MEDIA WATCH: Is The New York Times beginning to notice that the quarter century of the corporate 'school reform' it's been championing is as bankrupt as many of the corporate economic policies now being challenged?...

The destruction of vocational education in Chicago and elsewhere was not a natural disaster, but a man-made one. The ideology of corporate "school reform" outsourced many of the courses that were once taught at Chicago's vocational and technical high schools (while shops were available in almost all of the city's general high schools). Shops were closed at Lane Technical High School (above) over a period of more than 20 years, and students who wanted vocational courses were sent to nearby DeVry Institute, a private tuition-based school. Above, the famous clock tower at Lane Tech in Chicago. It may be too soon to claim, in April 2016, that the major shifts in the nation's political winds are also going to have an impact on the official policies of test-based corporate "school reform" in public education, but an April 15, 2016 editorial in The New York Times indicates the change might be beginning. Instead of continuing to repeat the bankrupt mantra about "college ready" curriculums for all American high schools, the Times, in an Op Ed, noticed that vocational education (as it used to be called) still has a place.

The destruction of vocational education in Chicago and elsewhere was not a natural occurrence, but a man-made one. Following the ideology of corporate "school reform," mayoral control over Chicago's public schools outsourced many of the courses that were once taught at Chicago's vocational and technical high schools. Thirty years ago, shops were also available in almost all of the city's general high schools. Dozens of shops were closed at Lane Technical High School, one of the largest public schools in the USA, over a period of more than 20 years. Students who wanted vocational courses were forced to go to nearby "DeVry Institute," a private tuition-based school. Above, the famous clock tower at Lane Tech in Chicago. Because of the silly philosophies of corporate "reform", Lane Tech's history was nearly obliterated as well, with the school renamed "Lane Tech College Prep High School."

An even greater destruction took place on Chicago's South Side, where Lindblom Technical High School was destroyed as a technical and vocational high school -- with a strong academic side -- and re-named "Lindblom College Prep High School." More than 50 years of the leaders on Chicago's South Side had been trained and educated at Lindblom, but by the 21st Century the shops had been wiped out and students who wanted vocational training as well as academics were forced, as at Lane Tech on the North Side, to spend their money and time at privatized schools.


Straight From High School to a Career, By KATHERINE S. NEWMAN and HELLA WINSTON, APRIL 15, 2016

CANDIDATES from both parties have been talking a lot about the loss of American jobs, declining wages and the skyrocketing cost of college.

But missing from the debate is the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of “middle skill” jobs in the United States that are — or soon will be — going unfilled because of a dearth of qualified workers. Employers complain that electricians, pipe fitters, advanced manufacturing machinists, brick masons and radiology technicians are scarce. More than 600,000 jobs remain open in the manufacturing sector alone. These are jobs that provide a middle-class wage without a traditional four-year college degree.

American high schools once offered top-notch vocational and apprenticeship training, preparing young people for jobs like these. But over the last 70 years, our commitment to such education has waxed and waned, reflecting the country’s ambivalence about the role of school in preparing young people for employment and the value of blue-collar work itself. Progressives have argued that technical education tracks low-income and minority youths toward second-class citizenship; hence they often advocate “college for all.”

Over the past decade or so, however, there has been a move among educators and policy makers to reinvigorate vocational education, now rebranded as career and technical education. Some schools have been extraordinarily effective; others are struggling. If we are to offer young Americans options that are readily available to their counterparts in countries like Germany, we need to figure out what makes for success.

Pickens County Career and Technology Center in Liberty, S.C., is an example of a school that works. In the machine technology shop, students program computers to make plastic molds. In a commercial kitchen, aspiring chefs prepare multicourse meals. The school also offers training in health sciences, mechatronics, masonry, electrical work, carpentry, mechanical design and more. Many students spend half their day at their regular high school and half at the career center. According to the director, Ken Hitchcock, many come from low-income families in which neither parent has a college degree.

The center has an informal partnership with a group of local industry leaders, known as Manufacturers Caring for Pickens County. They help the guidance counselors understand exactly what each business needs, in order to better advise their students. Local companies like Cornell Dubilier and BMW have also helped the school by donating scrap steel, or old robots that they have phased out.

Mr. Hitchcock says that about 60 percent of graduates go on to local technical colleges, while 15 percent head off to four-year colleges, mostly in the health sciences. The rest get jobs, aided by the industry certificates they have earned.

The situation for students attending Automotive High School in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is less encouraging. Until the 1980s, Automotive, a child of the New Deal, shone as a training ground for thousands of young people who would go on to become technicians in the auto industry.

But funding was cut in the 1990s, and the school was forced to jettison some of its shop classes and focus instead on preparation for Regents exams. It also did away with its entrance examination. With these changes came increasing numbers of students who had little interest in cars.

These troubles have led to a precipitous decline in enrollment, particularly among stronger students. Several industry supporters — some of which had donated funds and even vehicles in the past — walked away as well.

And yet dedicated teachers at Automotive are still keen on helping the students they have acquire the skills and industry certifications they need to get jobs. Teachers told us that graduates consistently find employment as mechanics for city fleets or in private auto repair shops.

Vocational programs face structural obstacles when the industries they train for hit a downturn, as automobile manufacturing did. But even those that are training for profitable industries have to contend with inadequate budgets that translate into obsolete equipment, insufficient support for teacher training in new technologies and inconsistent connections to industry, which render them less able to stay current with the skills in demand.

They also struggle against stigma, as the “college for all” campaign gets louder, prompting an increased emphasis on standardized testing that takes time away from relevant learning and serves as an inadequate measure of what students know and, by extension, how effective schools are.

We can do better, and we need to if we are going to compete against countries that are pouring funding into first-rate training. We should pay vocational teachers to spend their summers updating their experience in their industry of expertise, and make it easier for people who have worked in industry to become teachers themselves. We should also define high standards for vocational education and attach real apprenticeship opportunities to it.

Finally, we should push our political leaders to make a long-term commitment to technical training for high school and community college students. Of the presidential candidates, John Kasich has been particularly vocal on this issue; some 120,000 high school students are enrolled in some type of vocational program in Ohio.

We can no longer afford to recycle a lukewarm commitment to this kind of training only when economic crises befall us.

[Katherine S. Newman, the provost of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Hella Winston, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, are the authors of “Reskilling America: Learning to Labor in the 21st Century."]


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