Vocational education has improved

May 20, 2014

I frequently read Don Flood’s columns and tend to agree with his perspective on issues; 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 can be gained through 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 in curricular tracks. Basically students were put 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 vocation education, Congress reevaluated the federal law authorizing support for vocational education. In the 1990s the Carl Perkins Act was amended requiring that funds be spent only on programs that “integrate academic and vocational education.”

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, titled 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. I realize that many of the non-college students I graduated with obtained decent jobs, however the pay, positions, and upward mobility were not at the levels of those of us who graduated from college. 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 eighth grader decide whether to choose a vocational or college track? What if they choose the vocational track? Will they then not be allowed to develop their academic and intellectual capabilities and most likely be less affluent than the eighth-grader who chose the college track?  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.

Tina Downs

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