Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What About Vocational Education?

This is a thread I've been meaning to write for some time. It is an issue I don't even claim to know a lot about but that I have heard about from many parents. I'm not even clear (even though it did get some discussion at the last Board meeting) what direction the district is taking overall. The district does have a pretty good webpage, Career and Technical Education. They are creating a Skill Center but I'm not sure how it's part of an overall vision for CTE. So I will make it a goal to try to get a better overall picture of this area of the district because folks, not everyone is going to college. There are skill sets that all students can use (like everyday life skills and family/child skills). The newer CTE courses go way beyond those skills to construction management, green industries, etc. These issues are why CTE is still relevant and viable in today's schools.

So the particular CTE I want to speak about is the Maria Montessori Language and Cultural Center that operates out of Ballard High School.

(Public disclosure; Gail Longo, who created the Center, is a long-time Montessori teacher. She taught both my children and gave them educational gifts that I could never repay her for. She is a loving and gifted teacher with vision. So, yes, I do admit bias towards this program but read on.)

From a report about the Center:

"For the past 3 years, the Maria Montessori Language & Cultural Center (MMLCC) has received state recognition as a the center of a multi-facdeted community, high school, literacy, early learning and family partnership project. Located on the Ballard High School campus, it is a 501C3 non-profit organization licensed by the WA State Department of Early Learning serving twenty children ages 3-5 and their families. In addition to its function as a Lab school for the BHS course in Human/Child Development, the MMLCC provides an after-school program in Mandarin Chinese language for children aged 5-9. "

The space used by the Center was created at Ballard as a child care facility so the space was already there (although the Center has made improvements at its own expense). The Center is part of the SPS Community Alignment Initiative (CAI). This program has been supported by Ballard staff and district staff but now is in danger because of space issues at Ballard (which Gail has been told is about Special Ed; how Special Ed could use a space designed as a child care facility is unclear).

Gail and I sat down and she walked me through the program for the Ballard students. She said many of them came in thinking it was an easy class and they would just play with little kids. They didn't know Gail. She had developed a specific curriculum about child development, interacting with young children, human growth/brain development, creating porfolios and working towards college credit for work done.

Gail is not paid by the district and developed the curriculum herself working with Ballard staff. The Center has done integrated projects with the French department, Special Needs and Markeing classes. As you can see by her blurb above, the facility is used after school as well for a language program for older children. So you have multi-aged students using this facility. To me, it's truly a community program and it seems like a direction the district would like to go in to create "community" schools.

Gail's special interest is non-violent communication and she received grants from King County and the Seattle Foundation to further that work at the Center.

And now it may all go away. That's a lot of good work across many ages to leave SPS. And, it's one of the few integrated programs in all of the high schools.

As I said, I have a special reason to advocate for this program. But it points to the larger picture of CTE's importance. From the Executive Summary of the Skill Center report:

"It is also the intent of Seattle Public Schools to expand and improve existing CTE programs in both middle and high school."

What is frustrating is that the district starts down a road and then changes direction without notice. Why open the MMLCC only to shut it down a few years later? Was it just a placeholder? Now the focus is on the new Skills Center (which I endorse) but does that mean all other CTE is left behind?

I'll end with a quote:

"I commend Ballard High School, MMLCC and all the Montessori teachers and supporters...for their commitment to developmentally-appropriate instruction. Your outstanding efforts lay the foundation for a student's success in work and in life, and I can't thank you enough for all that you do."
Christine O. Gregoire, Governor

(If you want to put in a plug for the program or communicate about CTE to someone at the district, the contacts are Courtney Cameron in the CAO's office (cjones@seattleschools.org) or Shep Siegel, head of CTE, (ssiegal@seattleschools.org).

18 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

Mel touches on a number of my concerns.

One, "Not all students are going to college". I would encourage folks to adopt the broader definition for "college" that Shep Siegel uses and shared with the Board earlier this year. It includes more than four-year post-secondary institutions and two-year schools, but also vocational schools and apprenticeships.

The Board, and the district as a whole, are not paying enough attention to CTE. It wasn't adequately considered in the Student Assignment Plan and it isn't adequately addressed by Program Placement.

Finally, I would really like to see some life skills classes, to include instruction in areas such as childcare, personal finances (checkbook management, credit cards, taxes, mortgages, budgeting, investing, etc.), nutrition (shopping, food prep), all kinds of the sort of thing that people need to know how to do to function as independent adults in our society.

TechyMom said...

Recent book on the topic of other-than-white-collar work: Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work. I've only read the first chapter (well, the Kindle sample) so far, but it looks promising.

One thing that really bugs me about the 'everyone goes to college' line, even if 'college' includes vocational ed, is that there is no reason that vocational ed can't be taught in high school, so that people can start working at 18 instead of needing 2-4 more years of school. My grandparents attended a technical high school, and graduated ready for high-paying trades jobs. This option just isn't available to todays kids. Why?

There's also nothting that says you can't work part-time as a mechnaic for $30/hr while attending a 4-year college, rather than as a bookstore clerk for $7.19/hr.

MathTeacher42 said...

What is a college degree?

It isn’t what has been for about 200 years, and it sure seems like few have figured that out.

For the 19th and 20th centuries, in the British American empires, college and universities did about 3 things. They ‘prepared’ the born-to-the-right-womb lords to walk into their open doors at the top of society to be lords. They prepared the professional servant class who kept the lords lords. They provided a place for the advancement of science, especially if you could do something to make the King’s bombs and guns and professional servant class work more efficiently.

IF you went to college, THEN you got a job, until ... the 1960’s ? in the USA. Since then, a college degree has become a prerequisite for lots of jobs, not because those jobs require any kind of tricky skills that take years to hone, but so employers have a smaller stack of applications to paw through.

Since I was a freshman at Boston College in 1978, lots and lots of college degrees weren’t a guarantee of much. For those of us from families in the bottom quintile, or bottom 4 quintiles of household income, a college degree has been a guarantee of a mountain of debt.

What is a college degree? How about training for something useful!

Let’s be blunt and honest. There is PLENTY of work to do. Billions live either in squalor or on the edge of squalor, and our collapsing affluent empire is training people to do what? There are an infinite number of things that need to be done better, how can you stack the cards to participate on your terms?

There are 6+ billion people on this globe. We all need & want clean and safe food and water, clothing, shelter, transportation, education for our young, retraining, care for the elderly, health CARE, finance and trade, vacations ... 2 t-shirts a piece = 12 billion t-shirts, appx .13 gallons of bodily waste a day times 6+ billion = a LOT of bodily ... stuff.

Frankly, the world has plenty of people writing articles and essays telling everyone that the carbon economy is a fiasco – YAWN. We need engineering and technological skills to change our world’s current technologies. We need finance skills to finance technological and societal change, instead of financing rich people gambling and working people bailing out rich gamblers.

There is nothing wrong with focusing your education on whatever your fancy is. However, unless you’re family / household income and wealth is in the top 5%, the more skills you have when you graduate, the more choices you MIGHT have at that time. Working to improve the world is NOT a burden, it is NOT a mission, it just is, and it will never be done – there is, and ALWAYS will be, a better mousetrap.

Josh Hayes said...

MathTeacher42 and I seem to be just about exactly the same age!

I recognize that for a large fraction of the world, this worry about "what will my child do when he grows up?" is ludicrous: for the majority of humans on the planet, one's child or children will do whatever menial thing allows them to survive. We forget in the US, and other "developed" nations, how lucky nearly all of us are not to have to worry about our next meal, or our roof, or our clothes.

That said, vocational ed requires a simple starting point: a good sense of what vocations are worth educating, uh, about. My auto mechanic bemoans the fact that current and ongoing auto manufacturing and maintenance schemes are designed to prevent anyone other than a dealer from DOING maintenance. Time was, even an idiot like me could look under the hood and at least identify most of the parts -- but no more.

So, what do we teach kids in VocEd? Routers? Cabling? Windmill repair? Brewkettle construction?

We forget that the "old days", when auto repair skills were reliably useful, are just about gone. I am SO not dissing VocEd, I'm just worried that it's losing relevance.

Charlie Mas said...

There is a shortage of good welders and they make a family wage. I would not be the least bit disappointed if either of my daughters took it up.

Same for plumbers, electricians, and lineman. I'm sure it is equally true for a number of trades.

These are jobs that may be subject to boom and bust cycles, but they cannot be outsourced or automated. Even if the technology should change, the existing infrastructure will remain for at least forty years.

My grandfather was a construction plumber, and it seems a good career to me. I can think of a number of other trades in which I could have worked very happily. Of course, my mother told me, "Even if you want to be a plumber you're going to college. So you'll be a college-educated plumber; it can only be a benefit."

TechyMom said...

Many of the things taught in the vocational tracks at 2 year colleges could be taught to 16 year olds. Currently, students have to delay work and pay for post high school education, a real hardship for many of them.

Plumbing, welding, construction trades, boat-building, networking, copier repair, culinary arts, graphic design, entry-level computer programming, licenced vocational nursing (and a lot of other things in the medical industry), transcription and court reporting, cosmetology, bookkeeping... I'm sure there are many others.

For kids who see high school as too abstract, or who need to start work as soon as possible, a track like this could be the thing that gets them to see the value if school and stay there, the thing between them and a lifetime of underemployment in minimum wage jobs.

My grandfather's technical high school major was engineereing. He went to WWII instead of graduating, but said the community college classes he took 20 years later were similar. That high school no longer offers technical education, and has become a dropout factory.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

TechyMom
Graphic Design is my industry and, unfortunately, most employers require a 4-year degree for it now (didn't back when I started 30+ years ago).
And, unfortunately, for MANY of the white-collar jobs you listed employers ask for 4 years of college, regardless of how skilled the applicant may be in their field. I agree with MathTeacher that this requirement is often just a way to cull the applications quickly, but it is, unfortunately, reality.
That does not mean though that we should ignore these professions in high school curriculums. I'd love to see each student required to take some sorts of career-review courses to better give them an idea of what they might want to pursue in college/tech school/life after high school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Check my link to the CTE page and the Skill Center. This isn't your father's voc ed; this is relevant work.

owlhouse said...

On a tour of Meany this winter, in preparation for the Nova and SBOC move, we walked the wing of the school that had been closed for years. There were classrooms filled with "shop" equipment that I can't name. I had a temporary moment of excitement, thinking of the possibilities for wood or metal work. Of course all the equipment will be removed, is probably already in storage.

Beginning in 7th grade, kids in my district had to take "skills" classes- shop (wood, plastic, mechanical), home ec (cooking, sewing, family/household care), consumer ed (budgeting, shopping). These classes continued as electives, but the introduction to these subjects was a base line requirement.

The need for voc ed raises for me the larger question of what we as society need from our schools. I'd argue we need academic skills, arts exposure/expression, and life/social/community skills. I'd be in favor of a CORE 24 type shift to bring some of the life skills classes back into the HS requirements.

Today's CTE options look fantastic. I hope access is equitable and wish even basic versions of these classes could be made widely available.

Michael Rice said...

Mr. Mas writes: Finally, I would really like to see some life skills classes, to include instruction in areas such as childcare, personal finances (checkbook management, credit cards, taxes, mortgages, budgeting, investing, etc.), nutrition (shopping, food prep), all kinds of the sort of thing that people need to know how to do to function as independent adults in our society.

I don't know about the rest of you, but those skills were taught to me by my PARENTS!!! I don't have children, but my brother and sister are teaching those skills to their children. Isn't that part of the job of being a parent??? This is part of the problem. Parents have punted so many of their responsibilites to the schools, that the schools are now supposed to teach children how to behave, how to treat other people and how to survive in the world. This is unacceptable.

Now, yes, I know that the family dynamic has changed over the past 30 years, but parental responsiblity is still parental responsibility. Parents, do your job, so I can do my job!!!!!!

TechyMom said...

And what about parents who don't know how to do that stuff?

We've seen very clear evidence that large numbers of Americans don't understand the basics of personal finance, compound interest, risk assessment, etc. As a taxpayer, I think it is a very wise investment to raise the level of awareness on these topics in the next generation, so we don't have to pay for yet another multi-trillion-dollar financial bailout. Michael, I wouldn't really expect you to teach this in a Math class. I would expect someone with expertise in the area of personal finance to teach it. Certainly math is part of it, but most of it is critical thinking and decision-making.

Same for cooking... One of the causes of the obesity epidemic is that many people don't know how to cook. Those people are having kids, and rasing them on prepared meals. And, you and I pay for the health consequences, whether it's in a public health plan, emergency room visits, or generally higher insurance premiums.

Kay Smith-Blum (running against Mary Bass) has an interesting idea on Culinary CTE providing food to schools.

Sahila said...

I have often wondered why and how we stratify personal and professional worth in society...

Brain surgeons, for example - expensive education...highly paid... assuming one surgery a day, help maybe 300 people a year?

Rubbish (garbage) collectors... assuming/generalising a much more basic level of education... averagely paid.... help/save millions every day by doing the dirty job that keeps bubonic plague etc away from our doors...

Which of the two has more value to us as a society? By income, we say the brain surgeon... by results, wouldnt it be the rubbish collector?

Sahila said...

And then we get onto the totally daft "reality" of entertainment people, fashion models and sportsmen and women....

Astronomical sums of money and hero status conferred on these people to do what? What do they contribute to the greater good?

Why do I mention this in relation to education - because we have such a skewed (pyramid/capitalist) outlook on personal value.... everyone has to go to college... life is good (you are good/a success) if you're a doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, entrepreneur... life is mediocre (you are mediocre) if you're a tradesperson... life is terrible (you're a dumb bum) if you dont fit into any of the boxes and you cant make any of it work for you....

And school totally sets people up for this....

We dont say the system is wrong/flawed... we say people are flawed because they cant endure the system...

So arse over kite it makes me sick...

hschinske said...

Devil's advocate: we do, as a society, spend vastly more on the overall task of garbage collection than on the overall task of brain surgery. The money just gets divided up among many more people.

Helen Schinske

emeraldkity said...

A few sound bites.
The program that SPS has in place for students with IEPs- and continues through ( age 21?) sucks badly according to parents whose kids are participating and who also work as advisors through the high schools to guide students to appropriate opportunities.

Graduation requirements of state high schools are not aligned with application requirements of state colleges.
Regardless if you are headed for a job, a college or a vocational program- this has to change.
I have worked in the city community colleges as a advisor who worked with students interested into transferring to 4 yr schools.
The city colleges do not use transcripts or SAT scores for placement into math/english classes.
Sadly, even students with 3.5 high school GPAs, found it difficult to place into college level course work.

Ironically, as I myself was attending community college, I found that some of the courses were not what I considered college level, and A's were dispensed freely.
When I decided on a career change and was reviewing vocational programs, I also found that while one of the Seattle CC's offers an established program, the requirements were minimal, and I didn't have the impression that I would be learning what I needed to know in the field.
( I went elsewhere & have been very impressed with the rigor and frankly overwhelmed by the intensity and amount of work required)
For vocational work, experience and skills are critical- grades are meaningless.
If the students are not being taught what is needed to know in the industry, it is a waste of time and money.
That, said, I have found that specific trade schools often have better instruction & more up to date, than what the SPS, or the Seattle Community colleges can keep up with.

I would also agree that students need to learn basic citizen skills- but I think they can be incorporated into other classes.
An economics/math class, could cover investing, budgeting using computers or a sliderule.
A " Survival" class, could be part of PE.
Teach self defense- ( including how not to be stupid), how to put up a tent, pass a swim test and change a tire.

I also think writing a simple resume, and thank you letters should be included at some point, if not in middle school, then in freshmen English- communication isn't just about making powerpoints.

Logic could be introduced into history/American gov not just learning about the past, but what information shaped the decisions that were made & how students can learn to make their own decisions using others experiences.


Everyone should know these things- it is part of being a citizen to know our rights, as well as what responsibilities go along with those rights.

adhoc said...

Way off topic, sorry.

I just found out per Tracy Libros that waitlist movement at all schools will stop at the end of September this year, instead of at the end of October.

Why would staff implement this change this year? Why not wait until next year with the new SAP? This year is chaotic enough and movement and choice should not be limited even further.

Megan Mc said...

adhoc, I think I remember hearing about the change early last year in December or February. Something about how disruptive the fluid enrollments are to school's staffing and budgeting.

If I recall correctly, it is a byproduct of the switch to weighted staffing budgets rather than weighted student budgets.

I agree that we should not be limiting choice next year; specially with all the blended programs and reassignments. Also, the end of September only gives families 3 weeks to make a decision which isnt fair to the school or the family. It takes time to assess a problem and try out solutions. A bad start doesn't necessarily mean its a bad fit.

When my kids were having trouble at their first year, I needed at least 6 weeks to make sure the mismatch was legitimate and that still only left me with a week to find another school with open space.

Charlie Mas said...

The District is really of two minds when it comes to students moving in and out of schools.

On one hand, they want to cut off the waitlists early to reduce transfers.

On the other hand, they hold up transferring students as one of the primary reasons that the District needs, needs, needs, standardized texts and pacing guides.

Back on the first hand, the District says that changing schools sets students back by half a year in their education.

On the other hand, the District closes schools, shifts Special Education students around, and messes with sibling preference without any regard to the impact on student transfers.

So, just how many students change schools during the year?

Here are the numbers from the 2008 Data Profile on the total transfers, in and out:

K-8 schools: 529
K-5 schools: 2510
6-8 schools: 842
High schools: 1917
Alternatives: 2830

District total: 8,628

Since a student leaving one school and going to another would be counted twice in this calculation, the transfers are about two times the number of students who transfer. That makes the number of students who transfer about 4,314.

Of course a number of these transfers are students coming into or out of the District. Standardized texts and pacing guides won't help them. A surprising number of these students transfer schools more than once (from school A to re-entry school B to comprehensive school C). Since there is no effort to Standardize texts, courses or pacing guides at the Service schools, Standardization won't help them.

In fact, when using transfers as a justification for Standardization, I think we can only use the K-5, K-8, and 6-8 numbers, which total 3,881. Again, cut the number of transfers in half and you get fewer than 2,000 students, probably actually fewer than 1,500.

Are we to understand that the standardization of texts and the standardization of pacing guides is for fewer than 1,500 of the 33,000 students in these schools?

This is a recurring problem in Seattle Public Schools. 4.5% of the students have a broken arm, but 100% of them have to wear a cast.

There are 3,677 Special Education students in these same schools, so why doesn't every student have an IEP? Why don't we set the curriculum for every student to accomodate them?

There are some 2,500 students in APP and Spectrum in grades 1-8, so why don't we set the curriculum and Standardize texts and pacing guides to accomodate them?

Why do we claim that we are making data-based decisions when we have never seen the data on the number of students who change schools during the year and provide the justification for pacing guides?