Friday, May 27, 2011

My Testimony to the Michigan State Board of Education

On Thursday, May 26, 2011 the Michigan State Board of Education hosted a public forum in Ann Arbor.  Below is the testimony I presented at the forum.

Members of the State Board of Education:

I first want to thank you for holding these public forums. It is a privilege to speak directly to you today.

I come today to speak on behalf of Career & Technical Education (CTE) and its viability within the Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC).

When I first heard Superintendent Flanagan speak when the MMC was being considered, I was optimistic.  Mr. Flanagan spoke of the need to re-imagine the high school education and talked to not think about the MMC in terms of “courses” but in terms of credit.  He even gave one example specific to CTE regarding how Algebra “credit” could be obtained in a CTE class.

Now, however, as local districts and individual schools strive to standardize classes and strive to meet the demands of the MMC, it seems in many cases that the MMC has come to represent Michigan Merit COURSES!

Currently at the high school where I teach, I am witnessing the demise of a number of good, solid CTE programs.  Three years ago, our school employed five CTE teachers, last year we had four.  Now this year, we have only three.  The preliminary numbers for next year, indicate the need for only two CTE teachers.  This is in spite of an overall increasing enrollment in the school.

So I speak today not only as a teacher, but as a product of a high school CTE drafting program myself.

Early in high school I struggled with Algebra and Geometry.  But once immersed in my school’s drafting program, the math concepts I had struggled with started to make sense when used in ways that had meaning to me.

Even in college, as I majored in Industrial Education, I was fortunate to be in a program that stressed taking at least one or two classes in my major each term along with my required core courses.  Looking back, I strongly believe completing my undergraduate program in that manner gave meaning to my required core courses and was a major factor in my success as an undergraduate.

As a result, I can’t help but try to communicate the importance of having CTE classes as part of many students everyday high school experience to allow them to see the meaning and the relevance of their other courses.  My own son is an example.  He credits the CTE Robotics Program at Pinckney High School for enhancing his understanding of the core curriculum and today one year after being hired by Thetford Manufacturing, he is believed to be the youngest person ever to be selected as supervisor in the history of their Dexter Facility.

It is becoming more apparent every day, the idea of a bachelors degree as a guarantee to a successful career is no longer the guarantee it once was.  In addition, it is becoming apparent that the United States could soon be facing a shortage of skilled workers as CTE programs nationwide that provide such skilled training become fewer and much of the current skilled workforce is approaching retirement age.

Mike Rowe, of the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs” recently testified to the U.S Senate Commerce Committee on this pending skilled labor problem.  His testimony included a number of important quotes but one related to the importance of CTE:

 “In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of ‘higher education’ to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled  ‘alternative.’ Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as ‘vocational consolation prizes,’ best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of ‘shovel ready’ jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.”
In addition, I believe many CTE programs play a vital part as a “college prep” class to many students.  For example, I have had many former students communicate to me how taking my drafting and/or CAD classes benefited them in college.
 Three examples include:
  •  A former student who studied architecture at Lawrence Tech has communicated to me how his drafting and CAD skills developed in high school gave him a distinct advantage over other students in the program that did not have those skills. 
  •  A former student who studied engineering at Georgia Tech, has mentioned to me numerous times how he feels his high school drafting classes turned out to be the most valuable class he took in high school or college. 
  •  A former student and graduate of Miami University’s architecture program has written to me how, because of the CAD experience she had in high school, she is among the most skilled CAD designers in her current firm and she believes that is a major reason she has been retained over other architects during the recession.
To conclude, members of the Michigan Board of Education, as you envision the high school merit curriculum I asked of you to seek out solutions to support and save the CTE programs across the state.