Why Vocational and Career Education Are Important
There are three major reasons why every school district should offer strong vocational learning opportunities:
1. Vocational competence is critical to the economic health of our nation.
2. A significant number of students, both college-bound and non-college-bound, are experiential learners who will learn academic skills best from developing them in a career or application context.
3. Delaying the career or application context until after grade 12 lowers motivation and learning achievement for many experiential learners.
Consider these characteristics of experiential learners:
1. They are often as or even more capable of complex learning than traditional learners.
2. They learn academic skills best from concrete tasks and a focus on real-life problems.
3. They often do not work to their potential in the relatively abstract-linear environment of traditional classes.
So, not having vocational or career learning options is a major disservice to the many experiential learners in any school population.
Advantages of Career and Vocational Education
When strong vocational learning options are available in a school district, they present these advantages:
1. They help many experiential learners reach higher achievement levels. (Too few policymakers have given adequate attention to a major weakness of American public education – – lack of inclusion of a strong application component in learning programs. Refer to the work of Dr. William Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, for solid research comparisons in this area. The Center’s web site is www.LeaderEd.com.)
2. Career path exploration helps many students make more information and dedicated choices on college enrollment. Students often discover the career path they love and are more motivated to pursue college study.
3. Career context makes subjects and courses more meaningful to students. Application adds to the strength of learning.
4. The career context makes it more feasible to teach and promote a continuous improvement culture in relation to the real world of work.
5. Strong secondary school vocational programs provide workplace skills to some students who do not plan to attend college immediately after graduation from high school. They also equip many college-bound students with skills useful in part-time work that helps in financing college study.
Evaluating Your Local Situation
Do you want to evaluate the strength of your local vocational and career options for students? Look for positive responses to these standards:
1. The local school mission statement recognizes career/vocational education as a valuable service to many college-bound and non-college-bound students.
2. The career focus is placed on all levels of the K-12 programs – –
a. Elementary schools using career-focused stories, readings, field trips.
b. Middle schools providing strong technical (applied) literacy learning opportunities, especially to encourage continued interest in science. Also, providing after-school career exploration options perhaps with the help of local or area vocational centers.
c. High schools providing a broad spectrum of both career exploration and initial skill development on different career paths. NOTE: The number of vocational programs should be adequate to serve students with different talents and interests. There should be technical or science-focused programs, people-focused programs, and traditional trade programs.
d. High school guidance providing help on preference matching between talents and careers.
e. High school vocational programs presenting beneficial articulation with both 2-year and 4-year college programs to reject completely the error of viewing vocational courses as something only for the non-college-bound. That latter stereotype was founded on ignorance of the value of different talent or intelligence areas.
f. High schools providing strong information on and articulated access to apprentice training programs as a viable and important option for graduation.
3. Fiscal support and facilities are maintained on modern and attractive levels for both classical and vocational programs, never allowing one area to play second-fiddle to the other.
4. Local educators and government leaders are working to correct any state and national inattention to the needs and talents of experiential and vocational learners. NOTE: That inattention is evidenced by over-emphasis on written high stakes tests and concurrent outright failure to provide performance evaluation options for highly talented experiential learners under initial implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. Reasons given for this serious failure are nothing but outright rationalizations to provide excuses for avoiding the work of constructing comprehensive assessment programs. Narrow written tests alone are an “easier” even though cognitively weak option. Can you imagine riding in an airplane with a pilot who has passed a written test but never before actually successfully flown an airplane? At some point in the future a higher quality assessment program must be pursued for the good of students and the good of our nation.
5. Local educators and government leaders work actively to ensure three other realities for quality vocational programs:
a. Secondary vocational programs being protected against misuse such as referral of a disproportionate share of learning disadvantaged students (who often need more effective basic academic programs) or misbehaving students (who can be dangerous to themselves and others in shop situations). NOTE: The mission of vocational schools involves career path selection and preparation. They are not special education schools but, like all schools, can serve their share of special education students. If over-used for the special education purpose, the primary mission is subverted and many talented experiential learners are tragically excluded.
b. Business and industry representatives being kept deeply involved as advisors to and evaluators of all secondary vocational programs. NOTE: This is the path to keeping programs relevant to evolving careers and to having businesses provide special help (internships, equipment, etc.) to an important source of future employees.
c. Secondary vocational programs being given strong annual funding for modernization of teaching youngsters to use equipment no longer used in the real world of work.
If the response to any one of the above basic standards is negative, you have identified an area where corrective action should be taken.