Now that the Texas Legislature is taking a hard look at the way education reforms are being implemented across the state, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my recent experience traveling to Austin to talk with the State Board of Education about this important issue. As you might have heard, lawmakers passed a reform bill last year that created more flexibility for students who are trying to get a high school diploma in Texas. Those of us in the trades, like construction, have been very supportive of this for two main reasons: we want to see as many young people succeed as possible, and we feel there’s a career for many of them in our industries.
When I went to Austin to give public testimony on behalf of our education partner, NCCER, I understood that my goal was to provide an employer’s perspective of the relevance and rigor we find within the NCCER curricula and why we think utilizing industry standard curricula would give high school students an advantage in the work place.
I must say that the Board of Education should be commended for their commitment. I arrived at 9:00 a.m. and left around 7:30 that evening, and there were still people lined up out the door to speak to the board! I understand that testimony continued into the early hours of the next morning. I did not get a chance to speak to the board personally, but I submitted written testimony for them to consider along with the words of so many others. Sitting there for nine hours, I heard some extraordinary testimony from some very smart people that I would like to respond to, even if I don’t agree with all of them.
A couple of things struck me as educators and others were speaking:
- “Without Algebra II, were are dooming our children to a life without opportunity.” This comment was made repeatedly by many Algebra II teachers and others.
- “A real career is one that ultimately leads to a management position.”
In Nicholson Baker's article Wrong Answer: The case against Algebra II in the September 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine (subscription required), he says “my god! Algebra II! It’s the mystic door! If we force every child go through this door successfully, if we make them do it and we make them succeed, then they’ll all be above average and the world will be a better place.”
Success can be defined in many ways. It bears no resemblance to reality to say that the completion of one course in particular or that the only successful career path is one that is defined by attaining a management position. No one should try to diminish the accomplishments of those who achieve those goals, but we also shouldn’t say their path is the only path.
Losing one half of students on the way to graduation should alert us that whatever we are doing is not working.
Providing flexibility for schools to work with employers and the community college system to provide real jobs that lead to real careers is not dumbing down a student’s high school experience. The opposite is true. It makes success attainable for nearly all students.
As the director of workforce development for a commercial contractor, I see the way this works in the real world every day. Our craft professional workforce is made up of men and women that have developed knowledge and skills that make them successful. They work hard to deliver a quality product to our customers while they continually train and hone their skills. They also pay taxes, buy homes and vehicles, pursue hobbies, raise children, and send those kids on to college – if that is their goal. Many of them volunteer to teach young people their craft and to build homes for veterans.
Some will pursue management opportunities, associate and bachelor degrees, and some will not, but they can all be proud of the life they have chosen and the path they took to get there.