This post is part of my Critical Changes series, a collection of observations from an un-jaded newbie in education.
Change 2: Strengthen Vocational and Technical Programs
Call them what you will - votech, industrial arts, applied academics, shop class - we need programs where kids learn hands-on skills, use tools, build things, fix things. When the economy takes a hit, and subsequently school budgets, these valuable technical programs are often the first to go, in deference to traditional core classes. Or in a sad compromise, tech programs are morphed into supposed STEM programs where doing the science/engineering/math on a computer constitutes using technology. However, when the economy goes sour, what a person really needs is a marketable skill, not a comprehensive knowledge of Shakespeare.
In addition to financial and administrative support of tech programs, there needs to be an attitude shift away from high school votech programs being considered as a last resort for struggling students, and from technical & community colleges being considered the lesser post-secondary option for students. Not everyone is suited for a 4-year liberal arts college, and a liberal arts degree is not applicable to all jobs; when last I checked, Harvard does not offer courses in metal-working, but every construction site needs a welder at some point.