How career-technical education is making a comeback

“How do we pass a knife?” Kenneth Hosley asks his students.

“Handle-first,” chorus the two dozen Clayton County students in Mundy’s Mill High School after-school culinary club.

More than 60 students applied when Hosley posted fliers for the club earlier this year. Some work in local restaurants now. Some are aiming for culinary school. Many come bearing Tupperware for the take-home benefits.

“The whole idea was to give them real skills, something they could actually use,” Hosley said. “Everyone needs English and basic math, but those vocational skills are not being offered to them.”

Over the past 15 years or so, public schools in Georgia and nationwide slashed vocational education programs to focus on getting students ready for four-year colleges. But in recent years, policymakers from local districts all the way up to the White House have changed their minds. Vocational — or career and technical — education may be making a comeback.

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“We got on this binge of college-for-all that began during the Reagan administration and accelerated during No Child Left behind when we reduced education to two test scores,” said James Stone, director of the National Center for Career and Technical Education at the Southern Regional Education Board, an Atlanta-based think tank. “Around 2005, 2006, 2007, people began to realize that not every student wanted to go to college, that not every student will benefit from going to college. Oh and, by the way, the workforce doesn’t really need everybody with a four-year college degree.”

Today, given the choice between more career-technical classes at their local public schools or more advanced academics,most Americans would pick career-tech, according to a recent national Phi Delta Kappa International poll. State policymakers have poured millions into expanding career-technical education in high schools and linking high school graduates with post-secondary training, such as a technical certificate, that may stop short of a college degree.

But if career-technical education is making a comeback, it could be a bumpy, slow-motion return.

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