There was once a time when vocational education was more than just a set of courses that will help students unfit for college to find work in a particular field. Maybe these students have behavioral issues or low test scores or simply did not aspire for a significantly higher education.
Of course, the previous generation held a college—and more importantly, a university—education in extremely high regards. And those who did not make the cut could rely on vocational training to get certain specialized jobs.
However, in states like Louisiana, California, and Colorado, vocational education appears to have been rebranded, in a way, as “career pathways.” These are careers which not only involve specialized knowledge but also experience with relevant technology within an industry-themed academic structure.
It is an important distinction to make at this time as technology continues to make its way more and more into our every day lives. And it is also an important distinction to make as it is getting harder and harder to find students motivated to fill these careers.
“Career and technical education is really the perfect blend of the academic, the technical and the employability skills. Students come out college- and career-ready because they have the skills in all these essential areas,” explains LeeAnn Wilson, who is the Executive Director for the Association for Career and Technical Education.
And it appears that Congress is on board: they have endorsed this renaissance, of sorts; at least, in theory. Last year, Congress introduced an education reform bill which introduced career and technical education as part of a well-rounded K-12 education. And then, over the course of the next year, lawmakers will be expected to strengthen the new federal which is supposed to provide more than one billion dollars a year for the purpose of job training for middle and high school students.
Accordingly, University of Colorado, Boulder, National Education Policy Center director Kevin Welner, notes, “I think we can identify 9th grade students who have career interests and build a rich, challenging curriculum around those interests. That’s a smart thing to do.”
He goes on to say, “What’s not smart is to identify 9th grade students who are academically struggling and then track them into these separate academic programs that have watered-down expectations and watered-down instruction.”