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.


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.

New construction workers need math skills

When construction comes back, skilled workers will be needed to replace those pushed into early retirement by the long slump. But many young people don’t have the math skills to learn construction jobs, contractors fear.

Associated General Contractors of America’s regional chapters are supporting about a dozen construction charter schools or construction career academies across the nation, reports McClatchy Newspapers.  “In addition, many are involved in high schools and outreach programs designed to teach basic math skills to young men and women.”

Even if students get passing grades in math — and that’s a fairly big if — they’re not being taught how math applies to the work site.

And construction is all about math. Everything from carpentry and brickwork to grading and sloping involves math.

Construction veterans are shocked at how few graduating students have functional math abilities. That’s why associations and contractors are trying to teach applied math skills.

“If it’s just a page in a book, and here’s the formula and here’s how you put it together, there is no understanding of what it does for you,” (Ted) Aadland, (president of the contractors’ group) said. “Why would you, how would you figure the volume and area? That’s what really clicks with people.”

Joe Youcha, executive director of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, works in schools and with courts and community groups to teach applied math across all grade levels. He also runs a boat-building apprenticeship program.

Youcha’s program starts with basic math. In fact, he wrote an instructional book for a Virginia carpenter’s union that requires a high school diploma or GED. When he was first approached, Youcha assumed that it would involve everything from advanced ruler reading to trigonometry.”They were like, ‘No. You have to start with place-value charts, whole numbers and addition and subtraction,’ ” said Youcha, who has an Ivy League degree in history but found his calling teaching applied math. “They come out of school not being able to name the number in front of them. They can’t tell you that 1,075 is one thousand and seventy-five. And they come with a degree.”

Increasingly, construction jobs require the ability to run computerized equipment, says  Aadland.  “All our grading now with heavy equipment is all computerized, and everything is done by satellite in bringing down grades. The industry is really reacting and training the craftspeople as we go.”

Axing French, Italian, classics, theater …

Do Colleges Need French Departments? On the New York Times’ Room for Debate, professors discuss the State University of New York at Albany’s decision to eliminate degree programs in French, Italian, classics, Russian and theater. The university president blamed budget cuts and said the programs attracted few students.

Should these humanities programs be saved at public universities that are hard pressed to meet the needs of all sorts of students? Are they luxuries that are “nice to have” but not what taxpayers need to support? What’s lost, if anything, if they are eliminated?

Not everyone needs French, writes linguist John McWhorter, a former French major. As long as some colleges and universities offer humanities degrees, others can focus on career training. Some students should be able to choose vocational tracks, he writes.

The very notion in America of four years of a post-high school liberal arts education as a default experience for people between 18 and 21 is a post-World War II novelty. It is unclear that it has created a populace significantly better informed or intellectually curious.

Most of the respondents argue that the humanities produce culturally aware, clear-thinking, flexible learners and thoughtful citizens who can adapt to a changing world.

On Community College Spotlight:  The shampooer with a bachelor’s degree.

Career ed bill vetoed

California students will not be able to to take career classes instead of art or foreign language to earn a diploma. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill. An advocate of vocational education, Schwarzenegger said he was worried the bill would impose new costs on school districts and could require funding of more career academies.

He also vetoed a bill creating “green tech” career academies in high schools using a small surcharge on electricity. The funding source would set a bad precedent, the governor said.

The governor signed a bill requiring kindergartners to turn five by Sept. 1 and creating “transitional” classes for children affected by the switch. The cut-off date has been Dec. 2.

‘Food for Singles’ or French?

California students must take an arts class or a foreign language to graduate from high school, but a bill on the governor’s desk would let students choose a career course instead. The sponsor, Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Gardena, hopes the option will engage students who might otherwise drop out.

Common Core, which strongly opposes the idea, looks at Granada High School, where vocational options include:

* Hospitality to “learn grooming and proper work ethic.”

* Fashion Apparel to “learn sewing machine basics.”

* Landscape Design to “grow flowers, ornamental plants and vegetables.”

* Food for Singles to learn culinary “short cuts, new techniques, budgeting their food dollars, and multiple uses of appliances.”

“Education is about more than workforce preparation,” Common Core argues. “It’s about building creativity, wonder, cultural literacy and citizenship, for starters.”

California’s college-prep curriculum includes arts and a foreign language. However, the students who’d prefer “Hospitality” are not planning to apply to a state university.

The problem I see is that the bill includes no funding to develop high-quality  classes that would prepare students for real careers, most of which will require some additional training at a community college or in an apprenticeship program. Potential drop-outs might be motivated by Cooking for Chefs. It’s hard to believe anyone sees Food for Singles as a reason to stay in school.

Three tracks to success in Santa Fe

Tracking is out of fashion these days, but Santa Fe high schools’ three tracks give students a choice, reports KRQE News 13. Some take the most rigorous academic classes to apply for highly selective colleges, others aim for a less-selective college or university and some plan to pursue a technical career, go to community college or enter the military.

The third track engages students who’d otherwise be at risk for dropping out.

Welding teacher Al Trujillo said offering hands-on training is an important tool in keeping Hispanic students in school.

“Here, they learn a skill and their education becomes more valuable to them,” he said. “Without something like this, they may end up having a low-paying, low-skilled job.”

Moises Venegas, founder of the Quinto Sol research group, worries about lower expectations for Hispanic students.

Students who are pursuing a career in the military or a tech college are told to take a “workplace readiness” course, but they are not encouraged to take any AP classes and they take fewer language and science classes.

New Mexico raised graduation requirements this year, requiring all high school students to take four years of math and enroll in at least one AP or honors course or college-credit class. State policy — all students will be ready for college or a career — means that career-oriented graduates “need the same abilities as a college freshman,” says Melissa Lomax, head of the state’s career technical and work force education bureau.

Melecio Sanchez, 17, who just finished his junior year at Santa Fe High, has already received one welding certificate that allows him to work with heavy metals. He has a job with a welding company in Bernalillo and said he may attend college after he works and saves some money. He has several uncles who are welders.

“I like it because you get to work with fire, and you learn how to build things,” he said. “You will also make good money doing this.”

New Mexico students lag in reading and math skills compared to the national average; graduation rates are low. I prefer Santa Fe’s honesty to the pretense that all students will take the same classes and graduate with college-level skills.