Learning Matters

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Is There a Place for Vocational Education in Tomorrow's High Schools?

There is a general climate of dissatisfaction with the state of the American high school. That's not surprising since it is nearly a half century since the Conant Commission and the rise of the comprehensive high school. And it's not just an outside perspective. NASSP's Breaking Ranks initiative is now in its second phase. Last month, several governors held a High School reform summit where Bill Gates keynoted on the lack of equity and rigor in high schools today.

Two themes that are increasingly heard are the need to provide a rigorous, pre-collegiate academic program for all high school students and a questioning of the value of vocational education in high schools. The Bush Administration is proposing to redirect funding from the Carl Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. Girlonthescape has been posting about this a few times. Meanwhile, Jenny D. has jiggled some jello in asking why shouldn't we have many more students in AP courses.

This morning, I noticed this article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel citing business concerns about a lack of skilled workers in the trades.

So what is the world that you are seeing? Are we all going to be programmers, lawyers, engineers, and marketing specialists? Or will there still be a demand for welders, carpenters, drafters, and computer technicians? If the trades aren't going away (and they aren't), should vocational training be situated in our high schools? I say yes, because these educational opportunities can engage many students who can also benefit from coursework that prepares them for democratic citizenship. I also reject the idea that there is a choice to be made between rigor and Voc-ed. Granted, there are trade-offs in designing a schedule, but there is no reason why students can't take ag and bio, or welding, engines, and physics. Why is vocational education on the chopping block?