Tuesday, July 5, 2011

NCLB and Vocational Education

A recent article in The Daily Item (MA) discussed the closing of the machine shop at Lynn Technical Vocational Institute. The president of Tech's alumni association, Ron Beckett, stated that he felt as though vocational schools, which provide their students with the opportunity to learn a trade, are "being adulterated by the No Child Left Behind Act." 

Does Beckett have a point?

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama emphasized the importance of education as part of our nation's survival. President Obama spoke of how times have changed and that "over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education." Because of this, current educational policy has partly focused on increasing the proportion of Americans with a college degree. As President Obama lamented, the United States is 9th in this area. Is this 'college-for-all' attitude really the best way to look at education reform? While higher education should be accessible to everyone, it seems idealistic or perhaps even naive to think that everyone should go to college. Fifty percent of jobs in the future will require education beyond a high school diploma, but the other fifty percent will not. So just as we need more American born scientists and doctors, we also will still need plumbers and electricians. 

Despite the varying career aspirations of students, particularly in urban areas, academic standards and requirements have become uniform across school type due in large part to NCLB. This may be damaging for a school like Tech that operates on a alternating schedule between shop and traditional academic subjects. Vocational schools may opt to devote more time to tested subjects (i.e. math and English) in order to prepare for standardized tests, reducing the amount of time for trade specific learning. Additionally, even if students at vocational schools successfully learn a trade, their graduation from high school may be derailed by standardized test requirements. In Massachusetts, students must pass the 10th grade MCAS exam in order to graduate. Thus, a student who excels in his or her trade, but fails the MCAS may not be granted his or her diploma. Lynn Tech is dealing with this challenge as it has had trouble with its MCAS scores. in recent years In 2010, 50% of test takers received a 'needs improvement' or 'fail' on the English Language portion of the test; 62% of test takers did not pass the math portion.

An Item reader wondered if this was a problem among all vocational schools or if this was a problem specific to Tech. Below is the pass (proficient and advanced combined) rates on the 2010 MCAS for a select number of vocational schools in Massachusetts.

Assabet Valley Regional
Blackstone Valley Regional
Blue Hills Regional
Minuteman Regional

So the answer is no, not all vocational schools do poorly on standardized tests. However vocational schools in cities like Lynn and Lawrence (where pass rates were 52%, 37% for English and math respectively), NCLB has serious implications for the future of vocational education. Continued failure on standardized tests may result in the school's conversion to a charter school, the firing of staff, or a state takeover. Additional time may be spent on English and math (as opposed to one's trade) and if all else fails school closure is an option proposed out by NCLB. If any one of these sanctions are enacted, it seriously hinders a student's ability to choose a non-college preparatory education for him or herself. That student would be forced into taking traditional secondary coursework with no real corollary to post-secondary life, a type of academic program that is not appropriate for many students.

Thus, while NCLB has had serious implications for public schools across the board, legislation based on college for all and standardized test scores may be most damaging to vocational ed. With all the talk about choice, choice, choice, why isn't vocational school a respectable option among those in a position of authority?

1 comment:

  1. The traditional college education has always been favored since it's early development, because of the privilege it entails. From what I understand, NCLB seeks to eliminate this elitism in the system, but by doing so, they create standards inapplicable to the voc tech setting. I still firmly believe that vocational education is here to stay and prosper, perhaps through proactive actions in updating the curriculum without leaving the core vocationals left behind.

    Mike Latone @ choicecareerscollege.com