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Vocational Education Still a Stepchild

Despite all the talk about preparing students for college and career, it's the latter that is still being shortchanged.  What is taking place in California serves as a case study of the hypocrisy ("Sacramento's schizophrenic love affair with Career Technical Education," EdSource, Jan. 9).

Last summer, the state Legislature overwhelmingly voted to establish a one-time, $250 million Career Pathways Trust, which would award grants to schools able to design innovative CTE proposals. But soon after, the Legislature voted to abolish all funding for Regional Occupation Centers and Programs by the 2015-16 fiscal year.  What good is it to incentivize schools to come up with new programs if they are not funded?

Making matters worse going forward, Common Core standards are conspicuously devoid of career curriculums.  This sends an unmistakable message that vocational courses are not as important as academic courses.  Not surprisingly, enrollment in CTE courses in California has plummeted by 101,090 students, or 12 percent, and 19.6 percent of the state's CTE teachers are gone. That's unfortunate because school districts that offer apprenticeships have seen improvements in classroom performance and in attendance of juniors and seniors enrolled in the programs ("Can't Find Skilled Workers? Start an Apprentice Program," The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 17).

I can't understand why vocational education is not accorded the same respect and status as academic education.  I know the argument about the lifelong salary premium attached to a four-year college.  But it does not break down the premium by college majors as compared with high school vocational majors.  Moreover, I question if it will persist on average in the years ahead.  The debt incurred in pursuit of a bachelor's degree, coupled with the reality of offshoring, presage a new era. We can persist in the fiction that college is for everyone, but there will be a day of reckoning, and it won't be pretty. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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