Peter Balonon-Rosen, writing for State Impact Indiana has a good article on career and technical training initiatives in Indiana schools:
A new state law could allow job training programs to replace other high school graduation requirements. The law requires the State Board of Education to develop new pathways to high school completion.
It comes just as job training in Indiana high schools has taken on a new life — and new name.
“I think there’s a negative perception associated with the term ‘vocational training,’” Deuberry says. “Instead it is kind of like job training program. It’s so much bigger.”
. . .
Career and technical education programs are growing across Indiana. Today, students learn skills from welding to 3D printing to cooking – not just shop class skills, as was common in the past.
This is probably a good concept if done well but subject to abuse if done poorly. (Not very insightful: you could probably say that about almost literally any initiative.) Earlier in the article, Balonon-Rosen mentions that policymakers have struggled with whether education should be about getting kids ready for college or for the workforce. Molly Deuberry, speaking for the Department of Education, says “both.” And that’s correct as far as it goes, but I cringed a little at the idea of “college” being the counterpart to “workforce” because you run into the same question in college. Is that just advanced vocational training?
The larger question, in my mind, is whether you are teaching the student to be a worker or teaching the student to be a person. The ability to make a living is a big part of what is going to make you a productive, happy, fully developed citizen and human. But, it’s obviously not the only thing. Schools have to focus on vocational capabilities as a significant part of what will make a student a good person and a citizen who will improve the community. College preparation is not necessarily the path to excellence in those non-vocational areas of life.
But, I’m straying a bit from the point. When I was a kid, it seemed like vocational classes were a place where the troublemakers were shunted off. As I walked the hallways, I saw lots of rough kids through the doors of shop rooms that I never set foot in. The danger is that these vocational classes won’t be used so much as an alternate route for a fully developed education as storage space for “troublemakers.”
But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way, and from the article it sounds like the aspiration of the career and technical training initiatives is to recognize that college isn’t for everyone. (And, as I say this, I’m extremely wary of sounding like Judge Smails in Caddyshack when he tells Danny, “the world needs ditch diggers too.”) A strong career and technical education path was one of the recommendations of the NCSL report on how to build a world-class educational system after the study group reviewed a number of other educational systems around the world. As I put it in a blog post from last year:
Develop a Career and Technical Education path for those students preferring more of an applied education rather than a more academic approach. This shouldn’t be an educational backwater like so many vocational programs. It should be geared to boosting the national economy and providing a higher standard of living for a broader base of the population.
More from the report:
Singapore and Switzerland, in particular, have built strong systems of CTE with close ties to industry. Singapore uses a school-based model and Switzerland uses an employer-based model. In these countries, CTE is not perceived as a route for students lacking strong academic skills, but as another approach to education, skills development and good jobs. CTE is well funded, academically challenging and aligned with real workforce needs. It is hands-on, attractive to students and parents, and can lead to university for students who may seek professional and managerial positions later. For other students, CTE is a pathway to good jobs, by building technical skills that can be achieved much earlier than the traditional academic experience.
It bears mentioning that the report also called for social safety net infrastructure so the student comes ready to learn, a well-paid and highly trained force of teachers working collaboratively, and that the system be implemented as part of a comprehensive plan. These items are likely less palatable to Indiana policymakers than beefing up vocational education career tracks. Which, in turn, makes me concerned about whether the career and technical education track will be implemented as an alternate route to a high quality education or just a new name for the old approach to vocational education.