Good commentary from a student. Austin Kocian is a senior attending IDEAS@North Eugene High School, where he was able to participate in advanced metalworking classes before the program fell victim to budget cuts.
While experts debate the best curriculum for students, career and technical education (CTE) classes have been removed from our schools due to budget cuts and a focus on college preparatory curricula.
CTE is a style and method of education that encompasses a multitude of subjects of academic and occupational study. CTE courses may include metal and woodworking, health care, early childhood education, computer programming and culinary arts. CTE classes prepare students for a sophisticated labor market and ensure that all students have an opportunity to gain contextual practice for the theoretical knowledge they are learning in their core academic classes.
Eviscerating classes that allow students to learn practical vocational skills while putting their academic studies into context is shortsighted and damaging to our kids and our economy.
The purpose of education is to prepare students for the “real world” by teaching them the skills and information necessary to succeed. Despite the necessity of applied skills, education currently focuses almost entirely on the teaching of basic knowledge that leaves students ill-prepared for life after school. CTE teaches applied skills necessary for postsecondary education and high-paying, high demand jobs that are essential to society.
Greg Marx’s article “Vocational Education’s Moment in the Sun” poses the well-supported notion that students are “constrained by an assumption that career success in the modern economy depends on higher education.” This assumption that anything short of a bachelor’s degree is failure continues to be pressed upon students by the fact that our system focuses too narrowly on core academics.
Many organizations are beginning to promote the idea that college is not for everybody and the fact that alternate pathways are necessary. They support their claim not by questioning the worth of a college education, but by stating the facts: The Winter 2009-10 Occupational Outlook Quarterly published by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that “27 percent of our workforce between now and 2018 will need an associate’s degree or higher.” Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68.6 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college in 2008.
The current manufacturing crisis is a prime example of the negative implications of the college-for-all mindset and the loss of CTE. John Ratzenberger, a representative of Center for America, says that “government policies that drive young people into a ‘college or failure’ mindset make skilled work career choices a practical impossibility.” The U.S. Labor Department suggests that somewhere “between 3 and 15 million jobs go unfilled due to skilled worker shortages.”
At a time when unemployment hysteria has all but consumed us, millions of jobs are going unfilled simply because of a lack of qualified applicants. According to Ratzenberger, the current “average age of a skilled worker in the U.S. is 55” — meaning, in the coming decade, nearly half these workers will be available for retirement.
College-for-all is simply unrealistic and has negative implications. In the current budget crisis, schools are forced to make decisions. With the focus on “college-for-all,” CTE programs are the first to be sacrificed for the “core” curriculum. According to Robert Schwartz, the academic dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education, “unless we are willing to provide more flexibility and choice in the last two years of high school, and more opportunities for students to pursue program options that link work and learning, we will continue to lose far too many young people along the path to graduation.”
The availability and support of CTE programs is not an either-or situation. Jeremy Ayers, author of “College for All or College for Some,” recognizes the fact that “schools can provide career and technical education to students without sacrificing academic rigor” or degrading the college track. As stated by the Oregon Department of Education, individuals “need both theoretical and applied skills to reach their full potential as students, workers, and community members — skills they can acquire only by exposure to both academic and technical curriculum”.
One of the most important aspects of CTE is the connection made between academic studies and real-world, career-related applications. Despite the positive impact and the necessity of technical education, we, as a country, have stood idly by as CTE programs have all but fallen to ruin. Marx notes that today’s “secondary career education in America is more exploratory than preparatory,” and asks, “Why should American students — almost uniquely among the children in the world’s developed economies — have to wait until after high school to receive serious vocational education?”
In the Eugene, Bethel and Springfield school districts, five high schools (Churchill, North Eugene, Willamette, Springfield and Thurston) still offer hands-on industrial arts programs, but these programs are shadows of their former selves. (Click here to read or comment on the original article).