A WORTHY MEASURE in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget is being dwarfed by the hullabaloo swirling around healthcare reform: increased funding for vocational education.
The $52 million in the governor's budget would be used to coordinate partnerships between colleges and high schools, train teachers and create courses tailored to California's high-growth and emerging industries.
Today's vocational ed, rechristened "career technical education," bears little resemblance to the shop and bread-baking classes of generations past. Nowadays it integrates academics with technical training, preparing students for jobs in fields such as computer animation, forensic investigation, video production, culinary arts, healthcare and engineering. Career tech shouldn't be seen as a way for schools to avoid their duty of giving students an education in the basics. All high school graduates must still be proficient in the core subjects.
Once regarded as a second-tier education for students not headed to college, career tech is having a revival. The elitist myth that leaving high school with employable skills was automatically a lesser achievement than heading to a four-year university has unraveled.
Many educators see career tech as one way to reverse the state's dropout crisis. Between one-quarter to one-half of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District drop out before graduation, as do almost one-third of students statewide. Helping students find careers they love and equipping them for job opportunities while they're still in school can't hurt. And far from creating two divergent educational paths as high schools once did, vocational ed as imagined by Schwarzenegger would create a smooth career tech path from high schools to community colleges in particular, but also to four-year universities.
The governor, who attended vocational school in his native Austria, has said he applied the marketing and sales skills he learned there to his careers in the U.S. Having worked his way through community college as a bricklayer, moving on to become a champion bodybuilder, movie star and governor, he is the perfect model for how vocational education can open doors.