer science a graduation requirement, writes Scott Shackford.

Computer science educators worry about maintaining quality, he writes. “Just because every high school in the country is ordered to provide computer science classes doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be any good and that students will learn from them.”

Technology won’t save our schools, writes Austin Dannhaus on edSurge. “Education technology has seen over $3 billion of venture capital investment in the last two years. A corresponding rise in education outcomes, however, has been much more elusive. “

‘Addicted’ to bachelor’s degrees

America must break its “addiction” to bachelor’s degrees and recognize other routes to the middle class, said Mark Schneider of the American Institutes for Research, as part of a lecture series on social mobility.  “The contemporary bachelor’s degree takes too long, it’s too expensive and it’s not for everyone,” he said.

Wage data show that one- and two-year degrees and certificates in technical fields lead to rewarding careers, reports Diverse.  Plumbers and technicians with a vocational certificate can earn more than $71,000 a year a decade after entering the workforce. That’s more than many bachelor’s degree holders earn, especially those in non-technical fields. “Where you learn how to fix things, you win,”  said Schneider.

His College Measures web site provides information about expected wages for different degrees or certificates.

We have to make people understand there are cheaper ways to get people into the labor market,” Schneider said, noting that surveys have shown students say high wages and middleclass careers are important goals.

On average, four-year graduates earn more than those with two-year degrees, but “much is hidden in the averages,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“What we have is a big black box in American higher education, a big impenetrable black box. It cost about $450 billion per year. It has 20 million students in it,” Carnevale said. “We’re not sure what produces learning and earning. We drop money in it every year, pay almost no attention to what comes out at the other end, and at some point that becomes intolerable because we don’t have another $450 billion.”

Both agreed the U.S. can’t afford to keep putting money into higher education without considering the outcomes.

 

Let students choose career-tech path

Rob Friedman “learned very little” in high school — except in “small engines” and “auto shop” classes, he writes in Education and the Art of Minibike Maintenance in the Wall Street Journal.

Many of his vocational classmates quit high school, he writes. They were being “force-fed” college-prep courses.

His parents — a doctor and a teacher — pushed him to earn a college degree. Friedman enrolled in junior college, but dropped out to run his car-repair business.

Jordan Smith, 15, left, and Andrew Carson, 16, work on a small engine at their Placerville (CA) high school.  Photo: Pat Dollins/Mountain Democrat

Jordan Smith, 15, left, and Andrew Carson, 16, work on a small engine at their Placerville (CA) high school. Photo: Pat Dollins/Mountain Democrat

He promises to go back to school when business slowed down, but it never did.

Half our students want an academic education leading to a university degree, Friedman writes. But his auto-shop classmates — and many others — do not.

In many other countries, ninth graders can choose  to pursue an academic high-school diploma or a technical/vocational high-school diploma, he writes.

Imagine what would happen in the U.S. if young men and women were offered interesting, real-life curricula that appealed to them, such as auto shop, computer repair and fashion design. Not only would they learn real-life skills, but along the way they would be taught real-life math. I’m talking about merchant math and accounting, balancing a check book and insurance practices.

Many skilled blue-collar workers can make a better living than the average university graduate, Friedman writes. He’d like to let students choose whether to attend a college-prep-for-all high school or a school that blends academic and vocational courses.

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.