Vo-tech makes a comeback, but is it proving effective?

In touring a rural high school once, a superintendent gestured to the vo-tech wing and explained, “This is the dummy track.”

Today, superintendents are more apt to point to vo-tech — rechristened career and technology education — as bright spots in their districts. In Georgia, career academies have become a strategy to prevent dropouts by connecting the classroom to the workplace.

A Georgia State University conference on career and technical education today provided a more nuanced view of an education trend that has won favor with state legislatures.

The outdated perception is fading of vo-tech as the wing in the school building where kids had packs of cigarettes rolled up in their T-shirt sleeves, said conference keynote speaker James Stone, director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. But Stone said legacy CTE programs hang on, citing programs that still offer agricultural production in urban settings.

States are renewing their interest in vo-tech, no called career and technical education. (AJC File)

States are renewing their interest in vo-tech, now called career and technical education or CTE. (AJC File)

Researchers at the GSU conference agreed CTE now provides students with a richer and more comprehensive education than a generation ago. However, because students are not randomly assigned to CTE and programs vary school to school and state to state, it’s been near impossible to evaluate the effectiveness of approaches, said Georgia State University economist Daniel Kreisman.

(Also, we can’t agree on the acronym. In Georgia, we call it CTAE because we include agriculture. It is also true in STEM, which is STEAM in some places to include art, except in Alabama where the “A”stands for agriculture. In some states, STEM is STEMM with the second “M” representing medical.)

Unlike most countries, the United States lacks a national yardstick to assess effectiveness of career education or apprenticeship programs. In other countries, “there is actually coherence. We have chaos,” said Stone. “We have 14,000-plus school districts, all of which have some level of autonomy.”

Without universal measures by which to assess how much CTE students learned, students obtain industry and employer-recognized CTE credentials; there are more than 10,000 such credentialing exams. However, test results are often proprietary, so high schools only know whether their CTE students passed or failed, said GSU researcher Tim Sass, a leading researcher on teacher quality.

“It’s not clear to me what you would have on your list of things to observe about CTE teachers to put in your rubric,” he said. “What do we know about the quality of CTE teachers? Essentially zero.”

Teacher quality is critical because CTE in America remains classroom-based; that’s not the case in other countries where CTE students spend most of their time in the workplace as apprentices.

“We don’t have to worry as much about teacher quality when you spend only one out of five days in the schools,” said Ursula Renold of the Swiss Economic Institute.

The Swiss CTE model builds around highly structured apprenticeships in which students are paid for their labor and learn most of their skills on the job rather than in classrooms. So the skills align with the job.

That alignment isn’t always the case here. Stone recounted a CEO who had one job and 200 applicants, all of whom took a qualifying math test. Only 16 passed the test, which reflected fourth grade math skills. Many workers need basic numeracy, but U.S. schools teach an increasingly abstract math curriculum.

Mandating students conquer higher level math sets back kids, especially boys, according to Stone. “Young men are not doing well; 75 percent of the Ds and Fs we hand out in schools go to boys.”

Stone cited research showing CTE keeps boys engaged in high school. Taking three CTE courses in sequence – such as shop 1, 2 and 3 — increases the odds a boy will finish high school, said Stone.

So, why aren’t more boys in CTE classes?

Stone says they’re in math classes.

“Since the mid-1980s, we have added the equivalent of a full year of academics to high school,” said Stone. “Rigor equals more and more of the same stuff with no effect.”

Reader Comments 0

42 comments
anothercomment
anothercomment

Or is it then like speaking of Home Depot of how the guy cutting wood at the Vinings store next to HQ could not add and subtract the sting of fractions I gave him to cut my wood. Then when I offered to mark it out for him with a tape measure, No, then next I offered to take less then five minutes and teach him a couple of short cuts to learn it.

This followed me going up to the HD front desk and asking the simple question do you give your employees in the wood department a math test. The answer was yes but it is now on line with the application and they can do it from home. I said that explains it all they have someone else do it for them. I replied that when I worked for General Contractors out in the job trailer we made them fill applications sitting in front of us just to make sure they were literate.

F

Basic literacy in Georgia along with simple math is a big problem. Not being able to read blue prints ( they aren't blue any more aka they are really technically called contact documents, plans and specifications). This is a major problem hiring the illegal workforce that first of all folks is illiterate in Spanish. I tried leaving notes in a condo I owned at the beach written in Spanish by my Columbian friend that said " we have arrived early, this is owners food do not throw it out. We are at the beach" . This was not google translate but good Columbian Spanish. We came back the food was gone. I called the maid service, a legal American owner. She contacted "Maria" who contacted the other girls, they had some of the food to take home what they didn't want they tossed out. We just bought it. They could not read even in Spanish! Big lesson learned.

Now wonder why you can't find the studs when you measure 16" O?C. In any house built in Georgia in the last 20 years. The south of the border crews are completely illiterate! Amazing how fast you can be when you don't measure!

Ifollowtherulessoshldyou
Ifollowtherulessoshldyou

Vocational education is a valuable and needed asset in our society. As an educator, it saddens me to think that all we do is teach to the test, take the test, and then move on to another test. Long gone are the days of enriched content learning. Vocational education answers a need for our students - hands on, real life learning. Hate to tell you, but not everyone is going to college! Vocational education is what our country was built on - the ingenuity and rigor of these programs gives the students real life skills and application, self-worth, and purpose/meaning. Relentless test taking does not do that.  Our country needs to recognize this type of program and truly invest in its future by advocating and making vocational education a viable, sustainable thing.

Cere
Cere

As I've said a hundred million times at least, these vo-tech schools are EXCELLENT in the midwest and New England. In my hometown, there is one shared by 5 small school districts that has a waiting list, because students graduate fully employable or ready to move on to college (as my sister did when she went on to Ohio State). So yes, obviously, they do learn math here.  These schools are fantastic for students who want to move into the work world or who just want some hands-on marketable skills. 

I've advocated to replicate at least one school like this in DeKalb for almost 15 years, only to have it fall on deaf ears or to be told that it's too expensive, or 'racist' (Johnny Brown told me that). Well, tell that to the literally hundreds - no thousands - of happily employed, successful citizens who graduated from Penta County Career Center in Ohio.  In fact, adults learn here too!

Truly, I this is why I long ago gave up spending much time discussing improving education for every student in Georgia. It's like I'm talking to the leaves on the trees in spring that burst green with energy, then golden and orange with sleepy inattention and finally wither and fall and only to start all over with a new crop budding in spring.  It's always Groundhog Day in Georgia Education. Who will be next to use their 'concern' for the need to improve our schools as a means to get votes and power? 


This vo-tech school anyway, really works. As I said, there is a waiting list to get in. Check it out:

http://www.pentacareercenter.org/

anothercomment
anothercomment

I grew up in upstate NY with the same thing. Two small towns share one B.O.E.C.E.S school. My sister and brother went there. My sister then went and got an AA in hotel and restaurant Management, followed by another Associates at the Culinary Institute of America ( where she met her Husband, he is a an executive Chief in the Resturant industry) my sister has worked alongside her husband as Sous chef, they have 4 kids. She prefers to bake wedding cakes and desert. She is the wedding cake lady for all the Professional atheletes in the area they live.

My brother has worked for over 32 years as a Union Printer running high tech printing equipment for a company that makes the packaging for ever ready batteries and they print US postage stamps. At one point they opened a plant for both lines in SC in the Greenville - Spartenburg area about 18 years ago. My brother came with to help set up the plants. They could not find enough qualified and educated candidates to run their high tech equipment. My brother and his family went back up to NY state after a year. Within a coupes of more years the company gave up on their non Union southern state experiment due to the uneducated work force. They have decided to stick with their union workforce in California and NY. They both have better schools.

straker
straker

"more and more of the same stuff with the same effect"


It seems that educators refuse to realize that all the effort and hard work in the world means little or nothing if you don't have the aptitude, especially in math.


Unfortunately, more and more jobs require good math skills.


Nothing good will come of this.

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

It is a conceit to think that every person needs or wants a liberal education. Vo Tech is an opportunity for young people who do not want a college education and these young people deserve this opportunity.

Starik
Starik

A high school in N. Fulton, the new Cambridge HS is building a Veterinary Science building.  Depending on haw the program develops it might interest kids interested in related fields as well - like medicine, where the patients talk back.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Starik 

I wouldn't consider Veterinary Medicine as a Vo-tech field!  It's a demanding professional field that requires students to have a good scientific background in courses such as Anatomy and Organic Chemistry.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Whose to say you can't do both?  I've often said I have used the Three W's (welding, wiring, and woodshop) a heck of a lot more than any trigonometry or calculus classes I took.  Of course, back then it was called Industrial Arts.


I developed my love for woodworking during high school shop class.  Today, I have a fully equipped shop and have built furniture, cabinets, restored antiques, completely remodeled a couple of houses and am in the process of remodeling a third investment property.


The old adage "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" holds true in academia.  The people who are making education policy are mostly academics.   As a result, we have this "everybody must go to college" mindset.  

BearCasey
BearCasey

@Lee_CPA2  Except that in North Fulton, it's the parents who are holding the hammer.  Try telling the average NF parent that their little darling isn't 4-year college material.

bu2
bu2

@Lee_CPA2

Yes, I use HS woodshop skills a lot more than college calculus.  And the bookcase and spice racks I made are still in use.  I was never in love with it, but it was useful.

BCW1
BCW1

It will be for those students that are not college material and want to learn a skill. The comprehensive HS's need to return as well. There are some students who could care less about algebra and Shakespeare. But can put a transmission in a car blindfolded.

redweather
redweather

@BCW1 And Steve Jobs didn't attend college.  So do we build a public education system based on a few exceptions?  

Falcaints
Falcaints

I really feel the European model is better.  Give the students an exam and those who don't test high enough for university go into an apprenticeship.  This would require cooperation from the business community though and I don't think they are willing to help foot the bill.

bu2
bu2

Schools will continue to fail students until they realize:

1)  They should focus on what the student needs to learn, not what they want to teach.

2)  One size doesn't fit all.  Not everyone has the ability or desire to go to college.  Forcing everyone on a college prep track just means those people don't even get a HS diploma.

3)  Everyone is unique.  Not everyone learns in the same way or at the same speed.

4)  Communication skills are critical.  It doesn't matter how much you know if you can't communicate it in an interview or on the job.

5)  Much maligned soft skills like people skills are important.  Donald Trump is proof you don't need people skills to succeed, but it really does help.

6)  Students need to be given an opportunity to individually excel AND to fail.  And you learn a lot more from failure than you ever do from excelling.  If you always have it easy, you will likely never achieve your potential.

ParentTeacher
ParentTeacher

@bu2


These are all true but remember, "Schools" don't set education policy, Politicians do.  Teachers have been saying the same things for years but the Governor and other politicians as well as the charter/voucher advocates have set policy to prevent these items from happening. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Part of the problem is that so many high schools and vo-tech postseondary institutions continue with the same, tired drivel year after year, instead of looking ahead.  We need visionary leadership in these positions.

Mariobrutus
Mariobrutus

It's interesting that Vo-tech has been considered the "dummy track".  Looking back, my success in life was born out of those four years in high school where I split my day between the academic high school and Vo-tech.  Based on what I learned in my Vo-tech training I was able to start and successfully run several businesses over the past 35 years.  I would also guess that the academic aspect of the training must have had some rigor as I was able to obtain a PhD in Education despite being a product of the "dummy track".  The resurgence of CTE in schools across the country will provide an opportunity to students despite the lack of nationally recognized standards from the education perspective.  By earning industry recognized certifications students gain control over their future; a future that is not tied to any one teacher.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I have always felt, quite strongly, that any academic contempt for "Vo-tech" classes and their students is elitist and snobbish...not to mention warped. We all have different strengths and skills. I made it through an academic doctoral program, but am notorious in my household for my lack of technological skills. Often electrical appliances malfunction in my presence but for no-one else... not to mention computers.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

There are many people who point to the welding or HVAC programs, but a large number of kids are in home health care or cosmetology or child care, all of which are low paying. (Dr. Stone showed the top 5 jobs seeing both absolute growth and a rapid growth rate; personal care and home care workers were on both lists. But the salaries in those fields are not great.)

What we don't know -- because of the lack of any universal measures or long-term follow -- is how well school programs do at producing skilled graduates. 

In the European model, the responsibility and much of the cost shift to the employer as the apprentices spend more time with them on the job. (And the kids get paid.)

That seems the ideal model but we are a long way from that.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaureenDowney


"is how well school programs as they now exist product any of these workers."


I'm sorry,but I can't make sense of this.

Astropig
Astropig

I know several owners of contracting companies (all of which started as apprentices themselves) as a result of AstroDad's connections when he was a contractor. To a man,they tell me that the only thing that keeps them up at night is NOT Obamacare, increasing regulation or payroll/ HR (those have largely been automated )-It's finding dependable,knowledgeable problem solvers that can work as part of a team and follow directions.A couple even give referral bonuses to their incumbent employees that send them good candidates.


I guess the "dummy track" is now women's studies or ancient literature. 

PJ25
PJ25

Good luck grossing $1000-$2000 a week as a teacher, but it sure can be done in HVAC, auto body, welding, auto mechanics, construction, plumbing and electrical.  Next time your air is out or your septic is backed up, I dare you to call that guy that who is charging you $100 just to pull in the driveway a dummy. 

Astropig
Astropig

@Outer Marker


"Good luck grossing $1000-$2000 a week as a teacher, but it sure can be done in HVAC, auto body, welding, auto mechanics, construction, plumbing and electrical.  "


Pretty good coin,to be sure. But the real payoff is learning the business and stepping out there and founding your own company.Then you can really make bank. It's easier than ever in some respects (social media,craigslist and smart guerilla marketing can allow you to bypass expensive advertising costs),but it has made it easier for more competitors to enter the fray,so only the smart ones survive the startup phase.

redweather
redweather

@Outer Marker I know quite a few mechanics. They are in my classes working on a four year degree in hopes of getting a better paying job. Not one has ever claimed to be making $1,000 per week much less $2,000.

El-Bey
El-Bey

taking Vo-Tech out of schools was one of the worst decisions ever made with regard to Education policy in this country


instead of doing away with it , it should have been enhanced


in my HS you had the following options:  HVAC, auto mechanic, auto body, electrical, plumbing, building construction and a few others

popcornular
popcornular

If many kids on the 'dummy track' end up making more money than educators, then what track are the educators on?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@popcornular You have pointed out, ad nauseam, how dumb teachers are, so i guess we are on the"public service" track, only without the high financial payoffs.  We will leave that to our "leaders" in the Georgia government.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @popcornular


You left out a word there,WasCat, as in, "You have hilariously pointed out,ad nauseum, how dumb teachers are...


And I'm pretty sure the "i" in that sentence should be capitalized.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Wascatlady @popcornular AND there should be a space between a comma and the word following it, but you don't see me pointing that out.

Examples:  there,W

out,ad

coin,to

media,craigslist


Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Astropig @popcornular


"but you don't see me pointing that out."


Yes "i" do. Maybe you need to sign up for some of those HVAC classes.You'll be too busy answering service calls to gripe all the time.