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APRIL 2003

Vocational Education Resurgent: Part II
by Frank Carucci

After all of the improvements in vocational education, much still needs to be done. Our vocational schools need to recruit more shop teachers, particularly in electronics. Vocational licenses need to be aligned with the new federal requirement that all teachers be “highly qualified.” The UFT has formed a licensing and certification committee to deal with this issue. The city needs to assure that all shops are state-of-the-art and that training is industry-relevant and can lead to employment. The days when students made birdhouses or lamps from wine bottles are long gone.

The city DOE needs to expand the Substitute Vocational Assistant Program, which trains some of the most talented CTE graduates to become vocational teachers. Well over 100 SVA participants are now in our classrooms and 40 more are in the pipeline, learning their trades and learning to teach.

DOE needs to continue the Career Externship Program, which the UFT negotiated into the contract. Externships allow CTE teachers to return to the workplace to update their skills and see exactly what’s happening in industry.

The city needs to adequately fund CTE programs, and New York’s Washington representatives need to protect the federal funding stream.

Technology needs to be woven into the junior high curriculum, so that students get an early introduction to the world of work and can make informed choices about which high schools to attend. New York City schools fail to comply with state rules requiring this.

Principals and superintendents need an incentive to promote and support CTE. The chancellor needs to give some sort of “extra credit” on their report cards for supporting CTE, so our schools truly become places for diverse learning. One size does not fit all.

I believe the tide has turned in our favor. Indeed, the state now talks about CTE as a means to high academic achievement and not as an obstacle. And from recent meetings I’ve had with top DOE officials, it appears that they, too, want to build on the success of CTE programs and even expand them in comprehensive high schools.

President Bush’s budget proposal — which shortchanges education in general — could clobber high school vocational education in particular. The advances that New York City’s CTE programs have made would be compromised if Congress adopts President Bush’s proposal budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2004, which starts Oct. 1.

Right now, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, which is up for reauthorization, allocates money to states according to a population-based formula; this year New York City’s schools received about $16 million in federal vocational support.

Bush would change that, collapsing what are now six vocational education streams into a block grant. States could spend it to meet educational goals in the No Child Left Behind Act that are not necessarily related to career and technical education (CTE). In addition, the president would reduce CTE spending by 23 percent, from the $1.3 billion he proposed in the current fiscal year to $1 billion.

As U.S. Department of Education speaking points describe, Bush would let states “make competitive grants to secondary schools and community and technical colleges.” (Public schools, get in the mud and compete for an already too limited pie! Private and religious schools, come on in, the water’s fine!)

States could spend the supposed vocational funds to develop end-of-course exams like New York’s Regents or add it to Title I programs to “improve student outcomes, such as academic achievement” – in other words, not for career and technical education at all. If states do not block grant these funds with Title I, state grant money would be transferred collectively to local school districts and community colleges that partner with high schools and the business community.

Worse, the clear intent is to “shift from providing traditional vocational education to an entirely new focus on supporting academic achievement at the high school level and technical education at the community college level that is coordinated with high schools.” (OK, kids, read that Milton and worry about heating and air conditioning when you hit community college!)

The administration’s speaking points rightly assail “watered-down classes and low expectations” and “vocational programs [that] do not offer the academic or technical rigor to adequately prepare students for the demands of postsecondary education or the high-skilled workplace.”

But the way to do that is through the approaches the UFT and the city Department of Education have taken – having a strong vocational program that “contextualizes” academic material, using rigorous industry-based assessments and really preparing students for the world of work. Yes have standards, yes have accountability, but give students the option of graduating from high school ready to take a skilled job.

The administration’s plan ignores the reality of urban students’ lives. The intent is to move students from high school to college on their way to the workforce.

However, it’s perfectly legitimate for youngsters to decide to go from high school to work either because they want to or have to. Quality CTE programs prepare them for work. If they wish to further their education – as many graduates do – they can work their way through college and support their families with good-paying jobs.

Congress needs to reject Bush’s plan and support the approach to vocational education that has been proven in New York City’s schools.

Alfred E. Smith HS- Automotive Tech.

Automotive HS- Automotive Tech

Aviation HS- Aviation Maintenance Tech.

Chelsea HS- Business

East NY HS of Transit Tech- Industrial Electrician/Electrical Installation

George Westinghouse HS- A-Plus Computer Repair and Maintenance

Harry Van Arsdale HS- C-Tech Cable Tech.

HS of Graphic Communication Arts- Commercial Art Production

Samuel Gompers HS- Electronic Technician/A-Plus Certification

Thomas Edison HS- A-Plus Computer Repair, Cisco Networking Academy, Microsoft Office User Specialist

William Grady HS- Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC)#

Frank Carucci is Vice-President of the United Federation of Teachers



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All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2004.