Eye on Education

Students need both academic, career technical education

Today’s students have more information at their fingertips than any previous generation in history.

To capitalize on this, most schools are implementing one-to-one programs, where each student has their own laptop or tablet. While it is imperative that students have these resources to compete in an ever-evolving job market, we must also ensure that they have career and technical skills to thrive in a vocation.

It would be a disservice to place students in a course of study that focuses mostly on vocational skills or academic subjects. It is time that we recognize the value and importance of focusing on both vocation and academic skills. Students who are mastering these subjects will truly be prepared for college or a vocational path after they graduate from high school.

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One example that I often use is an auto technician who works on your car. With the complexity of most modern cars, manuals are often written around the 14th grade level. So while the auto technician must be trained on the function and repair of a transmission or exhaust manifold, they must also have high quality language arts and communication skills to succeed.

The local carpenters union tells me that apprentices in that field must master Algebra I and Algebra II in order to complete the program certifying them as a union carpenter.

Career Technical Education, or vocational education as it used to be called, has seen a drastic change.

Many who went to school in the past few generations identify with CTE as auto shop, welding or construction; but the landscape has transformed so much that classes now include hospitality and tourism, sports and entertainment marketing and even logistics and warehousing. This variety in courses offered reflects the diverse job market our students compete in upon graduation.

The Merced County Office of Education and school districts continue to support CTE in Merced County. With the new Local Control Funding Formula, CTE incentive grants and California Career Pathways Trust Grants, we can explore new ways to ensure these programs are adequately funded.

80Number of courses taught in Merced County high schools that align with Merced College courses. Students can get both high school credits and, by passing a test, college credit for the same class.

MCOE, in collaboration with the county’s high schools, offers more than 90 classes in 32 different programs. These are in addition to the many CTE courses offered by the high schools.

In fact, college articulation allows a student who is enrolled in certain classes to “test” out of a class at Merced College. This means students who have taken certain CTE courses in high school can show through a test that they already possess the skills learned in the college course. Nearly 80 high school courses throughout Merced County are in line with 36 different Merced College courses.

Even with the vast list of CTE courses offered in Merced County, there is one blunt truth we must face: Technology evolves at such a rapid and exponential rate that we must prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist.

How are we supposed to do this?

The California State Standards will help students obtain the foundation they need, providing the knowledge and critical thinking skills that will empower students. Career and technology education plays a crucial role as well. These CTE programs give students the opportunity to explore careers while using traditional vocational and career programs to elevate academics to even higher standards.

While the case used to be that students were either academic or vocational learners, in our complex and digitally driven society, they really need to master both for a successful career and to be prepared for those jobs that do not yet exist.

Steven E. Gomes, Ed.D., is the Merced County superintendent of schools and head of the Merced County Office of Education.