College rah rah bah

“Millions of young people will never attend four-year colleges,” writes Sarah Carr in the Wilson Quarterly. “America must do more to equip them to secure good jobs and live fulfilling lives.”

From President Obama on down, “college for all” is seen as the solution to poverty, writes Carr. In New Orleans, the city of Carr’s book, Hope Against Hope, reformers created college-prep charter schools for low-income, black students.

At schools that have embraced the college-for-all aspiration, career and technical education is seen as being as outdated as chalkboards and cursive handwriting. Instead, the (mostly poor and mostly minority) students are endlessly drilled and prepped in the core humanities and sciences—lessons their (mostly middle- or upper-income and mostly white) teachers hope will enable the teenagers to rack up high scores on the ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement exams and go on to attend the four-year college of their dreams (although it’s not always clear whose dreams we’re talking about).

Idealism should be tempered with pragmatism, Carr writes. Only one-third of low-income college students earn bachelor’s degrees by their mid-20s. Drop-outs may be thousands of dollars in debt.

A 2011 Harvard report, Pathways to Prosperity, described strong demand for “middle-skill” workers with vocational certificates or associate degrees. For example, electricians average $53,030, dental hygienists  $70,700 and construction managers $90,960, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“College for all” isn’t a smart state or national education policy, but can make sense as the mission of a single school, responds Michael Goldstein, founder of MATCH, a high-performing charter school in Boston.

In Boston, many traditional high schools describe themselves as college prep, but they’re sort of half-hearted about it. Few alums actually graduate from college. College rah-rah is absent. But so is career rah-rah. There is no rah-rah. I’m not sure how Carr thinks about such schools.

College is the dream of low-income black and Hispanic parents, Goldstein writes. When a large, open-admissions high school in Boston surveyed parents — mostly black or Hispanic single mothers without a degree — more than 80 percent wanted their son or daughter to go on to college.

I’m not sure I agree that educators in urban college prep charters, see career and technical education as “outdated.”

. . . I think more typically — there’s a perception that the vo-tech offerings themselves are terrible, with really bad track record of actually connecting kids to the right jobs, the air-conditioning repair jobs that Carr writes about.

Boston’s vo-tech high school is considered by far the worst public school in the city.

MATCH has considered launching an “excellent” vocational charter school, then measuring how graduates do in the job market, he writes.

I think everyone wants their kids to go to college because everyone thinks it’s the only way to get a good job. A high-quality school focused on qualifying graduates to train as electricians, mechanics, welders, dental hygienists, X-ray techs, etc. would be very popular.

Obama: Educate for high-tech economy

High schools should put “our kids on a path to a good job,” said President Obama in the State of the Union speech.

Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Many high schools offer “dual enrollment” courses that let students earn college credits — usually through a local community college — while completing high school. (The sinister Gates Foundation has been a major funder of dual enrollment.) Moving to a German-style apprenticeship system, which explicitly prepares students for skilled jobs, not for higher education, will take a lot more than money. It will take a major attitude change from college for all to competency for all. (Competency for most?) President Obama, whose administration cut funds for career tech programs, could lead the way.

“A Race to the Top-style grant program for high school curriculum” may raise hackles, notes Ed Week. Conservatives — and some liberals — are unhappy with the administration’s use of funding power to push states to adopt Common Core standards, which was supposed to be a state initiative.   Now Obama’s admitting that’s what Race to the Top did and asking for more money and power over curriculum.

Swiss choose apprenticeship over college

University education is free in Switzerland, but most students choose vocational training, Time reports.

Take Jonathan Bove. This spring, after he completed his three-year business training at an insurance company, the 19-year-old was hired by a telecommunications firm; his job as a customer care representative offers a starting salary of $52,000 a year, a generous annual bonus, and a four-week paid vacation – no small potatoes for the teenager who is still living at home and has no plans to move out. “The idea of university never appealed to me,” he says. “The vocational training is more hands-on and the path to a good job is shorter.”

After completing nine years of required schooling, two-thirds of 15 and 16 year olds choose Vocational Education and Training (VET), which combines three years of part-time classroom instruction with training at a company. The youth unemployment rate in Switzerland is less than 3 percent.

VET apprentices generate more revenues than they cost in salaries and instruction, so most companies profit from VET participation, even if they train more apprentices than they need. On average, VET graduates start at $50,000 a year.

Most young Americans won’t earn a college degree, says Nancy Hoffman of Jobs for the Future in a Nation interview with Dana Goldstein. A Swiss-style apprenticeship system would motivate young people and qualify them for good jobs, she argues.

Volkswagon is starting a European-style apprenticeship program in Tennessee, but for high school graduates. . . . You probably have to start with more internships and apprenticeships at the community college level than in high school, because most people in this country just don’t believe that 16-year-olds can be productive workers—though there is plenty of evidence they certainly can be.

Goldstein asks: Should we worry if the vocational track really is the track for working-class kids?

America’s system — College for all but failure for most — provides less economic mobility than the apprenticeship model, Hoffman argues. “The really strong countries have pathways from vocational education straight through to technical colleges,” she adds. In Switzerland, 42 percent of the highest-scoring students enter the vocational system. “If you want to be an engineer, work in IT or any of these high-tech jobs, you’re going to be much more likely to get a job after real work experience.”

Career-tech ed boosts reading

Career tech motivates students to improve their reading skills, writes Randall Garton on Shanker Blog.

It seems commonsensical that kids who are not academically oriented (not a crime, by the way) could be motivated to learn if they see and understand the relationship of that learning to their real world aspirations.  This is one of the reasons that kids in CTE programs tend to complete high school and enjoy post-secondary success in occupations, training, and education at greater rates than their comparable peers.

CTE students will need strong reading skills to “read and absorb technical manuals, understand and program computers, write and respond to memos on technical and professional matters, and interpret tables of instructions,” Garton writes.

. . . the learning of CTE students is “contextualized” – students who are interested in a subject are taught about it, and the more they learn the more complex the text the are able to read about it.

CTE is incorporating literacy and training teachers, but research on what works is in the early stages, Garton writes.

Instead of “the failed mantra of  college for all,” education reformers should promote  “multiple pathways to success,” he writes. The literacy strategies being field tested in CTE “will extend to the broader population of struggling students who need them desperately.”

 

Amazon offers college aid to warehouse workers

Amazon will give warehouse workers up to $2,000 in annual scholarships to pursue associate degrees in high-wage, high-demand careers, such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technologies, medical lab technologies and nursing.

Low-cost, ‘high-value’ certificates rise in popularity

Vocational certificates, which promise a low-cost fast track to a better job, are rising in popularity. The average worker whose education ended with a certificate earns 20 percent more than a worker with only a high school diploma. Some certificate-holders — especially men in technical fields — earn more than graduates with associate or bachelor’s degrees.

Academic or vocational skills?

For the first time ever, a majority of jobless Americans 25 and older are college graduates or people with “some college.”  Should our educational system focus less on academics and more on teaching workforce skills?

Make high school matter for non-collegebound

We must make high school matter for students who aren’t collegebound, writes James Stone on Shanker Blog, weighing in on the “snob” debate.

Instead of ever-increasing academic requirements, disengaged students need “rigorous, world-class technical education” linked to the labor market.

. . .  in Georgetown, KY, Toyota has worked with local education systems to create a compelling, rigorous and relevant manufacturing career pathway—one that takes students from high school to the local community college to four-year college programs in engineering or manufacturing management and the promise of employment with Toyota.

Retooled  Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs should “include intensive career development opportunities that begin no later than middle school,” internships, apprenticeships and “curricula that integrate academic knowledge with technical skills,”  Stone writes.

‘Stupiphanies’

At an innovation conference, Community College Dean has a “stupiphany” — the sudden realization that you were an idiot for not knowing something before. The more classes a remedial student must take, the more likely the student will give up. Each class is an exit point.

Another stupiphany:  Remedial students are much more likely to succeed when basic skills are taught along with vocational skills. Yet California’s community college system eliminated many “contextualized” classes that help students earn an occupational certificate in favor of traditional remedial classes geared toward associate degrees.

Rethinking remediation

Overwhelmed with students who need years of remediation, some Texas community colleges are sending very low-skilled students to adult education or vocational programs.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  North Carolina will let community colleges bar “threatening” students, but identifying who’s dangerous and figuring out what to about it are huge challenges for college staffers.