Monday, November 30, 2009

A Different Track

Louisiana schools have been garnering some controversy for their plan to introduce a "career diploma" for students who aren't likely to be attending college after high school. As I understand it, the first two years of high school would be pretty much the same for everyone. After that, there's a split. Those on the college track would be moving through more advanced courses in the basic core subjects. Those on the career track would be taking more electives that would prepare them for future careers, presumably in manual trades.

I think the controversy is pretty well summed up in these two quotes. An opponent says:

“This policy creates a path to lowered expectations and diminished opportunities for some students, and we know from experience in other states that ‘some’ often means low-income students, and students of color.”

In contrast, a supporter of the new track says:

“How much lower is your standard for that student that you push out and put on the street? You tell me how we’re lowering it any lower than that.”

And that's pretty much the crux of the argument. Are the standards being lowered for kids who could succeed if they were just pushed a supported a little more or is this providing a meaningful alternative for kids who will otherwise get little meaning out of their "education"?

Of course, this all comes down to how well it's executed. That's always the case. Provided that it is done well and used appropriately, I don't see anything wrong with letting kids who want to be electricians or auto mechanics or any of those trades start preparing for their careers rather than force them into classes that don't mean anything to them. This plan is absolutely compatible with a viewe of education that is about preparing kids to succeed in the world. However, if this career track is a mere dumping ground, then it's a big problem.

So much depends on execution.

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