Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Shop class redux

Response to Righwingprof comment in my last post:

rightwingprof said...
Except that testing had nothing to do with shop classes disappearing; the ever increasing pressure for everybody to go to college did, long before testing.

Completely agree.

First of all, standardized testing doesn’t and shouldn’t measure ever single subject taken in High School. It should evaluate students on basic core skills such as reading, writing, some civics/history, science and math.

Most HS students take 6 classes a semester, 2 of which are usually filler elective classes which are not usually covered under standardized testing. It use to be that once upon the time, you could choose between woodshop and biology, but not anymore. Somewhere, some idiots got in their heads that the sole purpose of High Schools should be to prepare kids for college, and despite the obvious fact that there aren’t even enough universities and colleges with places to accept everyone. There has been a tendency to require a more and more rigorous college prep curriculum simply to graduate HS.

Unfortunately this thinking is almost guaranteed to set up a large percentage of students to fail. Student’s who aren’t cut out for or don't desire to attend college; find they struggle in a system that is only designed to prepare them for a college education. Their only option is to stick it out in classes that they don’t need or aren’t interested in so that they can perhaps find a technical college or trade school after they graduate. Of course, many student’s find simply find this too challenging and just drop out of school. Even if they do graduate, they find that they are too burnt out on education to continue on with any decent job training.

What I would like to see, is our one size fits all system replaced with a system that provides an excellent college preparatory foundation for those who would benefit, but also an option that provides a more practical route that works hand in hand with local business’s and technical/community colleges to provide high quality training in the skilled trades. There are many occupations that are high paying, do not require a college degree, but do require a technical background and skills training.

Perhaps what we need is a system that provides different categories or levels of the traditional High School diploma. This system would allow students who are on a college prep track to have their class standing and GPA compared fairly by universities. It would also give student’s that might be at risk of dropping out another avenue to pursue. If a student who for what ever reason was struggling with the normal college prep curriculum had an option to become certified as a mechanic, plumber, electrician, or some other highly skilled trade, they might be more willing to stick it out til 12th grade.

Now I know that I will get many people who say this is nothing but “tracking” which has become a dirty word in our current system. Of course this is a form of tracking, but it’s tracking with an end result that all students will graduate with knowledge and skills that benefit them and the nation economically. Yes there should be provisions put into place that allows students to change course mid-stream, providing they demonstrate the ability to successfully complete the required “requirements” for the new track, just like a student in college is able to switch majors.

Many European countries have systems that work along these lines and as a whole, provide a much better trained workforce. I lived in several different European countries for over 12 years and witnessed first hand what a decent education system can do. In Germany I had a friend who self-admittedly would have never made it through college, but he attended a trade oriented school that allowed him to eventually secure training as an aircraft mechanic. He currently makes quite a good living, but I can't help but wonder what would of happened to him in the United States.

Our economy requires more than lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, and accountants to function. It requires high skilled mechanics, air traffic controllers, plumbers, electricians, nondestructive inspection technicians (what I do), and a variety of other jobs that do not require a traditional high school education. Today many of these jobs are learned through on the job training or technical colleges, though there is no reason why they couldn’t be taught at the HS level.

There are avenues for people to get this skilled training, but they often require expensive training that ensures only the priviledge have access to it. If you don't believe this, go look out how much it costs to attend ITT. I don't want to know schools like ITT since they provide some much needed skills, but I wonder if the instructors at ITT don't get frustrated that their students never learned how to use simple hand tools or don't know how to an internal combustion engine works. Maybe they would be happier if their students showed up already certified to weld or able to use a computer aided drawing program.

Note: My girlfriend who is a nursing student, reminds me that there are many healthcare related occupations that do not require a college degree.