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Career and Tech Ed: Expanding or Limiting Opportunity?

To say Wilma Stephenson is no-nonsense would be an understatement. This Philadelphia culinary-arts teacher is a legend, both for her devotion to her students and her drill-sergeant tactics. Her work is featured in "Pressure Cooker," a documentary film that opens this week, and her ideas about career and technical education are the subject of an interesting National Public Radio interview.

For me, the most intriguing part of the interview was where NPR's Michel Martin asks Ms. Stephenson to respond to career-and-tech-ed skeptics who think that those courses of study "are a trap" for low-income and minority students because they essentially track them into careers, and that they result in less-rigorous educations in core academic subject areas.

Ms. Stephenson says she thinks her students are getting even more solid math, science, and English skills in her class than they are in their regular academic courses. Policymakers debating about career and tech ed, she says, should just come on down to those classrooms and take a look at what kids are learning.

With Arne Duncan cheerleading for career and tech ed as a way to re-engage disaffected high school students, I'd guess this is only the beginning of more rounds in the debate over what used to be called vocational education. One sign? The documentary is being cited by some of those who are pushing for more career and tech funding under the federal Perkins Act.

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