27 October 2010

K19 - Soviet Sub doomed to die. K-16 - Education plan of a similar fate?

Though I now teach in Colorado, I began my career in Indiana. As I've previously mentioned, the school I worked in was very poor, but not so poor that I didn't get mail (because that's free). In October of 2003 (my second year teaching), a plan arrived in my mailbox from the Department of Education. It was called "P-16" 

P-16 was more than just a catchy name, it was a plan that all students would begin getting education prior to their enrollment in kindergarten, and would get at least 4 years of post-graduate education. This seems like a great idea. It seems ideal that all kids would go to college.

It's not.

You see, not every student is academically or socially fit for college. Some are best served by serving in the military. Some are best served by 1-4 year programs at trade schools and community colleges (which despite having "college" in their names, teach a vastly different set of skills than universities).

But parents want their kids to go to college, and so education has been pushed towards a model which shoves all kids to that goal. This doesn't just apply to counselling departments either. No, it seeps into all levels of a building. I think it's been most prevalent in the subjects we used to call "shop" and "home ec".

Those subject areas were valuable areas in which to teach valuable life skills, and employment skills to students who don't find themselves attracted to an academic track. They also provide an opportunity for non-traditional learners to find a subject at which they can excel. As these valuable programs get cut, those students who wish to learn trades must elect to leave the school to go to a regional vocational program.

Vocational programs are great for students mature enough to know that it is their interest, and for those students willing to leave their friends and campus, but for those students who are not yet at that level of awareness, but who are not necessarily academically inclined, we have closed the path they may have traditionally taken. Now we say to them "Stay in school, go to college".

We need to stop selling college as a cure all. Telling kids they need to go to college won't make them better at math, science, or reading. It won't solve America's myriad of problems. Holding them to high standards, that might help. Perhaps we could set goals, and expect them to achieve them.

A large part of this problem is the fact that almost everyone who works in a school went to college. It is too easy for us as teachers and counselors to remember our post-graduate experiences, and project them onto our charges. But to do that is to do a great disservice to our students. We need to be good enough to recognize a vocational track (shhhhh, tell no one I said "track") is the appropriate track for some students, and then enroll them on that track.

So, why is this a problem for American education? Mostly because those students who used to fill their schedules with shop, advanced metals, and practical math no longer have those classes to enroll in, and they instead enroll in "academic" classes. But they don't fit there, and so they either act out to cover their inadequacies, or they work hard, but are not rewarded with a "good" grade. Or, in the worst scenario, they work hard, and they get a good grade, but don't deserve it, leading to grade inflation, and the artificial hope and belief that they would succeed in college. 

Those students then enroll, gather debt, discover too late that they aren't built for college, and drop out. They sour on education in general, and pass that on to their children, and the cycle begins anew.

The world needs mechanics and plumbers, and they don't need college, so lets stop telling them that they do.

1 comment:

  1. Have you read The Global Achievement Gap? I just started, but I can tell you'd like it. His intro talks about how what public education does now is prepare kids for getting into college and does little to prepare them for life -- real jobs, real world. Like you said, many kids would be better served by an education that prepares them for a vocation that suits them and where they could be a productive citizen. Maybe we'd have fewer people on welfare?