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Timing of Vocational Education Matters

Career and technical education is finally getting the recognition it so richly deserves. But to make it even more relevant, a new study found that such classes were most influential in the junior and senior years of high school ("As students near graduation, career and technical education provides a boost," Associated Press, Nov. 29).

That makes sense because it's during those last two years of high school that most students begin thinking seriously about what they will be doing after graduation.  As a result, they start to wonder if they should apply to a four-year college or enter the workforce.  In both cases, reality for the first time hits them. 

Other countries introduce career and technical education courses much earlier.  For example, Germany starts the sorting out process in the 5th grade with its "dual system."  Based on teacher recommendations and parental wishes, some are placed in Hauptschule. They work on the job for three or four days a week and spend the rest of the time in academic instruction paid by the government.  Once in possession of a vocational certificate, they are quickly hired.  As a result, Germany has the lowest rate of youth unemployment in Europe at just 7.7 percent.

I think 5th grade is far too early to begin the process.  But I support what Germany is trying to accomplish.  It realizes that not all students are college material and provides opportunities accordingly.  In contrast, the U.S. persists in the delusion that grit is all that matters to succeed in higher education.  No wonder the drop out rate is so high.  Historians are going to look back at our obsession with college for all as what Charles Murray correctly calls "educational romanticism."

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