Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Major dislike of LB 1144, introduced by State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha. It would create "career academy schools" to train students in vocational trades instead of delivering a full, liberal-arts high school education to each student. This dislike is not just because voc ed is tremendously expensive, and increased school spending is the last thing we need in this day and age. There are many more reasons this is a bad idea.

The idea has been around in the U.S. since at least the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994. It was promulgated along with that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Goals 2000 law. These two concepts dangled federal start-up grants to lock school districts into a destructive and expensive concept of denying some of their student populations a full education in exchange for training them for a blue-collar job after high school.

School-to-Work and "career academies" are a sad repeat of the huge mistakes made in the former Soviet Union, Germany and Japan. For decades, kids there were "sorted" at an early age -- dumb, smart, dumb, dumb, smart -- and directed to either be Smurfs -- given only workforce training -- or, for a small number who really are smart, and/or whose parents are Politically Correct, tracked for a real education so that they can become elites.

The Smurfs would get only rudimentary reading, writing, history, science and math preparation, less than half of the curriculum the rest of the students would be getting. Employers would get really cheap labor for the half-days these dumbed-down kids would spend in the workforce, doing apprenticeships for very low wages.

What about American equal opportunity? This concept would destroy that.

Now, I'm for tech ed as much as anybody. Of COURSE there's a certain percentage of students who would flourish in a technical career and not so much in college. Of COURSE we have to be realistic, that not all kids are academically strong, and we need to do everything we can to keep them from dropping out.

But this isn't the answer. Improving our schooling, all the way back to the early grades, where the academic deficiencies begin, is the answer.

The biggest hazard is a civil rights issue: there's a basic right to choose your own future, and work toward it, in this country. If millions of dollars are spent preparing career academies, you'd better BELIEVE they would find youth to fill those slots.

Just GUESS what the numbers would be in inner-city Omaha, for the percentage of students who would be sorted into the career academies vs. those who would be "sorted" into a traditional liberal-arts track that can lead to the executive suite, medical school, law school and so forth.

Regardless of their potential, talents or interests, the vast majority of the students in low-income areas would be tracked into the career academies.

This idea patronizes them and their parents, selling these kids' futures short -- "well, at least they can get a JOB after graduation" -- instead of delivering a quality, well-rounded, in-depth education that would leave their options open. Those options do, indeed, include a career in the vocations -- but it should be the employers, not the schools, doing the technical training and bearing the high cost -- and technical job training should never, ever replace bona fide education.

What's happening now is that technical employers are having to re-educate their new hires in the 3 R's -- reading, writing and arithmetic -- before they are even ready to be trained in their technical skill. Kids are coming out of schools as it is, unemployable because of a lack of academic skills. So if we cut their time in school in HALF, what do you suppose would be the result?

I don't relish the thought of driving over bridges built by people who only got half a high school education. Yikes!

If schools remained schools, and workplaces remained workplaces, we'd all be better off.

Schools are for turning out well-prepared, well-rounded citizens first, and future employees second. Right? Right!

It would short-change high-potential kids trapped in inner-city schools, building class envy and resentment to a fever pitch.

Career development and "sorting" begins as early as kindergarten, and the kids are put under enormous pressure to do well on standardized tests so that they don't wind up in the Smurf pigeonhole and cut their school days in half, with greatly dumbed-down curriculum, so that they can work at apprenticeships for pittance wages all afternoon.

Hmm. Harping on careers. Big pressure for state assessments. Who needs geometry, chemistry and Shakespeare if you're "only" going to work in construction, auto shop, health-care product assembly, or food prep?

Sound at all familiar with what's happening in our schools today?

Look what happened to those economies that went to the workforce development model. Look at the payroll taxes, particularly in Germany, as the cost of this workforce training is passed on to consumers by the businesses in the form of higher prices, instead of directly to taxpayers, to hide the financial boondoggle, and educational short-changing?

What a terrible idea in the Information Age, to lock kids out of dreams like owning their own businesses or being doctors, just because the government has provided these expensive voc tech academies, and SOMEBODY has to be enrolled in the programs using all that equipment.

Sigh. Here's hoping financial realities will kill this bill.

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