College Is Only One Option for Kids
Guest post by Douglas W. Green, EdD
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Since the corporate/political class doesn't trust principals to ferret out all of the "bad" teachers and send them off to alternate careers, schools are required to hire independent observers as a check on what is seen as cronyism between teachers and administrators.
As fate would have it, a local district reached out to me to take on this role. It sounded like a fun way for someone who observed teachers for 30 years to see what was going on in local classrooms, so I took the job.
Since I'm observing every teacher in the district, I get to see everything from kindergarten to Advanced Placement Physics. While this sounds a bit daunting, I started my career teaching middle school and high school science and finished as an elementary principal. In addition, my writing career, my love of current events and history, my ability to speak a second language (Swedish), my exercise compulsion, my love of cooking, and having a daughter who majored in art allow me to "talk shop" with any teacher in the K-12 beat.
Last week, I ended up observing a middle school home and careers lesson. The goal was to have each student research a career that they might be interested in some day. I like the idea as it allows students some control over what they study and to control to some extent the pace and the skill level needed. As part of this observation, I asked every student in the class what career they were researching. As it turned out, everyone was working on a career that required four to eight years of college.
I'd seen almost 70 classes previously in this 6-12 building and talked to teachers about their challenges. I can assure you that it's a safe bet that not all of these students will end up with a college degree or two or three needed for the careers they were looking at. In his recent New York Times op-ed piece, Oren Cass makes the point that as taxpayers, we spend too much on students who might be college material and not enough on those who aren't. In essence, the college crowd has access to a lot of public dollars while the noncollege crowd gets ZERO!
Thanks to the federal push to make all students career- and college-ready, we end up with some students who are college-ready and very few who are ready for anything other than nonskilled work. If, however, we give students more options in high school for vocational education and subsidize post-high-school vocational training, we would have fewer college dropouts with large college loans to pay off.
Some cities in the United States have realized this and started to retool their high schools and community colleges. In a recent New York Times business article, Ben Casselman tells a tale of two cities, The first is Nashville, Tenn., where businesses and government got together to overhaul the community college system. As a result, the number of jobs and the population has dramatically increased. The other city is Birmingham, Ala., where growth in population has been much slower due to the fact that schools are not training workers with the skills they need. What is your city doing?
Making these changes also requires a change in the mindset of many parents who see college as the only option. While college graduates on average outearn noncollege graduates, there are a lot of plumbers and electricians who make more than many college graduates who majored in fields that do not make them career-ready. I bet you can name some of these majors yourself. Even if these students slog on to a doctorate and score a college teaching job, they still are not likely to make as much as a skilled craftsperson.
My advice to the home and career teachers out there is to have every student dig into two potential careers, one that requires a college degree or two and one that only requires a shorter stay in a trade school program. This should open their students' eyes, and it just might send more students in a direction where they will find success, a good paying job, and little or no debt at the start of their working life. I would also encourage high schools to do what they can to offer more vocational courses and internships so more students don't have to pay to play.
How can we start to give more emphasis on alternative college routes postsecondary? Please share
Cass, Oren. The Misguided Priorities of Our Educational System, The New York Times, December 12, 2018, p. A27, available online at https://nyti.ms/2GlZpHs.
Casselman, Ben, Nashville Leaves the Pack Behind, The New York Times, December 17, 2018, p. B1, available online at https://nyti.ms/2GF8pHA.
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