In my Foundations of Education course at UT-Austin, I challenged my students last week to address legislators and stakeholders that are calling for an expansion of “Career and Technology” education. They were especially vociferous at a forum sponsored by the UT-Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs entitled Measuring Up: A Statewide Conversation on High Stakes Testing & Accountability. I challenged my students to reflect on our class discussions and readings examining similar vocational education and tracking reforms from prior reform eras. I promised the students a guest post on Cloaking Inequity for the most interesting and thoughtful discussion. Here it is:
In preparation for the 83rd Legislative Session, we would like to address the members of the House Committee on Education in regards to your current key interim study charge to:
Recommend any changes to graduation or testing requirements that promote instructional rigor and support postsecondary readiness while appropriately limiting an over reliance on standardized testing.
We believe there is a significant call across Texas for a change in accountability practices based in part on the Resolution Concerning High Stakes, Standardized Testing of Texas Public School Students [currently] signed by 814 Texas school districts. There is a concern in the resolution regarding the “over reliance on standardized testing” and the resulting narrowing of the curriculum to focus on test prep and memorization of facts. In addition to this concern there is also a call to prepare our students for “college and careers” and to become “competitive on the global stage”. We respectfully request you consider various other models in regards to promoting instructional rigor, graduation and testing requirements, and postsecondary readiness.
The following sources provide the research and basis for our request: The report on a Multiple Measures Approaches to High School Graduation published by the School Redesign Network. The Multiple Measures report describes policies established to enhance rigor and evaluate a full range of learning standards, performance skills, and higher order thinking skills. It profiles different state assessment systems and examines a rise in achievement and a lowering of dropout rates. In addition to this report, specific state graduation requirements should be examined. For example, in the state of New York a CTE type of diploma is available, but only by meeting academic standards similar to those of students pursuing a college bound course of study. This technical training results in an awarded diploma, and does not prevent a student from being able to pursue college later in life.
We also recommend The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which outlines a program for education that addresses what is considered worthwhile knowledge for a global and digital economy. It consists of preparation though the following: Core subjects, Learning and Innovation Skills, Information Media and Technology Skills, and Life & Career Skills (2007, as cited in Zhao, 2009). In addition to these sources, we urge you to review internationally based resources including the career prep programs in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. The career preparation programs in these countries are described by “greater depth of content in mathematics and science, greater integration of academic and applied content, and higher demand for cross disciplinary higher order skills” than US high school curriculum as noted in the Standards, assessment, and accountability: Education White Papers Project.
The aim we are recommending should not be considered one of avoiding rigor when pursuing a technical degree, but to pursue rigor by relating the academic concepts in high school subjects such as Algebra, Geometry, English, Social Studies, and Science to the real world applications found in the technical training programs. During previous periods in history when educational systems faltered, as noted by Bowles and Gintis (1975), the crisis afforded the opportunity to examine the complex relations between educational structure and economic forces. According to Commissioner Pauken at the recent Measuring Up: A Statewide Conversation on High Stakes Testing & Accountability at UT Austin on September 24, 2012, the average age of skilled workers in some fields is between 50 and 60 years old. We have an economic need for technically trained young people and our high schools could be the prime place to meet this need. Why not develop graduation requirements with the corresponding academic rigor required for Texas schools to better prepare our students to compete locally and globally, in the college or career path for which they have the greatest aptitude, instead of trying to make a one-size fits all educational system assess through standardized testing that pushes talent into the dropout line?
My final thought: If legislators are serious about CTE, in the infamous words of Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money!” Then we will know they are serious about this form of reform rather than it being retro-tracking. If we don’t see substantial funding directed at CTE, then it will signal to the public that the Texas Legislature is desperate for a new holding bin for Latina/os and African Americans across the Lone Star State.