What is going on in Chicago's Career and Technology Education (CTE)?

[Editor's Note: The following article was printed in Progress: the Journal of the Illinois Association for Career and Technical Education, v. 10, no. 54, p. 3. by President- Elect of New and Related Services John Kugler, associations/9963/files/ Spring%20 Progress%20 Final.pdf ]

Chicago's shop classes, such as the carpentry shop above, are being reduced again. Substance photo by John Kugler.There are two big issues that are now affecting Industrial Arts Education in the classrooms. One is the largest reorganization of the CTE programs throughout the 600-school Chicago district. Part of the retooling, as it's called, is the closure of existing programs in general high schools, meaning many schools throughout Chicagoland area will have no CTE classes whatsoever to offer students. In many cases students will only have a single choice or exposure to CTE instruction in a school. The idea of the past practice to expose teenage youth to a variety of career opportunities within one school setting will not exist anymore. Part of the retooling is that themed or focused CTE learning centers (i.e.: Construction Trades, Heath Professions, Technology, Travel/Service Industry) will be established that students will have to apply for admission and these will be scattered throughout the city.

What this means is that students will have to make decisions before they get to the high schools as to which trade or career study they want to pursue, then apply to get into school, get accepted into the school, and then hope that their vocational choice was correct because they will spend the next four years going to that school, rather than explore a career first, in a general setting and then choose a specific vocational track for training and certification. The second issue hitting Chicago hard is the establishment of a non‐experienced managerial/administrative apparatus to oversee the traditional Industrial Arts and CTE programs throughout Chicago schools. For example the new program director over the entire CTE program in Chicago public schools has no industry experience in a CTE field but has an MBA from Harvard.

For an old shop guy like me, I see no relation between an MBA and a student that wants to be a carpenter or chef but I guess that's just my subjective observation after working 20 years in the construction trades and heavy industry in the Chicagoland area. 


May 8, 2010 at 10:54 PM

By: Garth Liebhaber

Biting The Hands That Feed It.

John brings up a subject that gets little light shed upon it in the world of edumukashun. When I was in high school, I took shop class. One day our superitintendent/principal walked in while I was ripping a large sheet of plywood on the table saw. For this type of cut, the safety shield needed to be pulled out of the way. While I was in the middle of my cut, he attempted to put the shield up. Luckily I had grown up around tools and had the confidence to assertively tell him to stop. This is while the tool was running very loudly, and a very sharp blade rotating at very high speed- a potentially very dangerous situation created because of his ignorance.

This exemplifies much of the arrogant and ignorant attitude by many administrators towards the skilled trades. They also viewed it as a dumping grounds for behavior problems. While it could be viewed as an area for students to excel, who otherwise fail in the regular classroom because they are not good memorizers, this attitude usually sabotages the program and doesn't always help students with behavioral problems.

Another trap that Technology classes lay for its students is the No Money= No Materials trap. It goes like this; Give the shop class no materials budget, blame the students who have no money for not buying materials, just let them sit around and talk, then give the students "C"s so that they don't complain the instructor taught them nothing.

But hopefully students end up with instructors that care, because that can make the critical difference. When my father worked as a part time welding instructor at a community college, he was always bucking heads with the administration to get materials and tools. And most of his students passed, going on to pass other tests, such as working on pipelines and nuclear power plants.

I think the current negative attitudes towards skilled trades education results in one of the biggest wastes of human potential and contributes toward a crappier society as a whole. Ie., houses that aren't straight, improperly serviced cars, etc. For a technological society it speaks of foolish arrogance, biting the hands that feed it.

I think that these days if a young person really wants to learn a skilled trade their best bet is to find a job with someone knowledgeable and reputable. Or start making stuff on your own, figure it out, and then show others what you're doing. Employers like initiative, and those with experience are willing to share their knowledge with those they see as serious enough to listen.

May 9, 2010 at 3:20 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Remebering Dunbar (Prosser, Lane, Lindblom, Simeon, etc., etc., etc)

Thanks for John and Garth for bringing this subject up, in detail. One of the most shocking things in my career was returning to Dunbar in the late 1990s and noting that eerie smell (none) and that strange sound (quiet) as I walked towards the "shop wing." Thanks to the Clinton administration and the Daley administration, Chicago was moving towards "ETC" (Education to Careers), and away from mere vocational education. The same experience was possible even at Lane, where more than half the shops were dropped by the end of the Clinton Years. And don't even get anyone with a memory and common sense started about Lindblom...

The result of all this racist New Age approach to reality was that the shops of Dunbar, once a pride of the South Side (and Black America, thanks to articles in Ebony and elsewhere) were both silent and well-scented. No longer the smell of cutting oil or sawdust, or the screech of lathes and saws. No longer students building, tearing down, and rebuilding that Chicago-style bungalow that was used for so much real learning.

Silent Spring.

Who needs to be able to lay a line of brick straight (and strong) for 20 feet or more when you can be prepared for Hedge Fund management or Private Equity. After all, it worked for Rahm Emmanuel and Barack Obama.

The people who did this to Chicago's kids never proved that learning "computers" (whether it was Pascal programming; or Turbo Pascal programming; of C; or whatever...) was really what we were going to need for those "Global Economy" jobs of the "21st Century". They just asserted it, like Mayor Daley rattles off those dumb (and completely inaccurate) one-liners he's been fed about how kids in China and India go to school "240 days a year" (while leaving out that only half of them are in school after age 10 or 12) or that Bill Gates doozey (that India has four times as many "engineers" as we do in the USA, leaving out the different definitions).

Every "Voc Ed" chief in Chicago since the days of Phil Viso has been a step down from reality. Although my favorite was that former Watergate lawyer (Jill Wine-Banks) with the 1970s outfits who headed "ETC" under Vallas (and early Duncan) it's actually gotten worse since her. CPS wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on fads and fancies. Happily, the space for the shops is still there (unless the buildings have been given away to charter schools). It will take a few years to rebuild a competent teaching force (many of those who promoted "ETC" and its successors don't know the business side of a wrench from a used Trojan). Maybe we can't get to the day when Tuskeegee airmen just back from Italy or Seabees just back from Iwo Jima are ready to train kids both in how to repair and how to fly small aircraft and lots of other stuff, but we could be starting somewhere tomorrow.

I miss Jerry Bracey when I hear that nonsense about the "jobs" we need to compete in the "global economy". Roofs are collapsing all over Chicago, while we insist the only way to a better society is learning lots of math and then going into a career in "financial engineering" (which should become today's equivalent of the old "military music" joke).

What has been worse is that we have now had more than a decade of drivel instead of Vocational Education, and the kids have paid for it. Every time some Lakeview or Lincoln Park "investor" or "marketing associate" needs someone to pull a toilet or take down a dying tree, we're reminded of why education should be vocational education as well as all this other stuff. The best educated graduates from CPS back in the day came out of Lane Tech, where they learned both the "college ready" skills — and enough of the trades so that they weren't helpless when their stairs collapsed, their living rooms needed a fresh coat of paint, their cars stopped, or their plumbing finally lapsed with age. They also learned to respect men and women who could work with their minds and their hands — and how to tell the hustlers and hucksters who sold you services they could never hope to deliver.

May 9, 2010 at 10:03 AM

By: Jim Vail

Vocational Education

Excellent and informative comments. My short take is why develop the trade profession here when cheap immigrant talent can do the job. They don't want unions, they want low wage. Thus selling drugs is the trade of the streets, while building roofs and fixing pipes are those those immigrants we like to blame all our problems on.

May 9, 2010 at 11:51 AM

By: kugler

Destuction rather than Construction

this is a pattern of disenfranchisement and modern slavery of the working and lower socio-economic classes.

when you read who is making money today it is banks and corporations that are "rebuilding" voc ed today.

I remember a few years back on CPS spent thousands of dollars on DVD's for a charter school to teach plumbing and electricity with a non-certified non-trades instructor. when i asked the salesman and the cte manger if it was safe to have thirty kids doing their own projects unsupervised only watching dvd's they responded "sure" nothing could go wrong both had no trades experience whatsoever.

here is a link of the destruction of one of the largest trade schools in the world. we can thank vallas for ending the opportunity for minority children to having a good job to pay bills and raise a family. This is what destroys an economy, when people can not have skills to have a good paying job.

Another era in Chicago's alternative vocational trade school programs and facilities is meeting the wrecking ball. Seen here on the southwest corner of South Kedzie Avenue and West 31st Street, is the former Washburne Trade School wich was owned and operated by the Chicago Public Schools.

May 9, 2010 at 12:20 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

When I taught machine shop...

When I taught machine shop and sheet metal shop as a substitute at Prosser in the mid-1970s, everyone was obsessed with safety, and all of the regular teachers (who mentored me, insofar as it was possible; I was, after all, the "heart attack sub") had no hesitation about shutting down a job if some students were goofing off. Everyone knew the consequences, and many had stubs where fingers had been to show for the harsh lessons of reality.

We forced every kid to wear long hair tightly wrapped when working at the machines. Some would get high during lunch (the could leave the building for "lunch") and have to be grounded. I learned to shoot a beam of sound across the room at any kid who leaned into a lathe with hair dangling, and no none was hurt in my shop.

And every kid learned a lot, even with an amateur like me running the show because the main teacher was out on sick leave.

During those years, some of the shops still used Letterpress machines for some printing. One of the top print shop kids lost a finger one day when he revved up the speed and the machine missed and double-stroked too quickly. We learned later that that brand of letter presses had a problem. Safety and all that.

The era of deregulation that began in the 1970s and gained speed beginning in the 1980s will be exacting a price from all of us — from the Gulf of Mexico to the meat counter — for a decade or more...

IF we begin changing the culture of stupidity that became policy now. But given the current situation, both in Chicago and nationally, that's unlikely. The U.S. Department of Education is digging further into the same toxic pit that BP sent its drilling pipes, and those of us who are trying to warn what's happening are still having these conversations in small groups, while the cheerleaders of stupidity reign.

May 9, 2010 at 1:35 PM

By: Danny

Blame enough to go around

Hired to teach vocational business and distributive education courses (and their related cooperative education components) 17 years ago, I, too, have seen entire programs eliminated at my school.

Industrial arts (drafting, metal, wood, and electronics shops) cut. Home, Family and Consumer Sciences cut--even though we had two excellent teachers who provided much-needed instruction in parenting classes. And finally, all the business offerings except for computers. Our last coop program ("work program") was cut about 5 years ago.

I think it's unfair to lay all the blame on Central Office, however, even though it was during the Vallas administration that most of these cuts were made.

The word "vocational" became a dirty word in our society. I dropped my membership when the American Vocational Association changed its name to ACTE, in an attempt to get rid of the V-word.

After years of studies showing college-educated persons earn more money over a lifetime, parents increasingly wanted their kids enrolled in college-prep, not vocational, courses.

The kids themselves, probably from the influence of media, also bought into the "working-with-your-hands-is-so-uncool" thinking. I've had entire classes where I doubted anyone had higher than a 2.0 gpa, but still told me they were going to be doctors, lawyers, and business executives.

The last time I taught a careers class, a guest speaker who did HVAC on a cruise ship had almost convinced ME to switch careers, but not a single kid was interested. He later told me he got the same response at most of the schools he visited. Everybody wants to go to college.

May 9, 2010 at 2:48 PM

By: kugler

Policy of Servitude

danny on this one your are wrong. i have plenty of documentary evidence both as directives from CO and law that specifically say the voc ed cuts are from downtown not local. it is CO that play the blame game, blaming the principal and the principal blaming CO. CO is an apparatus for big business that follows what it is told to do. I also have policy documents outlining the diversion of federal funds from voc ed to college prep which is possibly a violation of the Perkins Act the funds voc ed.

vallas started the work and duncan finished it off. now under huberman he is putting in his mba's to pilfer anything that is left.

as far as the everyone goes to college scam a good program to watch is College, Inc. it(college prep) is and was a mass marketing ploy to get guaranteed federal money into private hands.

"The plough dishonored, fields left lying waste now that men are drafted; curving scythes are pounded into shape for ruthless swords."

May 9, 2010 at 3:14 PM

By: Sarah

Argie Johnson

In July of 1993 Cps hired Argie Johnson as Superintendent of schools. In Sept. shortly after school began she declared tha vocational ed was 'racist' because the majority of students taking shop classes were minorities. She ordered that most shops be closed and dismantled imediately. (This was after the school year had begun!) Worked with sledge hammers came into the school and destroyed our shops. At Kelvyn Park high School, a neighborhood school, we had a state-of-the-art foods program with equipment provided by Marriott, and newly modernized electric shop, wood shop, print shop, etc. Within three days, these shops were gone! Students had to have their programs changed into already overcrowded classes .

At least six teachers lost their jobs.

Classes like Business English, Shop Math, Family Living,and Consumer Math were next to go.

By the time Vallas came in 1995 the stage had been set for every school to student to be 'college bound' and every student going to a chicago Public High School would be accepted into any college.

How did that work out?

May 9, 2010 at 6:34 PM

By: Jim Vail

Why College?

Someone said it in Substance, there will be more jobs for people with no college degrees in the future, which may already be the case today.

May 9, 2010 at 8:44 PM

By: Sharon Schmidt

And let's not forget Jones Commercial

My introduction to teaching in Chicago as a college student in the early '90s then in my first CPS job in '97 was at Jones Commercial.

What a place! Every kid got a paying job their senior year in a bank, medical office, law firm, real estate, insurance office, or retails store. We had a 60+ year history of business education and job placement. Our teachers had contacts with hundreds of businesses in the Loop.

Daley wiped us out and the Pacific Garden Mission in one swoop for the college prep Jones. Needless to say that 600 S. State St. block sure looks a lot brighter to the upper class residents of the South Loop.

No one will ever be able to convince me that CPS is there for the least of our children. The teens willing to commute long distances, wear heals and nylons/ jackets and ties, give up sports, sit through a longer day because THEY NEED JOBS. Now every year hundreds of kids from the south side and west side of Chicago don't have that in for a decent entry level administrative position that Jones provided.

Daley wiped out a huge chunk of Chicago public school history that was meaningless to him and his kind. BUt Jones gave so many thousands a chance to earn a decent living, a proud career. Gone now.

Oh yeah,same year (1998) he did the same to Near North (a voc ed high school) too.

May 10, 2010 at 12:08 AM

By: Garth Liebhaber

We Need to Support Fair Trade

My father attended some classes at Washburne Trade School.

Danny's comment about having students with less than a 2.0 gpa rings true in my experiences with too many of my students also. Some days I think it's all too ludicrous that we are teaching our students to be "college bound" and everything is falling down around us. Too many kids are starving, but we're going to send them all to college? There aren't even enough jobs for the kids, and we're using that like carrots on a stick. Teachers are a part of the Big Hoax every time they tell them that good grades will get them a job.

Having been involved in the Global Justice movement before we were all fooled into protesting the war, as though it were completely different than the same corporate colonialism, I was always struck by one of Gandhi's philosophy. He'd said that, "Our poverty shall be our strength." And with that, they began weaving their own cloth again. The philosophy of Kwanzaa is similar: localized economies, on a more equalized scale.

Too often, the role of education is to make people helpless, dependent upon a technologicalized system. But it's not working for most people. Let's look to how Cuba dealt with the loss of USSR subsidies. They developed their urban agriculture to the point that Havana produces half of it's vegetables.

This is one reason I started a garden club at my school. The kids are amazed that we are composting cafeteria waste to produce dirt. Something so elemental, and taken for granted to the point it was never thought about? It's the essence of "dust to dust".

We need to take back practical, meaningful work. I received a catalog for the upcoming Green Expo at Navy Pier. There is a group called Fair Trade Chicago. Their goal is to develop a fair trade model for the working poor of Chicago. It's not charity. It's a chance to circumvent global capital and to use our own money to build a sustainable economy by making sure people are paid fair living wages.

May 10, 2010 at 3:07 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Debt and Daley: Hundred million $$$ new building -- while Near North crumbles...

The Daley administration's crusade against reason is exemplified by two buildings, both of which are still owned by Chicago Public Schools (and which are within three miles of one another): the Near North building (at 1450 N. Larrabee) and the new Westinghouse (at 3223 W. Franklin). Daley has kept the Near North building closed for a decade; Westinghouse, Chicago's first hundred million high school, opened this school year.

The "Why" is one of those magnificent questions that is never asked in Chicago, except by Substance, thanks to the blackout on real public policy discussion under the current dictatorship.

But this problem will continue:

Last Board of Education meeting (April 28), the Board voted to take on another debt of approximately $450,000,000. No discussion. No debate. Unanimous vote, on orders from Mayor Daley.

Part of the argument is that CPS needs new schools (so they can give away the buildings to private operators?).

Or maybe the argument is that CPS schools need repairs (like Calumet, so the buildings can be turned over to charter school companies like Perspectives?).

We'll have to itemize the latest costs of these borrowings, but based on last summer's bond issues, the interest we'll be paying on these debts will exceed the actual debt by at least 50 percent!

Last summer, at the August Board meeting, the Board agreed on $300 million in new bonds, at a total cost to repayment (principal and interest) of $760 million! That's $460 million in interest on the "Series 2009 E Build America Chicago Board of Education" bonds and $300 million in principal. Has anyone heard any discussion of that anywhere in the other Chicago media? Of of why CPS is keeping Near North vacant while building new schools?

There is an entire industry that is hidden from the public — public debt at a form of financial and legal patronage to LaSalle St., Wall Street, and the lawyers who do their bonding biddings. The overhead on those things is tens of millions of dollars, but since it's hidden in the overall costs, it never even appears in Board Reports.

While every family with any sense has been paring down debt, in Chicago, as Bloomberg recently reported, the Daley administration is increasing debt. Does anyone reading this know any person who is not paying down credit card debt and avoiding new debt? Then why do we allow the seven members of our Board of Education to saddle us (and our children) with enormous new debts, while hiding every detail of those from the public?

The only questions are how much all this nonsense is costing us and why they are doing it.

May 10, 2010 at 5:09 PM

By: bob

Wood Shop

Mr. Mack’s Planer

The adult lunchroom at the old Simeon was directly below the carpentry shop.

Every year we would watch the new teachers react the first time his kids used the

wood planer up in the shop.

It began like the low roar of a jet engine starting up, then the sound reached

A combination roar and whine which hit you just before the vibrations of that

Seven and a half horsepower motor whirling those lethal four knives at thirty-five

hundred rpm rattled the very floor we sat on. All the NFG’s looked up and some even

dropped their forks with surprise and shock, then the real fun started.

When the kids loaded a plank of wood a new sound unlike anything most teachers ever

Heard began. When a storm knocks down a tree the men grind up the branches in a

Pull behind contraption called a chipper. Imagine one of those chipping about fifteen feet

above your head. People actually jumped out of their seats .Early on the shop had no

dust control system and the combination of paint chips, concrete powder and wood dust

settled upon us like a winter snow fall. The taste of pine flavored mashed potatoes soothed

the pallet and was a uniquely Simeon experience.

May 10, 2010 at 8:12 PM

By: Garth Liebhaber

Thanks for the Story, Bob.

I love your story, Bob. The kids in the garden club today had an interesting time using the pick-axe. Definitely not a worksheet activity! They thought it was the coolest thing, that such a tool could be used to bite into the rock-strewn dirt of our empty lot. And they love brushing the linseed-oil onto our wooden boxes before we fill them up with dirt via our wheelbarrow. And the interesting pieces of junk we find! Today it was a bullet, all old and tarnished, with a good primer! Did I tell you about the worms? Not to mention the wheel barrel rides?

One thing for sure- there is no substitute for working together as a group doing meaningful work to accomplish a tangible goal you can touch! Not to mention with the right amount of 'play' mixed in. Just wait 'til the sunflowers come up! : )

May 13, 2010 at 12:13 AM

By: Marybeth Foley

What we did in the elementary schools

I have enjoyed reading these comments so much. There's such a great need for vocational ed again.

Back in the day, when I began teaching at Ryerson Elementary years ago, eighth graders took Woodshop and Home Ec. Both genders took both subjects, but in all-boy or all-girl classes, as I recall. Even that toe-in-the-water of vocational education in the elementary schools has long been gone.

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