[Homestead] Need to throw more money at education

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Mon Sep 6 18:49:23 EDT 2004


Not bleed it away from Vocational Schools. I don't know what idiot ever 
came up with the idea that vocational training and college prep are 
incompatible, a really weird idea that translates into saying that 
engineers shouldn't get their hands dirty, understand or have experience 
in operating the equipment necessary to manufacturing a product.


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Los Angeles Times 
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High School Vocational Classes Are Stalling Out

Mon Sep 6, 7:55 AM ET

/By Joel Rubin Times Staff Writer/

Standing on either side of the gleaming Volvo S60 Turbo, the two 
students anxiously awaited the judge's signal.

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An amplified voice was carried through the convention hall: "Ten, nine, 
eight … "

Nick Young, stocky and soft-spoken, glanced through his protective 
eyewear at Team Volkswagen to the right and Team Buick to the left.

"Seven, six, five …. "

Bill Paddock, with his greased-back hair, tattoos and bravado, took a 
final inventory of the tools, manuals and computers they would use over 
the next three hours to identify and fix dozens of "bugs" riddling the 
lifeless car.

"Four, three, two, one."

Voices from 37 teams burst the tension. Paddock and Young huddled one 
last time with their high school auto technology teacher, Robert McCarroll.

His firm orders: "Stay calm."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

If there had been any doubt, qualifying for a spot at the National 
Automotive Technology Competition in New York City confirmed for Paddock 
and Young that their futures are in automobiles. More interested in 
wheel alignment than SAT vocabulary, they are two of the more than 1 
million American high school graduates who will not attend college this 
fall.

Unlike many other teenagers who end their education in high school, 
however, Paddock and Young will move on to advanced auto training at a 
trade school.

That and the training they received at the Auto Technology Academy at 
San Clemente High School put the two at the center of a debate in 
California and nationwide over what role blue-collar trades should play 
in the public schools.

For decades, vocational education has played second fiddle to classroom 
academics. With the "Nation at Risk" school-improvement initiative in 
1983, officials launched an effort to raise academic standards. 
Concerned that American students were losing ground to their 
counterparts in Japan, Germany and other countries, politicians and 
classroom experts called for increased academic rigor, especially in 
math and science.

The trend intensified with the current, federal No Child Left Behind 
law, which holds schools accountable for student performance on 
high-stakes, standardized tests.

Many education officials would like to go even further. California 
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, for example, has 
argued vigorously for requiring all high school students to pass courses 
that would allow them to enroll at a state university.

"It's time to change high schools from the inside out, to focus … on 
their primary mission of preparing students to higher standards," 
O'Connell said in a speech earlier this year.

The schools chief acknowledges that vocational education has been 
neglected in California but insists his push for tougher academics does 
not need to come at its expense. He envisions vocational classes with 
enough academic rigor that they would satisfy university admission 
standards while still preparing students for the workplace.

Supporters of vocational education aren't buying it. They decry what 
they say is an obsession with college preparation that ignores the needs 
of the roughly 38% of the country's high school seniors who do not 
enroll in two-year or four-year colleges and who might benefit from 
vocational training.

"Clearly, there are a set of academic skills everyone needs to be 
successful in our society," said James Stone, director for the National 
Research Center for Career and Technical Education. "But does every 
child need to study trigonometry?"

"The problem is that many people look at college as the goal," said 
McCarroll, the San Clemente teacher who runs one of the relatively few 
programs in California that blends academics with traditional vocational 
training. "College is not the goal. It is only one means to an end, and 
the end is these kids' careers."

"We are trying to shove a lot of square pegs into round holes."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

In high schools across the country and in California, comprehensive 
trade programs have declined in number and in quality. At many school 
districts, as the focus has turned increasingly toward core academics, 
such programs have either become dumping grounds for poorly performing 
students or have disappeared altogether.

In 1975, when McCarroll taught his first class, San Clemente's 
vocational program cranked at full-tilt. Eight full-time teachers 
offered beginner, intermediate and advanced classes in auto shop, wood 
and metal working, drafting and electronics. "This whole darn area went 
all day long," he said with a sweep of his hand. "It was so noisy you 
could barely hear yourself think. Now I'm the only one left."

In 1987, the earliest year for which the state has data, nearly 27% of 
California high school students were enrolled in at least one industrial 
vocational education class. Today, only 15% of students are taking such 
classes.

Over virtually the same span, membership in the California Industrial 
Technology Education Assn., which includes trade instructors, has 
plummeted from 5,000 to 350.

Several factors account for the declining numbers. Until the mid-1980s 
in many school districts, minority students were often 
disproportionately shunted toward vocational education classes. Although 
recent research indicates that such race-based tracking has largely been 
eliminated, Stone said, urban districts continue to encounter minority 
parents reluctant to enroll their children in vocational classes.

A changing economy that includes growing healthcare and technology 
sectors and declining manufacturing industries has also made some 
vocational program obsolete.

More pressing, however, is money. Running equipment-dependent vocational 
programs is expensive, and in the competition for classroom dollars, 
those programs fade on priority lists.

"We have had to make hard decisions," said James A. Fleming, 
superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District, where Young 
and Paddock attend. "Do we put a wood shop and machine shop in a new 
high school, or more academic classrooms? We have backed off from those 
trade programs."

California has developed regional training programs that offer day and 
evening classes for high school students and adults at area campuses. 
Vocational education experts praise the programs but agree that because 
of age restrictions and limited access, they are no substitute for a 
high school trade-skills curriculum.

The state does have some high school programs designed to upgrade 
vocational education. McCarroll's is one. Opened in 1998, the auto tech 
academy operates as a self-contained school within San Clemente High. 
Students satisfy basic graduation requirements and receive three years 
of increasingly complex auto classes and on-the-job training.

The auto program is one of 290 state-supported "partnership academies" 
in which school districts and businesses — in this case auto dealers and 
mechanics — team up to offer programs that train students.

"It is such a mammoth mission to put quality men and women in this 
industry," said Larry Cummings, president of Automotive Youth Education 
Systems, the group formed by auto makers to work with school districts 
on vocational programs. "We've got to have a school system that can 
deliver this type of curriculum to the students."

But while California's academies are one of the country's more ambitious 
vocational education initiatives, there are still too few to meet 
student needs. Each year, McCarroll turns students away — often as many 
as he accepts. Moreover, relatively few of the academy programs teach 
conventional trade skills such as agriculture, carpentry and auto 
mechanics, focusing instead on white-collar skills such as business, 
computer technology and health science.

Paddock and Young "are the exception, rather than the rule," in 
receiving state-of-the-art training for blue-collar work, said Stone. 
"We are becoming a nation of test-takers," he said. "But we won't have 
kids that understand the world around them or know the skills that the 
labor market is saying are needed."

Paddock and Young say they feel fortunate to have found the auto 
academy. Early on, the two students — and their parents — recognized 
that they were not meant for college. Barely getting by on poor grades 
and minimal motivation, both said they probably would have dropped out 
of school were it not for McCarroll and the sense of purpose they 
discovered at the academy.

"I'm just not the college kind of person," said Paddock, who struggles 
with dyslexia. "I'm not going to go to English class and history class. 
It's not appealing to me.

"I think with these," he said, holding up his hands. "If there is 
something broken, I can figure out how to fix it."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

An hour into the competition, Paddock and Young had made some small 
finds — a blown fuse in the air-conditioner, a faulty headlight — but 
large problems remained.

The team's "engine guy," Paddock was elbow deep in the Volvo's high-tech 
power plant, perplexed that he still couldn't start it.

He emerged and hooked a laptop computer to the car's ignition system to 
run diagnostic tests. Paddock reached for a digital meter on a hunch 
that electrical power was not getting through to the ignition sensor.

Meanwhile, Young, "the body guy," had nearly crawled into the trunk in 
an attempt to get the rear defogger working.

Somewhere in the room, a competing team's automobile roared to life.

Time was running out.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The future of vocational education remains uncertain.

A state panel is working on standards and curriculum for vocational 
education programs, but O'Connell concedes that school districts will 
not be obligated to follow its recommendations.

He offers few details on how school districts will be able to fit both 
tougher academics and strong vocational programs into an already-packed 
school year.

Bernie Norton, who heads the state's high school initiatives office and 
is overseeing the panel, said it would be difficult to build enough 
flexibility into school schedules and find the money to fund extensive 
projects.

The issue confounds educators nationwide.

Although successful vocation programs dot each state, no state is doing 
an adequate job overall of preparing vocational students, said Assistant 
Secretary of Education Susan Sclafani, who oversees the federal 
government's vocational training programs.

Without more trade programs like McCarroll's academy, disaffected 
students will continue to drop out or head toward college life for which 
they are ill-suited, she said.

Congress, meanwhile, is debating the re-authorization of a federal 
vocational education funding bill.

Sclafani said she wants to hold states more accountable for the success 
of career programs and has proposed withholding some funds from states 
until they improve.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The final half-hour slipped away. Paddock gave up trying to get the car 
started without dismantling it. To test the Volvo's spark plugs, the 
cumbersome turbo tube had to come off.

Young returned to the still-broken defogger, and Paddock set to work 
uncovering the plugs. Working in silence, they kept their poise, 
resigned that they probably would not start the car — the ultimate goal 
of the competition.

The final minute ticked off, and the two stepped back. For a moment, 
they were disappointed that they wouldn't win a new car, expensive tools 
or tuition to training programs that were among the prizes. But the 
sting passed quickly.

"It's been good for us," Young said. "We are going to run into these 
types of problems as mechanics. It gives us a taste of what we'll be 
doing."

"A lot of people underestimated me," Young said. "It feels good to have 
accomplished something in school. And now I know what I want to do with 
my life. I'm lucky enough to have found auto, liked it and been decent 
at it. My talents came through."


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