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‘Civic Issue: Public Education’ Category

  1. Vocational Schooling Models

    April 16, 2015 by Nicole Luchansky

    In my last blog post, I discussed the stereotypes in regards to vocational schooling. Many believe that vocational schooling is the inferior path to take in terms of educational achievement. However, I discovered that most of the stereotypes are based on wrongful statistics and that vocational schooling is a very viable option for many students. President Obama would agree with this sentiment. In 2012, Obama asked Congress to appropriate $1.1 billion to improve vocational and technical education at the secondary-school level. Obama also proposed spending $1 billion on high-school programs that train students to be able to work in information technology and healthcare industries. If the President of the United States is specifically requesting for legislation in full support of vocational schooling, why are we still so automatically opposed? How do we overcome this ignorance? Is it possible to make vocational schooling a widespread movement if public approval were to be gathered?

    Vocational schooling is not a new concept. However, in the eyes of the public, supporting vocational schooling and regarding it with respect is a rather new endeavor. The best way to ease the public into rendering support is by showing excellent examples. There are several models to examine, both internationally and in the United States. In Switzerland, education is free. With the American mentality in mind, one would think that most students would take full advantage of free secondary schooling. In reality, most Swiss students choose to immerse themselves in vocational training. Statistics show that 67% of Swiss students, after completing 9 mandatory years of compulsory education, willingly choose to enter vocational schooling. What is drawing them to this field, in quite the opposite manner of American students? In one TIME article written by Helena Bachmann, she describes a man by the name of Jonathan Bove. At the age of 16, he decided to enter vocational training at an insurance company. After three years of vocational training he received a job at a telecommunication company where he earns a starting salary of $52,000 per year. His beginning salary is incredible and that is due to the rigid standards set by VET schooling in Switzerland. Students who choose the vocational schooling track are offered a dual education where they work as an apprentice at a host company, while also taking classes at a VET school. (There are currently 80,000 apprentices for 58,000 host companies.) Switzerland puts in a lot of research and effort to determine the best job markets for their students, and they push to have these students enter a promising field. As a result, only 3% of young people in Switzerland are unemployed, which is one of the lowest percentages in 30 of the industrialized countries. What has allowed Switzerland to be so successful? Businesses invest 5.4 billion dollars into the VET programs each year, and they make a return of 5.4 billion dollars with a surplus of 400 million dollars.

    Is this type of schooling feasible in the United States? Switzerland truly is doing education right. However, in America, there would be two major roadblocks to this type of system. One, business regulation is much more complex and rigid in the United States and it would be harder to get businesses to work with VET schools. Even if the business issue was overcome, the question still remains, “Will society ever be content with sorting high school student onto different tracks?”

    John Klein, a writer for TIME magazine, argues that societal views will change slowly, but in the meantime, the United States should pursue vocational schooling. According to Klein, there are several vocational schools in Arizona that are very well-funded. The East Valley Institute of Technology and the Career and Technical Education Program and Monument Valley High School are great models for the American public to examine. Klein believes that through parental education on the positives of vocational schooling will relieve a great deal of the stigmas associated with vocational schooling, and allow the public to render a model similar to that of Switzerland.

    Upon examination of all of the facts, the Switzerland model is very viable. As far as business regulations go, for the time being, I do not think that the United States is anywhere near being able to follow suit. However, that is not to say that progress cannot be made in the future. If society gets on board, by looking at good models and by being educated by policy makers, it is possible that the stereotypes and stigmas can be relinquished. Currently, Britain and India are both striving to adopt the Swiss model, and while it might not be feasible in the present, it is good food for thought for the future. What do you think?

     

    Backmann, Helena. “Who Needs College? The Swiss Opt for Vocational School | TIME.com.” World Who Needs College The Swiss Opt for Vocational School Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

    “Obama Calls for Focus on Vocational Training.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

    “Why Should We Care About Vocational Education?” Edutopia. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.


  2. The Stigma Associated with Vocational Education

    March 25, 2015 by Nicole Luchansky

    VocationalSkills

    Last semester, I had the opportunity to attend the Public Education Forum that took place in State College. The point of the discussion was to determine the best way to structure the education experience in grades kindergarten through twelfth grade. We covered many topics including standardized testing, critical thinking, community service and citizenship. The emphasis was on whether or not schooling should be based on pure development of pedagogical knowledge or whether the focus should be on building inspired and empowered citizens. We were asked questions like, “Should schools focus on the math and sciences, or should the propagation of a creative mindset be fostered?” and “Should students be required to be well-rounded academically, or should schools push to develop students based on their specific abilities?” The participants in my deliberation group were very vocal, and had many interesting experiences and opinions to share. Upon my recollection of the event, however, the part of the discussion that remains vivid in my mind was the discussion on vocational schooling.

    For the past several weeks, I have been discussing standardized testing, the pros and cons, and the effects of “teaching to the test.” Schools across the nation are focused on tests that offer them funding and that require students to pass in order to participate in graduation. However, while there are many arguments that I discussed regarding Common Core, and state based tests like the Keystone exams, one very important test that I did not focus on is the SATs (and its friend, the ACTs). These exams have become such a business. Parents pay thousands of dollars to provide intense tutoring in the hopes that their child will perform well on this one exam and have the best opportunity of getting into college. Over the years, this four hour examination has come to weigh as much as four years of high school, if not more, in the college acceptance process. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors and high school administrators focus on preparing students for that one examination, ultimately creating the idea that college is the only valuable route for a student to take.

    Speaking from personal experience, the idea of attending a vocational school was never even a thought for me. My older siblings and my parents all attended college, and after years of being constantly bombarded with the idea that high school grades and extracurricular activities are all resume builders to get into college, vocational schooling just seemed ridiculous to me. When my extended family members would ask me if I was planning on going to college, the question baffled me. Of course I was…that’s what everyone who wants a future does, right? No. How wrong I have been in my thought process. College used to be a privilege and now many just view it as the “obvious” path for their life. I want to explore why such a stigma has developed regarding vocational schooling, and unearth whether or not the stigma is based on myth or just unwarranted prejudices.

    According to Mark Phillips, a teacher and an educational journalist, over the years, society has been programmed to value white-collar jobs and to look down upon blue-collar jobs. He claims that this unwarranted bias is both “dysfunctional” and “destructive.” By keeping students from where their abilities lie and forcing them to embrace a more “respectable” profession, inspiration and livelihood can be halted leading to a meaningless existence. Also, society needs people to be excellent and skillful in the technical skills, otherwise the economy is going to fall apart.

    Before I examine the statistics regarding vocational schooling, I will first examine the history behind vocational schooling. In 1990, the Perkins Act defined vocational schooling as “organized educational programs offering a sequence of courses which are directly related to the preparation of individuals in paid or unpaid employment in current or emerging occupations requiring other than a baccalaureate or advanced degree.” Perhaps the wording of this Act has had some effect on the biases associated with vocational education, by referring to degrees other than vocation as “advanced.” This wording could play a role in the public viewing vocational schooling as less respectable than a college education.

    Vocational schooling has always been prevalent in European countries like Finland and Germany, but as I previously said, in America the stigma reigns that vocational schooling is for the unequipped and for the trouble-making personality. However, statistically-speaking, vocational schooling could be the better route for many people. America has this idealistic notion that the “land of opportunity” means that college is the only option. That may not be the case. At Mercy Vocational High School in Philadelphia, 60 percent of graduating seniors were offered full-time positions at the end of 2013. While 38 percent of the class went on to college or further vocational schooling, 26 percent entered the workforce. A cosmetologist certificate at this school can earn a student upwards of $27,000 per year, while an electrician certificate can earn a student upwards of $53,000 per year. In this case, college debt is not involved, and the necessary skill force needed to keep the economy of America going, is maintained.

    mercy

    “This model is very much the model that needs to go across the country, because all students are not of the mindset that they want to go to a four-year college. This gets the options out early, and those students can get right into the field … and become contributors to society.” 

    ~ Principal Ray Caruthers

    I am not saying that everyone needs to attend vocational schooling. However, I do think, upon further analysis, that vocational schooling is a very viable option. Not everyone is equipped for college and that is okay. Stay tuned for my next blog where I will look at a vocational schooling model like Norway and compare it to the United States!

    Bidwell, Allie. US News. U.S.News & World Report, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

    Phillips, Mark. “Why Should We Care About Vocational Education?” Edutopia. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

     


  3. Deliberation Nation Extra Credit Response

    March 5, 2015 by Nicole Luchansky

    On February 26, I joined the Deliberation Nation discussion, “Breaking News: Biased Information in Student’s Lives.” I felt it a very fitting deliberation to attend after all of the Twitter fire occurring this past week at a result of Keith Olbermann.

    This team did a wonderful job with each segment of the deliberation. Their brochure that they gave to each participant was very aesthetically pleasing, and although concise, provided enough information to jumpstart the conversation. Also, each member of the team was very prepared with a plethora of questions, so that there was never a moment’s pause in the conversation. They targeted ethical values, political values, civic values, as well as identity-based and community-based values.

    Approach one sought to discuss social media biases. We talked about the types of social media that college students use, and whether or not we trust the news presented on these sites. The general consensus was that if we read a headline of relevance, we tend to check it on another, more reliable news site. We also said that most social media political arguments, are highly opinionated and not worth the time or the energy.

    For approach two, the team members explored how the environment affects our biases. We talked about television and newspapers, and most said that after coming to college, current event awareness began to diminish because there are not televisions in dorms and no time to read the newspaper. One vocal participant did a great job of advocating the New York Times app, and after the deliberation, most everyone downloaded it onto their phone because it is a quick and easy way to check the top headlines facing our nation.

    Finally, approach three examined biases in academia. We were asked if it is alright for a professor to convey biases in a classroom. We also looked into how to teach students to see if they are being taught biasedly or not. We came to the conclusion that it is okay for a professor to be passionate or biased so long as students are still tested on fact and not opinion. We all agreed that it is a travesty when a student it forced to adapt to the professor’s opinion in order to receive a good grade, or maintain their integrity and risk failing. We also decided that our current English class does a good job in teaching us about rhetoric and how to analyze biases, so that answered the second question.

    In the end, we concluded that coming into the discussion, most of us already understood the biases present in the media and in our lives and how to bypass them. It is frustrating that it takes time to search for the right information. However, we also noted that if the media were to stop polarizing everything, and remained neutral, most would stop reading. Our nation is only increasing in the group-think mentality, and a neutral standpoint would be hard to advocate for at this point in time.  After the deliberation though, we all decided to become more aware of our surroundings, and do our best to continue thinking critically and not let biases think for us.


  4. Deliberation Nation Response

    March 5, 2015 by Nicole Luchansky

    On February 25, 2015, I went to the Deliberation Nation Event “The Keystone: Pennsylvania and Our Energy.” Similar to the group in our section, this group discussed Pennsylvania energy. I thought that this would be an interesting topic because I always used to have this discussion in my environmental science class in high school. However, it was a very biased discussion, and I knew this deliberation would attempt to look at all sides for once. Their first approach was the discussion of current energy sources like coal, natural gas and oil. The second approach discussed fracking, and the third approach discussed renewable energy forms like biomass, wind energy, solar energy, hydroelectricity and geothermal energy. The group did a fantastic job of monitoring the discussion, and there was never an awkward silent moment for the entire two hours. I really liked the way that they set up the discussion. They asked a lot of questions and kept the discussion moving smoothly, with various team members interjecting personal references and specific examples when necessary.

    For approach one, there was discussion as to whether or not the next generations will face a complete loss of non-renewable energy. Some sources say in the next 150 years, the world’s supply of non-renewable energy will be lost, while other sources say that the world has a supply that will last more than 100,000 years. It truly depends on the source. The EPA and similar organizations argue that there must be an immediate progression to renewable energy, while fracking companies and petroleum engineers argue that time is not an issue. When there is such great statistical disagreement, it is difficult to come to a conclusion. Basically, the group discussion for approach one concluded that there should be a push to renewable energy forms. However, in order to do so there should be cheap, vocational schools designed to help the workers who have built their lives on non-renewable energy to make the journey to renewable energy. Otherwise, there will be a significant economic downturn. It must be noted that the group decided that non-renewable energy is a short term economic solution, but a long-term economic problem. The group for the most part was also quite skeptical of nuclear energy because of the associated radioactive waste and threats of explosion.

    As the discussion progressed to approach two, fracking, the tone remained neutral. Each side was discussed. There are documentaries that have shown that fracking can lead to flammable water, higher cancer rates and birth defects. Fracking companies are currently offering 50,000 dollars to buy land from people and use it for fracking. The companies offer to pay for any health damages, but the group discussion concluded that this is pointless. Once there is physical damage, no amount of money can come to the rescue. However, as with everything, money speaks louder. On the other side of the discussion, fracking companies have shown to be very community based and are working to appease those from whom they wish to purchase land. The questions that the group concluded with were what are the thousands of chemicals that are specifically used in the fracking process, and are the cancer statistics accurate?

    Finally, for approach three, everyone was in agreement that renewable energy is a good thing. It is a trend that will only continue, and economically, it will be very beneficial as renewable energy will lead to an explosion of jobs. However, the biggest problems associated with renewable energy are aesthetic appeal (believe it or not, people are opposed to wind turbines because of appearance), expense, waste (What do we do with solar panels once they are no longer functional?) and a lack of education. For example, Switzerland has been very successful with geothermal energy, but most people do not even know how it works. One attendee to the discussion, was kind enough to explain the process of geothermal energy, where the 56 degree Fahrenheit core of the Earth is used to heat and cool a house with much less energy.

    In the end, the conclusion group asked for all participants to take a survey on energy in Pennsylvania. There was no real consensus on what should be done. A lot of questions remain because it is hard to know who and what to believe. It was decided, however, that the federal government should make it their responsibility. Energy is not necessarily a state right and it should be viewed in terms of the country, not in terms of the individual states. If one energy program were to be developed for the nation, instead of a separate program for each state, the problem would not be as complex and negotiations may be easier. As a generation that may be facing severe energy issues in the future, we must ensure that we are not ignorant to the games of the media and that we stay informed about the crisis at hand.

    The group did an excellent job of framing the issues. They had a plethora of questions to ask, that led to a great deal discussion. Their questions also highlighted the values they were attempting to target in the audience. For example, they examined values such as citizenship and community, when asking the audience to discuss what the involvement of federal, state and local government should be and when asking about the economic, environmental and health effects of the different approaches on communities.

    My only confusion regarding their deliberation was the significant amount of participation each group member had. Instead of letting the attendees take over, a group member spoke almost every other comment. It certainly kept the conversation flowing, but I was surprised they did not force the participants to talk more. Overall, it was a phenomenal deliberation and I am glad that I got to take part!

     


  5. Standardized Testing: Take Two

    February 19, 2015 by Nicole Luchansky

    What are the goals of “public education,” and does public education lead to a different notion of citizenship than parochial or private schooling?

    yep

    Whenever I think about standardized testing, I think about the Keystones, which are mandated Pennsylvania standardized tests that a student must pass before he or she is allowed to graduate from a high school in Pennsylvania. The Keystone exams are fairly new in my school district, and they were a replacement for the PSSA’s. I remember how excited everyone was when it was announced that the PSSA’s were no longer going to be a part of our curriculum. This was a short-lived excitement, once we found out that the replacement exam would be lengthier than the PSSA’s and go beyond math and reading to cover science as well. We had to take several practice Keystone exams, and the students who did not reach proficiency were forced into tutoring, that took away from their study halls, lunches, and some after school activities. When it came time to take the real exam, entire hallways were shut down. Complete silence took over, alongside a threatening atmosphere where we were told that if we did not perform well we would not be allowed to leave the high school and move on to college. The administration, the teachers and the students were all stressed, and after the first round of exams, more students had to face tutoring to do better on the next round of Keystone tests. These students who did not reach proficiency faced laughter from their peers and grimaces from their teachers. All in all, it was a stressful and at times, humiliating experience, and up until last week’s blog post, I did not understand why we students were subjected to such torture.

    Last week, I mentioned that I would use this week to exam the negatives of standardized testing. They are pretty clear. Standardized testing takes away from the curriculum. As students are taught to a test, there is more drill-like, rote memorization classroom developed. The administration, the teachers, the students and the parents all feel the strain, and rather than a focus on learning and development of critical thinking and social skills, students are taught to perform well on one test given over a span of several days, of a 200 days school year, just to meet standards and earn funding for a district. Furthermore, with the test itself, many argue that it is not objective, particularly when essay questions are part of the grading. At times, the tests can be discriminatory to non-native English speakers, as well as students with disabilities. As for the business side of the testing, “the billion dollar testing industry is notorious for making costly and time-consuming scoring errors. NCS Pearson, which has a $254 million contract to administer Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test, delivered the 2010 results more than a month late and their accuracy was challenged by over half the state’s superintendents (Standardized Tests).”

    However, upon further examples of the negatives that I have just listed, they are simply opposites of the positives that I listed last week. In the end, there are statistics to back every angle and side of the arguments for and against standardized testing. So where does that leave us? What is the biggest problem here, and how do we resolve it?

    In this debate on standardized testing, many tend to focus on the high school setting, at least in the discussions that I have attended. I am at fault for this as well. However, I think that the greatest dilemma is actually found in the elementary schools, where standardized tests are first introduced. Some would argue that the stakes are lesser because the children are still incredibly young, but that is not the case.

    Lelac Almagor, of The Boston Review, describes her observations in the elementary school setting, and her ideas are eye-opening and insightful. In Almagor’s first year working in an enrichment office, a concerned mother met with her, questioning why her daughter, with good grades, attendance and participation was scoring in the 14th percentile? The school district was not very elite, and until standardized testing arose, the parent had no idea that in comparison to other children her age, her daughter was actually very far behind. Everything is relative, and Almagor is right in stating that this parent was a “beneficicary” of the standardized test, and had the right to no longer be in the dark about the slower pace of her daughter’s education compared to the more rigorous, high-ranking schools, with the coveted funding.

    Just like many bloggers before her, Almagor discusses the impracticalities of standardized testing.

    “And then there is the challenge of obtaining the theoretical benefits in spite of practical obstacles. The problem is that measuring how well a younger student reads is close to impossible, at least through any standardized approach. If you really want to know, you’ve got to sit down and listen to the child read and then ask him or her to explain the story. The process takes about twenty minutes per child, plus the sensitivity that comes of experience. Some children read fluently but make no coherent meaning from the words. Some stumble over pronunciation but can understand and analyze in depth. Some know more than they can readily express. And sometimes the process makes a child too nervous to think clearly, and we have to try again on another day or in a less evaluative setting.”

    A standardized test can be reliable and valid and follow of the appropriate statistics, but at the end of the day, it is one test meant to assess several years of learning and that I just not feasible.

    “But we are a public school and we rely on public funding, so there is no way around it. Pass they must. We practice strategies for staying focused, for encouraging yourself, for being brave even when you have to figure out what to do all by yourself. We work on managing boredom. We praise and celebrate the virtue of stamina. We take more practice tests.”

    It is so true that when it comes to standardized testing, all focus turns to the one test. Also, instead of just teaching the material, strategies must be taught, and that consumes even more instructional time, as well as denies academic and social growth to the individual student.

    “As a teacher, I’ll take that kind of meaning over meaninglessness. Given that the test is mandatory, I’d rather it feel like a grand mountain we climbed together. But there is something heartbreakingly unfair about asking our kids to invest the best of their academic passion in a poorly designed standardized test rather than in a science fair project or a school play or an actual mountain to climb.”

    Furthermore, many would like to argue that standardized testing is responsible for the socioeconomic gaps in America because they are what lead to funding in schools. However, Almagor provides an interesting twist to that logic.

    “Testing doesn’t produce the staggering gaps in performance between privileged and unprivileged students; historical, generational, systemic inequality does. Testing only seeks to tell the truth about those gaps, and the truth is that the complex tasks of the Common Core are a better representation of what our students need to and ought to be able to do.”

    Once again there are pros and cons to the testing. There is a lot of effort made to make the tests fair and to have them provide statistical evidence of academic achievement in every differing public school setting. The biggest problem that arises, are when children, whose minds are still developing at a rapid pace, are being used as pawns in a big business.

    “If we could give these harder tests internally and get back detailed results—share them only with parents, and use them only to improve our own planning—many more teachers would embrace them. Liberated from the testing tricks and stamina lessons, we would embrace more honest feedback about where our students are and how they still need to grow.”

    “Most important, by testing kids individually, we would reframe testing as a source of information rather than evaluation. We’d reduce the incentive to cheat or prep and instead put the emphasis back where it belongs—on what students need and on how can we help them truly learn.”

    I think using standardized testing as an accessory to teaching and learning would be incredibly invaluable and reduce the stigmas while still providing the government with the statistics that they need. There would be less stress on every party involved, and the main goal of student learning would be more successfully addressed.

    Could this truly be the answer to the standardized testing issue? What are your thoughts?

     

    “The Good in Standardized Testing.” The Good in Standardized Testing. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

    “Standardized Tests – ProCon.org.” ProConorg Headlines. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.


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