I usually shudder at some of the things President Obama proposes.
Nevertheless, in his recent State of the Union Address, he raised an issue about which I have been passionate for almost 40 years. In his 1992 presidential campaign, President Bill Clinton was talking a great deal about creating partnerships between private industries and public education.
The idea of training that prepares high school students to obtain apprenticeships in specialized tool making and other crafts really fired my imagination. I voted for Bill Clinton in 1992.
I remember reading an article about Clinton’s proposals regarding many U.S. employers that were unable to locate the specialized machinists that Europe traditionally produces. Germany and other nations nurture the partnerships that President Clinton talked about during that first campaign. I have not subsequently heard that kind of discussion about vocational training partnerships for students in the U.S. until President Obama proposed the idea for colleges.
But why not have such partnerships at the high school level? Washington state already has the occupational skills centers and vocational training at the community college level. Most of the discussion about high schools seems to emphasize academic programs and getting students into colleges. Many students would develop career interests in high school classes if more opportunities were to become available to work in partnership with employers like Boeing that hire workers skilled in specialized crafts.
Some observers have suggested that vocational education might encourage more young men and women not to drop out. Learning to repair any machinery, like cars and trucks, requires math skills. Math is not so difficult once a student taps into his or her interests.
Bill Stafford, a president of the Trade Development Alliance for 20 years, reminds students and the rest of us that cooks need to read and do math, too. The best vocational programs were once at the high school level.
According to Mr. Stafford, Edison Technical School was started in 1946 to help World War II vets who wanted to finish high school. Twenty years later, it morphed into Seattle Community College. Vocational education in Seattle is now mostly for students after they are out of high school.
If educators want to begin thinking creatively, they should think about all the occupations that involve weapons. Boeing is in the weapons business. Gun sales have been higher than ever before all over the U.S. and gunsmiths are in extremely short supply. Hillsdale College and 40 other colleges, including Harvard University, Harvard Law, Yale and MIT, just received grants for shooting programs.
One school, Montgomery Community College of Troy, N.C., developed a shooting program and also offers gunsmithing and hunting and shooting sports management programs. The grants came from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry.
Gunsmithing is just one example of the kind of partnerships that educators should be discussing. Many educators don’t like talking about guns except in connection with gun-free zones. But who would you rather meet in a dark alley? A graduate from a gunsmithing program or an armed graduate from one of our state’s largest vocational schools supervised by the Department of Corrections?
Students that get work experience in high school are likely to stay in school, graduate and get a good job. “College for All” is not for two out of three high school students. According to at least one study, “College for All” seems to be the dream of elite educators.
The United States has the highest dropout rate in the industrialized world, according to Harvard Graduate School of Education’s “Pathways to Prosperity.” Many high school students apparently believe high school is not relevant in finding the path to what they seek.
Washington state has skill centers that serve a number of school districts. Stafford suggested in a recent Crosscut article that remodeling a school could provide a vocational high school in Seattle that might lead the way nationally.
Boeing stated recently that it will have 20,000 retirements in the next 10 years. Would Boeing be willing to partner with the Federal Way School District to create a new vocational school in Federal Way? It could be cheaper than the proposed levy for Federal Way High School — and more profitable.