Directing kids into vo-tech: Because it’s better for them or because we’ve given up on them?

Political leaders in Georgia declared an urgent need a decade ago to motivate more high school students to attend college. Gov. Sonny Perdue created a contest with cash prizes, the Governor’s Cup, to reward schools with the biggest gains on the SAT.

Now, the pendulum has swung, and the rhetoric is less insistent. No longer is the goal to get teens college-ready; high schools are now being extolled to prepare graduates for college or career.

There’s nothing wrong with education policies that equip kids for the job market rather than the college classroom. Unless those policies are put in place for the wrong reason — because Georgia believes some students can’t meet the higher standards required for college.

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

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

A few weeks ago, the state released scores from the first administration of new exams based on the tougher math standards; 60 percent of Georgia students performed at levels defined as beginning or developing learners.

Georgia can respond to these dispiriting results in two ways: Figure out how to enhance math education starting in pre-k by improving teacher training, instruction and curriculum; or decree that we have students who aren’t suited for a four-year college and thus really don’t need advanced math.

Here’s the problem with the latter: In five years, more than 60 percent of the jobs in Georgia will require some form of a college education. Today, 34 percent of Georgians hold an associate degree or higher.

A generation ago, schools sorted students into college prep, general studies or vo-tech based on perceived ability and prospects, often influenced by class bias. Counselors determined which students were destined for Georgia Tech and which were bound for vocational programs or community college.

Such sorting has long-term consequences on a student’s life and earnings. Despite the fretting about the rising cost of a college education, a degree remains a good investment. In fact, the earning gap between those with four-year degrees and those without has never been wider; U.S. workers with degrees earned 82 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than those with only a high school diploma, mostly due to the decline in wages among less-educated workers.

A college degree provides a strong return on investment even for marginal students. A recent working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research studied what happened to lower-achieving students in Georgia — those with an average maximum SAT score of 960 — who attended a four-year public college rather than a two-year program.

The study concluded, “Our results suggest that ‘over-matching,’ or enrolling in a college where one is substantially less academically skilled than one’s peers, is actually beneficial for students, at least in terms of degree completion.”

A large-scale study out of Florida posed the natural follow-up question: Are those students only marginally prepared for college able to attain economic returns large enough to justify the investment of time and money?

The answer was yes. Eight to 14 years after high school, the students who went to college earned salaries 22 percent higher than peers who hadn’t gone, with men registering the largest gains, according to the study by economist Seth D. Zimmerman.

Understanding the value of college, Nicole Hurd, former director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence at the University of Virginia, founded College Advising Corps to help first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students get there.

The program recruits recent college graduates, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, to serve in high-poverty high schools advising teens on applications, financial aid and scholarships.

In Atlanta last week for a summit with 500 of the young advisers, Hurd questioned the trend in Georgia and other states to identify career pathways for students early in high school, paths that might not lead to college.

“As a country, we still don’t believe college is for everyone, ” she said. “However, it is not a decision to be made for students when they’re in eighth grade and someone decides to track them into vocational education. The students should make that decision themselves when they are 18 and we have prepared them for whatever it is they want to do.”

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49 comments
thenoticer
thenoticer

So parents and students are capable of choosing vouchers and charters wisely but not choosing the college vs. votech track?

redweather
redweather

From an overview of studies conducted in 2014:


'[R]esearchers tracked the wages of students before and after they received their vocational training, to see what kind of difference it made. And they compared salary increases against those of similar students who started the vocational training but didn't complete it. They found that not all vocational degrees lead to higher income.In some fields, especially health care, vocational degrees pay off enormously – as much as 65 percent more income per year, compared to a similar student who had a similar wage history prior to starting a health care degree, but didn't complete it. For others fields, such as in informational technology (IT), they don't. Indeed, when you remove all health care-related fields from the analysis, the average salary increase attributable to vocational training was only 5 percent to 10 percent."


Not exactly a ringing endorsement of votech as it exists today.

bu2
bu2

I've seen studies where overmatching resulted in the obvious effect.  The students dropped out at a higher rate than expected.


The point is the school shouldn't try to steer them.  Don't have some magic sorting hat put them into categories.  Let their own wishes and their parents determine.

thenoticer
thenoticer

Seriously, what is wrong with Votech? I don't think you can be dumb and get through the Votech track, just have that interest. I don't doubt that many of our electricians, plumbers, etc. could do calculus if they were motivated to do so. It is disgusting that anyone would denigrate these perfectly honorable professions. Some people are just more hands-on types and would go nuts sitting in an office all day anyway. What's so great about paying big college bucks to sit in an office all day?

thenoticer
thenoticer

And even they don't have the aptitude, so what? We all need honest work. Not everyone is able to or even wants to do calculus.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@thenoticer


Is there a shortage of ________ vocational profession?


If so, does the votech program adequately train you for that profession?


Georgia seems to have no adequate data to evaluate votech programs other than health care. Where is the state on evaluation and data for jobs and job training? They seem to spend all there efforts to try to paint schools as failing but fail to show jobs available and provide high quality training to get those jobs.


I think the skills gap is a myth.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"Atlanta Public Schools will celebrate the graduation this evening of 138 former students who weren’t previously eligible for diplomas because they failed part of a now-defunct state standardized test."

This is why a lot of employers now require a college degree - it is so they can be assured that the student has actually learned what they should have learned in High School.  If a High School diploma actually meant that basic skills had been mastered, then not as many jobs would require more.  And we certainly would not need CC to "up the rigor".

The "good" news is that some of these students had GPAs of 3.6, while simultaneously failing a test that all of my kids described as "ridiculously easy".  And the current eduacracy wonders why some of don't have any faith in the current educational system?

AugustineBeary
AugustineBeary

I agree that the student themselves should be making that decision, but I know that for many kids vocational school is their best option than attacking college and failing out altogether and ending in a no skills job.  Vocational jobs are in high demand right now

class80olddog
class80olddog

"The students should make that decision themselves when they are 18 and we have prepared them for whatever it is they want to do"

By 18, it may be too late - they may have dropped out at age 16.  Of course, they could always go back, get their GED, enroll in college (either technical or regular).  But it is sad to lose HS students because you have increased the rigor to higher than they need to succeed. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

The last paragraph is too simplistically stated.  It has an "all or nothing" mindset to it.  Educators can start early to understand the aptitudes and interests of varying students without locking them, individually, into a high school program from which they cannot get out at age 18.


Decision-making is a process, involving students, their teachers, their parents, their high school counselors over several years, in which the student will come to have greater, and greater, clarity regarding what he or she wishes to pursue for his/her future, without feeling low self-esteem in the process and without trying to live out unrealistic expectations.  "Dual" is an option, even if the years in high school are extended.


Let us try to think not in "cut and dry" dictates, but in terms of educational process, with many people involved, over time, for the benefit of the students' futures.

straker
straker

redweather - "CEO's consistently rate creativity as being the number one attribute they look for in employees"


Tell that to the huge number of unemployed or underemployed liberal arts majors living at home in their parent's basement.


What these CEO's want is creativity in their business major employees.

redweather
redweather

@straker You need to get out more because you don't know of what you speak.

Astropig
Astropig

We really need a better stock photo for Vo-Tech. That kid in the picture is trying to take the carb cover/air cleaner off of an engine (and using an old fashioned incandescent work light, I might add). Cars haven't had those in 20 years. They're all fuel injected now. 

Parents & taxpayers
Parents & taxpayers

What if we give more attention to vo-tech? 

And what if this results in a higher percentage of the skilled mechanics and machine operators society relies on—being African-American males? Successfully employed African-American males.

Would we be mature enough as a nation to accept that?

Astropig
Astropig

@Parents & taxpayers 


I would think that it was a great development.The dignity of honest work and the prospect of economic and social advancement for a new generation?


Nahh... Liberals would never allow that

ATLPeach
ATLPeach

@Parents & taxpayers  Why must EVERY conversation be about African Americans? We are not the problem in America in case you don't know. What we need are successfully employed people. Trust me, there are many successfully employed African American males. I was raised by one and married one. I'm sure you'll tell me that I'm not the norm (rolls eyes). Stop taking every freaking opportunity to degrade blacks and blame us for what's wrong with society.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@ATLPeach @Parents & taxpayers So, ATLPeach, why did they do away with tracking?  It seems like a good idea now and it was a good idea once, but they got rid of it (now a de facto tracking exists through AP classes).  So WHY did they do away with it?

BTW, there is nothing wrong with African-Americans per se.  A responsible African-American and a responsible White are equal in my eyes.  But I did not see this first comment as anything putting African-Americans down.

straker
straker

The value of a college degree in such subjects as History, Literature, Political Science and Philosophy diminishes withe each passing year. Business wants graduates who know about business and not some useless liberal art.


On the other hand, more and more well paying trades are now available in our tech schools.

redweather
redweather

@straker CEOs consistently rate creativity as being the number one attribute they look for in employees.

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather @straker



"CEOs consistently rate creativity as being the number one attribute they look for in employees."


...Especially in accounting.

gapeach101
gapeach101

@straker

If you have a job that requires writing, you probably want one of those  useless liberal arts majors.  You certainly don't want a STEM major.

redweather
redweather

@gapeach101 @straker According to the U. S. Census Bureau, "74 percent of those who have a bachelor's degree in science, technology, engineering and math — commonly referred to as STEM — are not employed in STEM occupations."


I'll leave it to you to decide if the glass is half full or half empty.

popcornular
popcornular

Vocational Tech is cool because the students actually do something. This is a confusing concept for educators.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Truth is, only a very small percentage of the student population has the academic ability to complete a college prep curriculum.  The push to have 60% of the students "college ready" was doomed from the start.  Likewise, the prevailing attitude that a vocational tech track is for the dimwitted is equally wrong.  Have you seen the requirements to obtain an electricians license?  HVAC license?  Have you seen the electronics they put on the new cars?

Heck, let's go old school - hand the math teacher a framing square and a pile of wood and ask them to cut the rafters for a 24x24 garage with a 4/12 pitch hip roof.  Then, grab some popcorn and a soft drink and settle in to watch the follies.

Personally, I think a well rounded education would include both academic and vocational curriculums.

redweather
redweather

@Lee_CPA2 Care to provide us with a citation for that first statement of yours? Or are you just shooting from the hip as always?

class80olddog
class80olddog

"high schools are now being extolled to prepare graduates for college or career. "


Thank you  for that word "or ".  Much better than the "and" that CC preaches.

class80olddog
class80olddog

If you try to teach a pig to sing for eight years, then decide to teach them to roll in the mud - is it because it is better for them or because you are giving up on the pig?

class80olddog
class80olddog

Kids don't "make a decision" in the eighth grade.  They (and their parents) have made their decision for eight years.  When they don't come to school 15% of the time, they are late, and they have no interest in school, then their prospects for college are extremely poor.  So why put them on the road to failure to even get a HS diploma? (that is, if they really withheld diplomas from those who did not cut the mustard)  They SELF-SELECT into the vocational track by their lack of interest (or skill) at academics. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog On "kids don't make a decision in 8th grade"  I totally agree with you, Class80.  In fact, for my dissertation, one of the studies I read was called "Conversations in the Nursery."  Unfortunately, many "decisions" have been made for the child before they even come to school, and it is difficult (but not impossible) to rewrite the script. 


I DO think most students need POSTSECONDARY education.  That is, further development of their skills in vo-tech, or coupled with apprenticeships, or in college.  I don't think the "vo-tech" offered in most high schools is enough for most kids to be "career ready" (that is, to walk out and be immediately employable in a substantial job.)


I also don't think it is up to the teachers or guidance counselors to "chill a kid out" about their plans for the future.  Yes, they may seem unrealistic, but it is not the place of educators to decide that.  Encouragement, coupled with information on what it takes to become x, y, or z, is our place as educators.  And, we need to help them find something to be excited about, by asking questions, listening, and providing sources for help in their explorations.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady @class80olddog I agree with you that they need more vocational development in a post-secondary environment.  Unfortunately, a lot never make it there.  High schools are too busy trying to teach every kid calculus that they drive out the ones who can barely pass regular math.  So they drop out of school rather than try to master the CC curriculum (based on COLLEGE readiness).  If they just had a diploma for minimum standards - one that would guarantee they met certain basic skills, they could take that into a vo-tech college.  Or even into a lot of workplaces. For our basic laborers, we require a HS diploma - something they won't have if they are driven out of HS by too much "rigor".

gapeach101
gapeach101

@Wascatlady @class80olddog

Catlady,

Maybe you have finally answered the question that I have been wrestling with for a number of years now.  I find it very frustrating all the students who go off to school as  "premed" majors.  I know they are never going to get through the physics and chemistry classes. 

Perhaps the best way to deal with that is to point out just what classes they will need to take and get high grades to get into medical school.  The old--if you only have a B average in the sciences in HS, how are you going to get As in college.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@gapeach101 @Wascatlady @class80olddog Same thing about guys going to college with the idea of becoming an NFL star (or NBA star, or hip-hop legend or astronaut, for that matter).  Most are doomed to disappointment.  But perhaps reality will creep in and they will change their major to something more realistic and achievable.

But if they choose it, it is still better than the school system TELLING them that they have to take college prep classes when it is clear that they do not have either the ability or the interest in college prep classes.

HS_Math_Teacher
HS_Math_Teacher

The pendulum usually does swing back when policies go to the extreme.  I can understand the notion that rising 9th graders probably don't make the best decisions about their educational options; however, to make every kid go through a 4-year college prep curriculum in math makes no sense, either.  There are many small schools in Georgia that cannot offer an accelerated curriculum and kids on every performance and ability level imaginable are packed in one room. 


How about if the pendulum didn't swing, and stopped at the common-sense middle?  Have every student at least take a "common core" (college prep) math for 9th & 10th grades, but offer a vocational math pathway for grades 11 & 12. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@HS_Math_Teacher  Would you allow a student who arrives in the ninth grade reading at a fifth grade level to try that college prep path for two years?

PJ25
PJ25

@class80olddog @HS_Math_Teacher No.  That said, it sounds like there's problem with the schools if that kid can't read on his grade level.  Social promotion needs to end. 

HS_Math_Teacher
HS_Math_Teacher

@class80olddog @HS_Math_Teacher


Old Dog:  I'm with you.  I have posted many times (about 5 years ago), railing about "social promotion", which I like to phrase as "unmerited advancement".  I haven't taught 9th graders for a while, but have 2 classes this year.  I can quickly sense and see that gaping hole of math knowledge and analytical ability.  I was told by an administrator last year, who went to a state, or regional conference, that the state (or Woods' appointed fact-finding team) conducted a meta-study and found out that a significant portion of students who entered the 9th grade were stuck at  4th or 5th grade math level of knowledge.  


To answer your question, I would allow that student to enter on the condition (with parental knowledge/consent):  the student must apply him/herself, must behave in class, and come to tutoring when prescribed.  Otherwise, NO.

Intteach
Intteach

Assuming that college is for everyone is stigmatizing all the other options for a career. That is the problem that we have: everyone is forced by expectation into paying for college that many of them will not finish, ending up in debt just to figure out that there are other pathways into careers. 40% finish college/university after 6 years for a 4-year degree. 70% of jobs require a technical skill, not a college degree. In the meantime, businesses, esp. the small and medium-sized ones, are aching for a skilled workforce. Just to give you a recent example that I encountered: if a small company has to advertise and recruit nationwide for a skilled worker and has had no luck in 2 years, we have a problem! Denying that there are lucrative (way more than teaching) professions out there and that there are  different pathways into a career should be openly discussed as options. The non-information of students right now has put us into the skills gap that we are in. Bring back the backbone of our economy, manufacturing, offer more, way more internships and apprenticeship models and let students know there are many pathways to a career. Let them make a real informed decision by interning. Many will find out that they do not want to go into a profession that they thought would be cool when they experience the real thing. And that is okay! At least they will not end up with thousands of dollars in debt and a sense of failure because everyone is expected to finish college first.

redweather
redweather

@Intteach  "Denying that there are lucrative (way more than teaching) professions out there and that there are  different pathways into a career should be openly discussed as options."


Say what?

RealLurker
RealLurker

We should encourage children to make decisions and have goals early in their life.  Goals can, and often do, change.  It is OK if people change their mind and their goals.  However, even eight graders should be working toward something.  Taking advanced math solely because the school says you have to isn't valuable.  Taking advanced math because it fits your goals and is something that you want to do is extremely valuable.


If you attend college because you believe you are supposed to, you can learn some.  If you attend college because you have goals to learn about things that you are passionate about, you can change the world.