Schools must prepare students for college — or for work.
Every good paying job does not require a college degree and every student is not going to get a college degree. Statistics support these facts. Thankfully, California’s education policy is starting to support these facts as well.
Approximately 30 years ago, California educational policy altered its course. It went from a model that offered students “multiple paths” to success (i.e., vocational opportunities) to a “one-size-fits-all” approach in which every student would get a four-year university degree.
The results of this “one-size-fits-all” policy were predictable. Auto repair, welding, wood working and other vocational classes were eliminated across the state at a rapid pace. However, the jobs connected to these skill sets did not disappear. Less mentioned is a dynamic I noticed firsthand as a high school teacher. Many students fell off the path to high school graduation because they had no interest in a four-year university education, yet were being told that was their destiny. There was little to engage theses students at school and they opted to drop out.
Although every student should have the opportunity and be prepared to obtain a four-year degree, the California economy has many quality jobs that cannot be filled due to a lack of vocational/technical skills. Today there is a shortage of welders, auto repair technicians, code writers and many other positions that require hands-on technical skills. When these jobs are not filled, the California economy hurts. Further, these jobs have decent salaries that support middle class families.
Recognizing the need to ensure that students have multiple paths to success and the benefit of Vocational/Career Technical Education programs to the California economy, the state legislature set up a three-year funding plan to re-implement these programs in California high schools. We are in the last year of that funding plan, but we are nowhere near the goal of building comprehensive vocational/career technical programs across our state that match the needs of our students and our economy.
In 2018, my top priority will be to continue funding these programs. As a parent, a teacher and a realist, I recognize the need to support these programs. It should be noted that the California business community sees this as a major priority as well, given that they are on the front-line and recognize the dearth of technical skills among job applicants.
We must act this year, or we leave California students and the California economy behind. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that our educational system meets the needs of our students and our economy. We all benefit when that happens.
Patrick O’Donnell represents the 70th Assembly District, which includes most of Long Beach.