It was with a reluctant smile that I read the commentary by Dan Walters on Sunday “California needs to connect dropouts to the economy” concerning the issue of school dropouts. Reluctant because the issue is not funny, but smiling because someone of note was brave enough to bring up the issue, in a state full of issues, and inform the public not only of the dangers but the causes of this problem.
The following day I read an article by a colleague of mine, Don Volle, “We must teach students more than the basic” about the detrimental effect of the over emphasis of standardized tests and the preparation thereof. I could not help but juxtapose these two commentaries and how they are telling the same story from two points of view.
Dan Walters’ final paragraph, referencing the “A Blueprint for Great Schools” stated that while the report cited school finances, teacher training, college education, some mention of dropouts, “it said nothing about the erosion of vocational education that might have kept some of those dropouts in school so they could fill jobs still going begging in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression.”
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2014, demand for plumbers and pipe fitters will increase by 18 percent, carpenters and painters 13 percent, electricians 14 percent, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning mechanics and installers 27 percent, and the addition of untold increases for technical and renovation work to fulfill “green” initiatives. It is estimated that by 2030, some 76 million will have left the workforce to be replaced by only 41 million in skill areas. The replacement of these workers is made more difficult by the emphasis on testing, at the detriment of other programs, in the schools. Not only are the skill areas threatened, but so are the arts and extracurricular activities that give vent to young people and teach such valuable lessons. Young people need to be exposed to aspects of our society, not purely academia. They deserve such programs as SkillsUSA, FFA, student government, sports, drama, dance, choral and instrumental music. These are the programs that make education and our nation better.
Don Volle’s comment in the last paragraph only brings home the point made by Walters to a fuller extent: schools will not be successful in producing responsible and educated minds of good character, full of imagination and desire to become lifelong learners. Standardized tests do not test these abilities, but pressure the institution to abandon them, to one extent or the other, in order to survive.
Education in the United States is compulsory because our forefathers understood the need for an educated citizenry in a democracy. They also understood that not all education occurs in the schoolhouse but that the very foundation of a free society must be taught and exercised in order to continue. This called for schools that prepared young people for the responsibilities of citizenry. The ultimate product of that preparation was a citizenry of well-rounded individuals who understand the need for respect, cooperation, compromise and understanding of others. When our educational institutions sway as a pendulum too far in any one direction, our country suffers.
As I have asserted before, we are eroding the very foundation of education in America. The basic skills are being drastically cut back or eliminated completely so that states and the country can develop robotic test takers who have limited exposure to skills and abilities that have made America a great nation.
Education does need accountability, but the pendulum has swung too far. It is time to look at the effects that No Child Left Behind has had on our future.
Ed Railsback was a teacher and principal at Paso Robles High School and is on the member board of Directors SkillsUSA California.