Massachusetts Excels in Vocational and Technical Education for Students



I wish we could have Booker T. Washington and WEB Du Bois on our television screens. What great guests they would be live on Fox and MSNBC, showing the compelling depths of two of America’s top thinkers.

We still have a big problem that these two luminaries could not solve, and with which our country is still struggling. Du Bois and Washington disagreed on whether black children should be prepared for trades or college. A new book sheds light on this debate — now focused on all underprivileged children — and reveals the remarkable success Massachusetts vocational and technical schools have had in building job skills and book learning.

We education writers rarely look at voc-tech, as it’s called. As high school students, most of us intended to go to college. I took a mechanical drawing class because my scout leader said it would be good for me. But all my other classes were the standard selection of English, math, science, and history.

The new book on this issue is “Hands-On Achievement: Massachusetts’s National Model Vocational-Technical Schools,” edited by Chris Sinacola and David J. Ferreira and published by the liberal think tank Pioneer Institute. It holds many surprises.

Public high schools presenting themselves as models of vocational and academic education have often been weak in both areas. But Massachusetts has come a long way since its 1993 Education Reform Act required vocational students to take the same academic standards and tests used by regular public schools.

Reversing the failure of vocational education

At first, many educators thought this was a bad idea. They said state testing was too much of a burden on voice tech students. But teachers across the state made it work. In 2008, 96% of students at voice technology schools passed both the English and math portions of state tests, better than the statewide pass rate of 94%. Dropout rates in voice technology schools have also declined.

Massachusetts vocational subjects have been updated to electronics construction, medical assisting, biotechnology, and other skills where jobs are plentiful. Many states do. What’s different is how voc-tech high schools in Massachusetts schedule their classes: all voc-tech one week, all academic classes the next week, then start again.

The book’s experts working on voc-tech and examining the Massachusetts approach are Ken Ardon, William Donovan, Alison L. Fraser, Jacqueline M. Moore, and Wilfrid J. Savoie.

The book says voice technology students in the state “typically spend the first half of their freshman year exploring up to 10 professional and technical majors offered at their schools.” They select the ones they like and are matched with the appropriate small classes.

“Over the next three and a half years, the students follow a rotating schedule. A full week is spent in store focusing on the chosen vocation, the following week in traditional academic courses,” the book states. “The students work closely with the same teachers for more than three and a half years.

The book explains that Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was famous for the professional pattern he learned at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia and established at the college, the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, which he founded to black students in Tuskegee. , To the. “No race can prosper until it learns that there is as much dignity in plowing a field as in writing a poem,” Washington said. “It is at the bottom of life that one must begin and not at the top.”

WEB Du Bois (1868-1963) focused on scholars at his college, Fisk University in Nashville. He then became the first African American to receive a doctorate at Harvard. His specialty was sociology. He wanted to turn the most successful black students into intellectual superstars, what he called “the talented tenth.” He said “the Negro race, like all races, will be saved by its exceptional men”.

I think they would both have approved of the methods Massachusetts uses to deepen both vocational education and the reading, writing, and math also needed to succeed in the trades. Many of these students then go on to two- or four-year colleges that are much better prepared for their chosen path.

Long maligned, training for skilled trades is making a comeback

A national survey of educators whose voc-tech students were making progress found that their most effective teaching methods included hands-on experiments or projects that made content more concrete, asking students to write in their voc-tech classes to clarify and communicate their ideas, increasing the number of students using math to solve real-world problems and assigning more reading.

The book states that “the majority of vocational schools in Massachusetts require students to produce a senior project and/or portfolio to graduate. …After choosing a topic, the student conducts research, maintains a portfolio, and meets throughout the year with a Senior Project Advisor and possibly a Project Mentor from the community.

This is similar to project-based learning used for college-focused high school students in the International Baccalaureate Program’s In-Depth Essay Writing and Advanced Placement Program Seminar and Research courses.

In the past, high schools have been reluctant to cede power over their curricula to corporations and unions with jobs to offer. We often wonder who is responsible. This doesn’t seem to be a problem in Massachusetts, where local employers work closely with voice technology schools. Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford, Massachusetts, for example, worked with the Lowell Five Hundred Savings Bank to create a branch where full-time employees worked side-by-side with students.

Many Massachusetts voc-tech schools have also extended their school year. Blackstone Valley Regional Technical High School in south-central Massachusetts has 195 school days per year, compared to 180 in the United States. This is the longest school year of any public school in Massachusetts.

Washington and Du Bois would probably have applauded the effort to improve the two approaches to education they highlighted. But they might also wonder why it took so long.


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