Schooled Reporting on education

Training Americans to work

Education | Trump touts a technical education funding bill amid push for apprenticeships and vocational courses
by Leigh Jones
Posted 8/08/18, 03:01 pm

David Thompson ran track in high school, and that athletic talent might have paved a path to college. But an injury his senior year created what he described as “a new opportunity.” Four years after his graduation in 2014, Thompson returned last week to his alma mater, Tampa Bay Tech in Tampa Fla., to describe what happened after that injury forced him to “fall back” on vocational training.

“I’m a pipe welder, and I’m telling this to the kids: You can have a trade, and you can be successful,” he said July 31 with President Donald Trump at his side. “I make over six figures a year. I’m 23. I love it.”

Thompson broke out into a wide grin as the audience cheered and Trump patted him on the back.

“That’s pretty good,” the president said, prompting more cheers.

Thompson joined Trump for an event touting the value of vocational training. Before traveling to the Sunshine State, the president signed a bill that provides $1 billion in funding for workforce training programs at high schools and community colleges across the country. The reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act is the most significant education-related bill of the Trump administration so far.

It passed through Congress with little fanfare and even less bickering, a remarkable feat of bipartisanship in today’s fractured political climate. Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank, attributes the bill’s smooth passage to the growing awareness that decades of education policy reforms overemphasized the importance of going to college. While a four-year degree does provide a path to the middle class, Petrilli said, that’s not the right choice for every student.

“I think a lot of us have come to understand that we made a big mistake decades ago when we really started to diminish the career and technical education programs that we had in our high schools,” he said. “And there’s been this effort to bring them back and make them stronger to make sure that they lead to good jobs and meaningful opportunities.”

Congress first passed the Perkins Act in 2006. The reauthorization doesn’t plow much new ground, but it does give states more authority to set goals for training programs and decide how to measure their success. That emphasis on local control could help overcome one major criticism of vocational training programs: their inability to react to the sometimes rapidly changing job market. If states allow local communities to design programs that best suit their industries, students might actually get the kind of training that can land them a job.

The workforce initiative Trump announced ahead of the Perkins Act reauthorization also emphasizes apprenticeships, where students get an on-the-job education. Petrilli calls that kind of specialized training vital to creating successful career and technical education programs. He said too many schools, even those with a vocational focus, allow students to “dabble,” taking just a few courses in a specific area, instead of getting serious about workplace training through experience.

“This is where our high schools are way behind what’s happening in many other advanced countries,” Petrilli noted.

U.S. companies participating in the National Council for the American Worker have vowed to train or retrain 4 million job seekers. Trump hopes many of them will have as much success as David Thompson.

“Wow, that’s a great job. He’s doing well,” the president declared amid more cheers. “David, how much did you say? That’s a lot of money!”

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images (file) Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images (file) Protesters for and against teachers unions outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016

Undercutting unions’ political power

Last month, I wrote about optimism among school choice advocates after the recent Supreme Court decision nixing mandatory “agency fees” for public sector workers who don’t belong to local unions. Analysts expect teachers unions to lose members—and funds—hampering their ability to lobby against school reform measures. But activists in California aren’t satisfied with the Janus v. AFSCME ruling and hope to push unions even further out of the political arena with another legal challenge.

In 2015, attorney Josh Lipshutz filed suit on behalf of four teachers who wanted to keep their union membership but didn’t want their dues used to support political causes with which they disagreed. A federal appeals court threw out the case on technical grounds in May, but Lipshutz has vowed to try again with a different set of plaintiffs.

If they don’t want to participate in the union’s political activities, teachers can opt out of membership, and after the Janus ruling can’t be forced to pay fees to cover collective bargaining efforts. But membership does come with some benefits, including the ability to negotiate the terms of their contract, free representation during employment disputes, and better pay during maternity leave. Teachers shouldn’t have to give up those benefits just to keep from participating in political activities, Lipshutz argues. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Wilfredo Lee (pool) Associated Press/Photo by Wilfredo Lee (pool) School shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz in a Broward County, Fla., courtroom during a hearing Friday

Judge orders release of school report on Parkland shooter

Lawyers for the Broward County, Fla., school board have asked a Florida judge to punish a local newspaper and two reporters for releasing the full text of a report about the Parkland school shooter. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled Friday the report should be made public but agreed officials could black out some portions to protect Nikolas Cruz’ privacy. But when a reader alerted the Sun-Sentinel to a way it could easily remove the redactions from the electronic document, the newspaper published the whole thing. Editor in chief Julie Anderson justified the decision by noting information about the shooting is “of the utmost importance to our community.”

The school district commissioned the report to figure out whether administrators made any missteps in handling Cruz. The outside group hired to evaluate what happened determined they did. First, officials misinformed Cruz about his options after getting expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Then, they failed to follow up on his request to return to an alternative school, where he might have gotten help for his mental health problems. In a transcript of his police interrogation, Cruz told investigators a voice in his head had told him for years to hurt people. —L.J.

Bare minimum

Bad news for California high school seniors: Although more of them are graduating than in years past, fewer than half meet the requirements to continue their education in the state college system. In 2017, just 46.8 percent of graduates passed the state-required college prep courses with a grade of C or better—the minimum needed to apply to a University of California school. But that’s better than in 2013, when just 39.4 percent achieved that benchmark. Charter school graduates do slightly better, with 50 percent passing the courses. —L.J.

Mary Jane goes to school

Illinois just made marijuana legal in schools—for children who have permission to take the drug for medical purposes. Lawmakers who backed the bill said children who take marijuana for medical conditions often need it to attend school. The measure, signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, allows parents or guardians to give students a “cannabis-infused product” on school property, including buses. School officials can only step in if the activity disrupts the “educational environment.” —L.J.

Following suit

Campus Christian ministry InterVarsity filed suit this week against the University of Iowa over the school’s so-called anti-discrimination policy. In a purge that started with the Business Leaders in Christ group, administrators have kicked nearly 40 student groups off campus for having belief-based leadership or membership requirements. —L.J.

Gender bias

Why are the students in Japan’s most prestigious medical school overwhelmingly male? Because administrators lowered female applicants’ test scores to keep them out. —L.J.

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Leigh Jones

Leigh is the news editor for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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    Posted: Sat, 08/11/2018 07:04 pm

    After all the hype about no jobs for college students during the economic bust, Obama said all kids should go to college, especially illegal dreamers. But, hey, the greatest pres. ever. Just ask him.