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Vocational Education Deserves Respect

For too long, vocational education in this country has been given little respect.  Despite renaming it career and technical education, we still treat it as second-class.  That's why I was glad to learn that the House Education and the Workforce Committee unanimously approved H.R. 5587("AFT on Perkins Reauthorization Bill," AFT News Release, Jul. 7).  More specifically, it is called the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.

That's a mouthful, but it is just what is desperately needed today.  Our obsession with college for all is terribly misguided.  Not all students have the interest or ability to do college-level work.  It's little wonder that so many drop out of college before earning a degree.  They've been sold a bill of goods that does not serve them well.  Only in the U.S. is differentiation anathema.  Our competitors abroad have no qualms about placing students in academic or vocational tracks.  They sometimes do so too early in a student's life.  For example, Singapore begins the process with its primary school leaving exam and continues doing so throughout the rest of the school years.

I think we need to get real about education.  I had many students who never went to college but used their high school vocational classes to start a well paying and gratifying career.  No one knows what the jobs of the future will look like.  But we will always need plumbers and auto mechanics for a start.  If high school classes are not enough to qualify, students interested in these fields can receive a certificate from a community college and/or serve an apprenticeship.  They will not be burdened with the heavy debt that characterizes students getting a bachelor's degree.  More important, they will be doing the work they enjoy.

It's too soon to know how much funding will be given to the new act.  But the mere fact that it was passed unanimously is a positive omen.  I hope we can get rid of our snobbery and accord vocational education greater respect. 

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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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