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School Choice

It could be this year’s graduation time meme, or simply that many outlets are reproducing a single AP article, but there currently seems to be much discussion of whether sending every high school graduate off to college is really worth it.

Is a four-year degree required to learn the skills necessary for success in one of the professions most likely to have openings?

Professor Lerman, the American University economist, said some high school graduates would be better served by being taught how to behave and communicate in the workplace.

Such skills are ranked among the most desired – even ahead of educational attainment – in many surveys of employers. In one 2008 survey of more than 2,000 businesses in Washington State, employers said entry-level workers appeared to be most deficient in being able to “solve problems and make decisions,” “resolve conflict and negotiate,” “cooperate with others” and “listen actively.”

Yet despite the need, vocational programs, which might teach such skills, have been one casualty in the push for national education standards, which has been focused on preparing students for college.

However, as the Times article points out, suggesting that some students might be better served with a post-high school education that doesn’t involve greeks bearing drinks doesn’t go over well in this country.

Politicians and education “experts” repeatedly drill home to parents in the US that their kids will be failures without a college degree.  And in many schools here in Lake Wobegon East, discussing vocational programs is almost grounds for dismissal.

Maybe instead we should provide some clear options for high school students and then help them understand their alternatives so they can make realistic choices.

But Ms. Williams [a counselor at a high school in suburban New York City with a student body that is mostly black or Hispanic] said she would be more willing to counsel some students away from the precollege track if her school, Mount Vernon High School, had a better vocational education alternative. Over the last decade, she said, courses in culinary arts, nursing, dentistry and heating and ventilation system repair were eliminated. Perhaps 1 percent of this year’s graduates will complete a concentration in vocational courses, she said, compared with 40 percent a decade ago.

Of course automatically advising any student away from considering college is serving them just as poorly as making college their only post-secondary option.

We need to return to offering kids some middle ground.

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2 Comments

  1. Jay

    Not sure where you get off making sense and all… This seems like too good of an idea, so of course it will go nowhere! Sorry to burst your bubble. Seriously though, I agree whole heartedly and think that we are indeed doing kids a disservice by pushing college as the end all be all. On the other hand, there are plenty of autoworkers in my home state of Michigan that probably wish they had something other than “30 years at the plant.” It’s a tough mix and all we can hope is that we prepare these kids for whatever comes next and we would probably be best served to encourage the skills that you mentioned above combined with some sort of formal training, college or otherwise.

  2. Reva

    i TOTALLY AGREE. We are getting all type of new programs at our high school and between 4 by 4 and free dual credit classes, our department is losing students all of the time. We are losing 1 teacher next year and maybe more to come. With technology every increasing, I don’t see why vocational classes of all types are not increasing.

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