March 20, 1996
by Yolanda Reynolds
Education of our youth is today a priority for parents, community leaders, educators and politicians. In the 1960’s, fear of the Soviet Union dominating the world with sophisticated technology inspired an unsurpassed drive to educate as many people in the United States as possible. Today, there is international competition and, less frequently mentioned, a diminishing middle class in the United States.
Today, there is again a fear that those without a good education will be left behind, without access to rewarding careers, and with only very poor paying jobs.
PACT, a local church based grass roots organization, is also concerned.
Last October, they held a Northern California gathering of other PICO (Pacific Institute of Community Organization) affiliated organizations to press the U.S. Secretary of Education, Richard Reilly to advocate the funding of a national “School to Careers” program. This program is intended to provide students with actual paid work experience in industry.
Legislation promoted by PACT and under consideration in Sacramento, “would require the State Department of Education to establish and maintain a school-to-career program…including integration of academic, technical, and vocational curricula and school—based and work-based learning…and competency-based measures for evaluating pupil progress, certiﬁcation of skills, and program access” and establish such a program for which they would seek funding at the Federal level.
According to Assembly Bill 2314, introduced by outgoing Assemblyman Dominic Cortese, this program would begin with demonstration programs in three areas of the State, San Diego, San Jose, and Fresno.
At the Thursday evening community meeting, PACT spokespersons presented to Assemblyman Dominic Cortese and Eastside Union High School District Superintendent, Joe Coto, research results that have led PACT to insist on a vocational/career program as a way to improve student academic achievement.
Senator Alfred Alquist was scheduled to be in attendance but according to PACT Chairman Dennis Haggerty, Alquist without explanation, informed PACT that he could not attend their meeting.
A number of students who already participate in special work experience programs in area schools expressed their support for PACT’s proposal. To a person, they all said that they had improved their grades and attendance and because of the experience, had every intention of acquiring a higher education after high school.
Turning student on to complete their education is crucial. According to PACT research results, in Santa Clara County the attrition (drop-out) rate for high school students is 21%. In addition, California has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. The truancy rate in Eastside San Jose is 25% higher than elsewhere in the county. In California, only 1 in 7 who enroll in Community College get an AA degree. 1 in 3 who enroll in a 4-year college graduate. “74% of San Jose high school graduates intend to go to college, but there is a 43% attrition (dropout) rate from San Jose area community colleges in the first year.”
While these tragic and alarming figures indicate a yearly “hemorrhage” of talent and “a likely future of desperation and fury for many, the State, at the behest of the voters, is spending enormous sums of money building prisons-much of this in response to an increase in crime and violence.
Six new prisons will soon be built at a cost to the people of California of $2 billion. This same amount, PACT spokespersons say, would “pay for 53,000 new teachers or send 579,000 kids to college. In 1993, PACT points out, “it cost $29,000 to incarcerate a youth for one year.”
PACT spokespersons point out that an IBM study indicated that, if dropout rates in the United States are not reduced from the current level, “by the year 2004, $2.85 billion in new taxes will be needed each year to cover costs of welfare, prison and crime related to drop out.” IBM analysts add that, if “high school graduation rates were increased to 90%, the taxes paid by these additional graduates would generate $9.99 billion in revenues by the year 2004.”
Superintendent Coto, with the support of his Board, two of whom were present, Board President Dave Cortese and member Patricia Martinez Roach, has a program in place that offers students a “school to work place” experience. Coto pointed out that it currently involves 5,000 students out of a total of 20,000 students.
Also present at the well-attended meeting were San Jose City Councilmember Manny Diaz and George Shirakawa Jr.
Coto emphasized that, as important as this “School to Careers” is, it is essential to not lose sight of the need for “long term academic preparation for the good paying jobs that, now and in the future, will be required by industry.
TRW spokesperson, Bob Climo, pointed out the importance of a good education and his and industries’ support of the “School to Careers” program concept. Climo explained that this program ﬁts in with industries’ “long term strategic interest.” He explained that historically the United States has been the sole producers of goods and services.” He adds, “now there is (world-wide) competition and we need to have skilled workers – we need to have highly skilled people. We need to compete with high skills and high pay for independent thinking workers, computational skills will be very important.” Climo explained that in the past, 85% of the work force followed directions, now 85% must be self-directed and self-starters.
To some educators this proposal has merit but also poses major pitfalls. Recently many vocational education programs fell into disfavor when it was found that many of the skills that were taught or learned only prepared students to dead end, ow paying work.
Often times these students found that they had been tracked onto programs that took many hours of time to acquire skills of limited utility when they should instead have been learning mathematics and basic science, or improving their written or oral communication skills.
In addition, some of these vocational skills learned in the workplace are the very jobs that industry is now shifting abroad, where salaries are low. For example, at the maquiladoras along the Mexican border workers are paid 28 pesos ($3) while their U.S. counterparts are paid $25.
Rod Flores, a San Jose teacher who is currently teaching in a special program for youths who have given up on traditional education, says that he is concerned with an educational trend that will divide people into futures that will be limited by their educational experience.
Flores explains, “I see beyond the current ‘rhetoric and the vision’ and see the Community College system becoming a vocational educational center; the State University system will become a training system for skilled blue collar professional workers and the California University system will remain exclusively for the elite, continuing to offer costly academic programs accessible only for the wealthy and academically prepared.”
This also seemed a concern repeatedly expressed by Superintendent Coto, who said more than once that “we must give equal attention to academics as career/job training.”
For more information on AB2314 or SB 643, a similar vocational bill introduced by Senator Johnston, telephone 269-6500 or 288-7515 or contact PACT at 287-0769. Superintendent Coto can be contacted at 272-6400. © La Oferta Newspaper.