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NCLB Outrages

Too Good for a Trade?

The new education mind set, swept up in testing, has lost sight of individual differences in learning styles, goals and abilities. School systems give lip service to the ideas of diversity and helping all students reach their potential even as they have evolved into mandating a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

By Paul Levine

New Rochelle

WESTCHESTER high schools arenít doing enough for students interested in vocational education.

While those teenagers learning trades have long been considered second-class students, at least they once had a niche in high school, a place where they could develop vocational skills alongside their college-bound classmates.

It seems that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which was meant to help all students, has only worsened the problem, contributing to the transformation of some area high schools, including New Rochelle, Rye and Scarsdale, into elitist learning environments that have left many students not only behind, but waiting for a bus to take them to a distant part of the county for vocational education.

At New Rochelle High School, one of the largest in Westchester with more than 3,000 students, long gone are classrooms where students could work on cars or learn how to construct a house. Instead, educators have ramped up secondary school graduation requirements, adding more and more stringent Regents tests. What is left are new Regents graduation designations to go along with a variety of honors, Advanced Placement courses and offerings that read more like a college catalogue than options meant to meet the needs of high school students.

Courses like script writing through improvisation, political issues through film, college accounting, sports and entertainment marketing, musical theater in America, forensics, entrepreneurship and love and hate in literature certainly look good; they just donít do justice for all. Is it necessary to offer these classes at the expense of vocational coursework?

The new education mind set, swept up in testing, has lost sight of individual differences in learning styles, goals and abilities. School systems give lip service to the ideas of diversity and helping all students reach their potential even as they have evolved into mandating a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

The result is that students who are not headed to college often feel they are not as good as their classmates. For these students, rigorous academic standards lead to frustration and hopelessness.

Adolescence is hard enough, but turning high schools into prep schools does not really serve the community. And I canít help but wonder whether a wider availability of vocational education would help the nationís rising dropout rate.

Most adolescents donít know what they want. High school is the time to explore. Some students are always academically focused; others use vocational education to gain confidence before moving on to academic courses, and many use them as a start to their career. But whatever they do, they all need choices.

Real public education should meet the needs of all students, not just adding to the opportunities for those at the higher end. Poorly thought out educational policy must not be allowed to turn high schools into mini-universities. Public high schools in Westchester should plan curriculum and provide space for those heading to college and those who are not.

The test of an egalitarian public school system is the recognition that a society needs trades people as well as lawyers, doctors, stockbrokers and college professors. And it has the understanding that high school courses in computer repair, cosmetology, culinary arts, carpentry and auto mechanics are just as relevant as astrophysics.

Paul Levine, a former teacher in the internship program at LaGuardia Community College, is working on a coming-of-age novel.

— Paul Levine
New York Times
2006-09-17


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