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Jobs Not Jail: Bring Back Vocational Education

After a two-year pandemic hiatus, classrooms are finally getting back to normal. Although this is a relief for parents, it will take decades to absorb the brutal consequences of COVID on the children of our country.

In the 1990s, I was listening to a presentation by a civil servant who ran a for-profit prison. During the Q&A, an audience member asked, “How do you know how many beds you need to build?” Without hesitation, the official said, “We extrapolate from the number of children who fail the NAEP fourth-grade reading exam.” The room became silent.

Conducted every four years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress is a longitudinal snapshot of student achievement in grades 8, 8 and 12 and of reading and math skills. It was last conducted in 2019 – before the shutdown, giving us a baseline that approximates COVID. The 2019 NAEP showed that 34% of fourth graders were unable to read at grade level, up 3% from 2015. I bet the next measurement will be much bigger.

How much bigger? The Brookings Institution puts the impact of COVID on reading at 15%. With 2023 fast approaching, we could be looking at a NAEP non-skill count of around 50%. And if you’re looking for evidence of disparate impact, NAEP failure and COVID-related failure aren’t colorblind.

The good news is that the educational institution knows it has a huge problem on its hands – and it has $22 billion in search of “evidence-based interventions” to address the decline in learning made worse by COVID.

Unfortunately, the thinking on this front is neither inspired nor up to the challenge. Educators intend to turn on the funding taps to pay for measures whose success depends on high-quality teachers — teachers who don’t exist in the current labor pool.

The Emergency Relief Fund for Elementary and Secondary Schools must target the most vulnerable students.
Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP

What would challenging thinking look like?

First, a budget for great thinking. The money is there. The Emergency Relief Fund for Elementary and Secondary Schools is $200 billion, including $20 billion dedicated to closing the COVID gap for at-risk students. The problem is the default thinking that got us into this situation: it won’t get us out of it, even with this bankroll.

We know who is failing these NAEP exams. Instead of watching them drown again, let’s develop an educational approach that works for them specifically and on a large scale.

We know what works: clarity and achievable standards for academic and personal behavior, scrupulously enforced.

We must enter with our eyes open. These children have obvious problems outside of the classroom that are holding them back academically. Clarity is key. It’s not prison, it’s an alternative to prison. Education is your child’s best chance for a good life.

These children need a culture of learning designed to push back the problems that exist at home or on the streets. The NAEP test is made to pass. Closing the NAEP gap should take priority – not a new teacher contract or more identity politics or a lowering of standards to satisfy awakened directives.

Look behind the curtain at successful charter and Catholic schools in poor communities. You will find a culture of personal responsibility, linked to respect for peers, teachers and the community. Lorraine Monroe has made it her vocation to save children at risk; his mantra is “The street stops here”. There are too many streets in our schools and in the homes of these children. They need loving discipline and structure.

Finally, make it practical, practical and engaging. If we want to create functional citizens out of dysfunctional circumstances, meet them where they are and give them the tools and encouragement they need to rise above their circumstances.

And make it relevant to them. Communicate the immediate benefit and practical value of learning. Build classroom lessons and activities around demonstrating the true value of an education. Release and exercise students’ common sense.

This fundamental failure stems from our middle-class fixation on college as the only path to productive citizenship and life — even though only 40 percent of high school graduates have the aptitude for college-level work.

The solution to the problem of at-risk children – most of them being minority men – lies in public trade schools. Trades education was once a component of public education, and some secondary schools were dedicated solely to building human capital in the practical arts and sciences. These schools and programs have virtually disappeared today. They need to be revived.

With all this unused money, let’s invest it in building flagship vocational schools and programs within mainstream high schools – programs consciously designed to close the NAEP skills gap and prepare at-risk children to fulfill those millions of skills. unfulfilled and well paid. based jobs.

The choice before us is simple: a bourgeois job or a prison bed. This shouldn’t be a difficult call to make.

Guy Shepherd is the editor of Planned Man.

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