I’m sure you’ve heard someone say,
“S/he’s not ‘college material,’ maybe they’d do well in a vocational ed program.”
Three or four decades ago that comment might make sense, after all semi-skilled union jobs were plentiful, High schools divided students into the regents track and the local diploma track: the Regents Competency Exam was a low skill test which was the path to graduation for most kids. As the world changed the union jobs moved off shore and the job-skills gap widened, the local diploma was a path to nowhere. The workplace consisted of jobs that required a college degree or high skills, or, minimum wage service industry jobs.
In the mid-nineties the members of the Board of Regents took a brave step – in the face of enormous criticism they began the process to phase out the local diploma and create a regents-only path to graduation. In the phase-in period the regents passing score was reduced from 65 to 55 and the plan was to increase the passing score to 65 one subject at a time – it took twelve years.
While the Regents were raising standards the commissioner was lowering standards – from 2006 to 2010 state tests scores increased precipitously. Newly selected Chancellor Tisch and newly hired Commissioner David Steiner blew the whistle – a new test was created and the scores dropped by 20 points.
The push-pull between the Regents and the Commissioner raising standards and local school officials finding ways to dance around the “rules” became commonplace. Kids who couldn’t pass courses were allowed to complete an online course that might take a few hours, the six-hour/two day English Regents exam was reduced to one day and the passing rate soared, on numerous occasions regents exams were scaled to increase passing rates.
The Regents and the Commissioner want to increase standards, produce kids who are more capable of entering the more demanding workforce and local superintendents fearing drops in test scores and graduation rates could jeopardize their jobs, advocate ways to get around or change the rules
Unfortunately the illusion that kids with academic difficulties will thrive in a vocational education setting continues. (Vocational Education, aka “Voc Ed,” is now referred to as “Career and Technical Education,” aka as CTE). In fact, one could argue that college is the default for kids who can’t make it in a CTE program. The current high school diploma requires students to pass 44 credits and five regents exams – for a diploma with CTE endorsement – an additional 10-12 credits in a specific CTE area.
There are three types of CTE programs:
The BOCES Model:
The student attends his or her regular district high school and takes the CTE courses at a regional BOCES site – the district pays the BOCES a set amount for each student. This is the “standard model” outside of New York City. In these trying financial times low wealth districts do not want to incur additional costs and the CTE option is frequently not encouraged.
The Stand-Alone Model:
Scattered around the state we can find CTE schools – unfortunately the thirty or so CTE high schools in New York City have been reduced sharply as school after school was closed for poor performance. The department did open a school for the construction trades a few years ago, and, a few of the new small high schools claim CTE status (one for film making, another for media and advertising), the total number of CTE seats, both in New York City and around the state have declined sharply, primarily due to the cost of the creation and maintenance of the CTE programs.
The Strand Model:
Large high school might have a CTE strand in the school, for example Park West High School, a 2000 plus seat comprehensive high school had a 60-student elevator repair program in the school. As the large high schools closed the strands disappeared.
Both New York City and the state make it extremely difficult to begin a CTE strand within a school. A few years ago I worked with a few small schools exploring the possibility – the city appeared clueless and the state rigid. A principal related to me he wanted to start an engineering strand in his school – he spoke with state ed – since his proposed course of study included physics and calculus the state told the principal those courses were not appropriate for an engineering CTE strand. Yes, I am just as baffled.
The state is making every effort to ease the path for CTE students – a few months ago the regulations were changed to allow for “integrated credits,” perhaps combining an engineering class and a math class and the kid would receive dual credits.
The Chancellor just announced a proposal referred to as 4 + 1, instead of the five required regents exams a student could take four regents exams and, if I understand the proposal, substitute a CTE certification for the fifth regents. (See Chalkbeat article here).
With proper safeguards “Multiple Pathways to Graduation” makes sense – in addition the state should explore increasing the portfolio option – especially for categories of student Students With Disabilities.
The Commissioner constantly references “college and career ready,” and the state defines “college ready” as grades of 75 on the English Regents and 80 on the Algebra 1 Regents – how does the state define “career ready”?
David T. Conley is the recognized expert, writes,
In 2005, Professor David T. Conley of the University of Oregon published a groundbreaking book: College Knowledge: What It Really Takes for Students to Succeed and What We Can Do to Get Them Ready. At the time, plenty of people were talking about the importance of getting more low-income and minority students through high school and college. The tech boom and global competition increased the demand for more highly skilled workers, and scholars also noticed that adults in the lowest-income neighborhoods had not benefited significantly from the Clinton-era jobs boom. Any effort to improve the lives of the next generation would require an improved high school degree and higher-quality college or training.
Conley’s book offered an important new perspective: kids needed to be prepared academically (e.g., have solid writing, math and analytical skills), socially (e.g., able to manage their time and hold their own in a competitive class) and culturally (e.g., able to resist outside attractions or demands and willing to study for long hours),
Success in college could offer a leap in economic status for many students. Even if students weren’t interested in college, he noted, college preparatory skills and habits were important for landing a good, living-wage job out of high school.
At a presentation to the members of the Board of Regents two students made presentations – they were in a CTE Welding program – welding (???) – Why are we teaching kids a nineteenth century skill?
I was speaking to the president of a construction trades union – he was skilled in the same trade as his father and grandfather – he lamented that his son would not follow in his footsteps. He explained that building materials were pre-cut and pre-drilled to exact standards by robotic machines in factories overseas and building was now more like a giant Lego set – with many fewer employees, and fewer union jobs.
According to Governor Cuomo the future of upstate New York are high tech companies – are we graduating kids with the skills to be employed in these high tech companies?
The answer is a resounding, No!
The math skills necessary for a high tech company? Algebra 2
The students we’re are targeting as potential employees are having trouble passing Algebra 1.
Career and Technical Education is not for an “escape” for kids who are struggling in academic classes.
Are we teaching “coding” in elementary schools?
How many computer science certified teachers are we producing? None – because the certification area does not exist.
How many colleges have elementary school teacher preparation programs with mathematics concentrations?
Do our current curricula emphasize “analytical skills”?
Are the Common Core tests encouraging teachers to teach “College and Career Readiness” skills or does test prep engulf all?
The 4 + 1 proposal, if it isn’t used as a ploy to get around regents exams, is benign, more important, is the state both encouraging and assisting schools and school districts to establish relevant CTE programs, not acting as a gatekeeper and discouraging moving into the 21st century.
Kids entering kindergarten today will graduate college, if college is still relevant, and find categories of jobs that have not yet been created.
Remember Moore’s Law?(http://computer.howstuffworks.com/moores-law.htm)