Vo-tech in 21st century needs academic skills

April 27, 2014

I frequently read Don Flood’s columns and tend to agree with his perspective on many topics; however I totally disagree with his comment that vo-tech schools should function as they have in the past.

Times have changed and in order to succeed in the competitive job market, vo-tech students need a broader preparation that includes not only vocational and technical skills, but higher-order thinking skills, a sound academic foundation, and personal qualities necessary to be successful in the workplace.

These are skills that are developed through obtaining a college education, not just from attending high school. If we eliminate college preparatory courses from vo-tech high schools we will end up with “tracking” of students, which history proved unsuccessful, unfair and wasteful in the 1900s.

The 1917 Smith-Hughes Act was a strategy developed to separate U.S. high schools into curricular tracks; students were placed into vocational, academic, or general tracks. Throughout the years, it was determined that tracking was unfair and wasteful. Many studies showed that “students assigned to the non-college tracks tend to be less affluent, less likely to have parents who attended college, and more likely to belong to racial, ethnic, or linguistic minorities who are traditionally under-represented in higher education. Tracking also is wasteful because students in non-college tracks are given less challenging coursework, and therefore do not develop their academic and intellectual capabilities as much as they would if they were challenged and motivated.” (Lucas 1999; Oakes 2005)

During the 1980s employers pointed out the inefficiencies of tracking and complained that vo-tech high school graduates were not gaining the thinking skills and academic knowledge necessary in the newly emerging economy. Since employers were instrumental in the backing of vocational education, Congress reevaluated the federal law authorizing support for vo-tech education.

“In the 1990s the Carl Perkins Act was amended requiring that funds be spent only on programs that integrate academic and vocational education.” (Stern 2006) The Carl Perkins Act has continued to evolve throughout the years. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website “The U.S. Congress has taken action to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998. The new legislation, entitled the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Educational Improvement Act of 2006, will provide increased focus on the academic achievement of career and technical education students, strengthen the connections between secondary and postsecondary education, and improve state and local accountability.”

I attended a New Castle County vo-tech high school in the late 1970s and I am extremely fortunate that my guidance counselors directed me away from the non-college track and encouraged me to attend college. I realize that many of my high school peers who went straight into the job market obtained decent jobs; however the majority of college graduates received much higher pay and advanced positions upon graduation, and we have had greater upward mobility throughout our careers. Additionally, without my college education, I would not have had the opportunity to gain the personal growth, experiences, and self-confidence that have made me who I am today.

For Delaware to consider returning to tracking is incomprehensible. Are you saying we should make an 8th grader decide between a vocational or college track high school? What if he or she chooses the vocational track high school? This student will most likely never develop the academic and intellectual capabilities necessary to attend college, thus be less affluent and well-rounded as the 8th grader who chose the college track high school.

Times have changed; we’re not in the 1900s. We must do everything we can to provide all high school students with the skills and knowledge to attend college to acquire the education necessary to compete in today’s job market. Thank goodness Sussex Tech is aware of this need and has continued to change and improve, thus keeping up with the times.

Tina Ballas Downs

  • A letter to the editor expresses a reader's opinion and, as such, is not reflective of the editorial opinions of this newspaper.

    To submit a letter to the editor for publishing, send an email to Letters must be signed and include a telephone number for verification. Please keep letters to 650 words or fewer.  We reserve the right to edit for content and length.