For every 10 California high school freshmen, three will drop out
of high school, four will enter college and two will
graduate with a four-year degree.
It’s a sad fact that our education system provides no
clear career path for the other eight, who often struggle
for a lifetime, drop out of school, or drift from job
to job for years before finding a vocation that will
provide a decent living.
This emphasis on college prep leaves too many high
school students without the proper skills for good-paying jobs in the fastest growing and most vital sectors
of California’s economy.
A 2006 report from the Center for Continuing Study of the
California Economy concluded that “it is not true that most (21st Century) jobs will require a four-year degree.
The new emphasis on career technical education will
be helpful in converting California’s workforce challenges into opportunities.”
While there will be an increase in jobs requiring technical
skills, growth in jobs needing college degrees will
be flat. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects
less than a one percent increase in the proportion
of jobs in the national economy requiring a baccalaureate
degree or higher in the next six years.
The California Employment Development Department expects
6.5 million new job openings in the state by 2014.
The large number of jobs that will be created by economic
growth (2.5 million) and through baby boomer retirements (4 million replacement jobs) will provide vast opportunities for both young entry-level job seekers and highly skilled, technology-savvy workers.
Unfortunately, our schools are out of sync with our
In 1987, three out of four California high school students
were enrolled in vocational courses.
But today, that number has dropped to one in three
Fortunately, there’s a growing movement to promote and re-institute career technical education (CTE)—formerly called vocational training —in our public schools.
A coalition of business, labor, agriculture, public
safety, health care, child advocates and educators
is urging Governor Schwarzenegger, California legislators,
and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack
O’Connell to expand CTE educational choices for students.
One of the goals of the coalition, called Get REAL
(Relevance in Education and Learning), is to change the stereotypes associated with skilled
vocational coursework within academia, the media and
the political arena.
The CTE courses of today aren’t the old “voc ed” courses of years past, which had limited offerings
and lacked the technological and academically rigorous
elements of today’s ever-evolving programs.
Today’s challenging CTE courses prepare students for rewarding
careers in health care, construction, automotive engineering
and mechanics, manufacturing, public safety and a host
of other fields that require skilled workers, but not
necessarily a college degree.
Meanwhile, studies show that college-bound students who enter a professional field also
benefit from CTE courses.
Governor Schwarzenegger has said that he wants 2008 to be the “year of education.” While there is broad rhetorical support for the restoration
of CTE to a prominent place in California’s K-12 curricula, an impending state budget shortfall will
make changes more difficult in 2008.
Nevertheless, we believe there are compelling arguments
for strengthening the role of CTE courses in our public
One sad result of our state’s departure from vocational training has been an increase
in the high school dropout rate.
Students are increasingly turning their back on school
because high school fails to provide them with opportunities
to connect their instruction with actual career goals
and life aspirations.
According to a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation study,
81 percent of dropouts who were questioned called for
more “real-world” learning opportunities.
Somewhat surprisingly, 88 percent had passing grades when they dropped out,
and 70 percent said they could have graduated if they had
For them, school wasn’t relevant.
The movement to re-institute CTE in California’s public schools is not an attempt to limit the subjects
that students explore, nor is it an attempt to weaken
academic standards for students who are college-bound.
It is simply an effort to broaden the educational experience
of all students, many of whom now struggle to find
a career in an increasingly complex job market that
demands technical skills.
We suggest that there could be no better way of making
2008 the “year of education” than to institute career technical education courses
that would enrich the opportunities and improve the
lives of virtually all of California’s K-12 students.
We have learned that in California’s education arena, we only value those courses that
are required, measured and funded.
The Get REAL Coalition will be working hard to make
CTE a valued experience for all California students.