Technical and vocational education was virtually tossed out of the curriculum in U.S. public schools 30 years ago.
At that time, it was deemed “appropriate” to assume that all students would go to college. The problem, however, is that a vocational and technical curriculum doesn’t prevent students who are studying using that “hands-on” approach from going to college. But it does supply ways in which students who learn better by “doing” rather than listening to talking heads in classrooms can gain a high school education in all the requisite curricular areas. A recent article in the WSJ describes a public school in North Richland Hills, Texas that “takes hands on learning to another level.” Students who are studying at the Birdsville Center of Technology and Advanced Learning (a $16.75 million campus focused on careers) participate in a variety of activities, from those who draw blood to practice phlebotomy, to those who serve as tellers in the campus-based credit union open to the public, to those who participate in the bistro preparing and serving omelets. Other students tend to the campus’ farm animals and learn about cuts of meat in class. After a lesson about cooking different types of beef, one 16-year old remarked, “If I got hired at a family restaurant, I’d know what to do,” (ref WSJ). Career and technical education programs are the single best way for students to explore careers first hand and become aware of the requirements of the specific work involved. Fortunately, the public school systems have been forced to admit that they made a mistake in closing down the vocational and technical training, and have been induced to add those opportunities back into the curriculum at many schools. The number of students participating, nationally, in career and technical education programs has risen 14% over the past decade. Last year, 32 states and the District of Columbia enacted 146 policies supporting career and technical education (ref. Association for Career and Technical Education). This is largely due to the fact that a number of employers, nationwide, have begun speaking out over the past decade to describe the skills that they need in hiring a new work force, and they have not been reticent in stating that most public schools aren’t turning out students with skills that meet their needs. At the Birdsville center, high school students can choose between 13 career areas with multiple disciplines. The students attend their local high school for academic classes at the same time that they are enrolled in and attending Birdsville. Most programs at the Birdsville center have a waiting list and students are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The campus has a small-college feel – students bustle from one activity focus to another and without the clanging bells announcing change of classes that are prevalent in high schools. Popular programs include study to be a chef and the pharmacy tech program – both of which have high demand for the programs’ graduates.