Core curriculum changes deter vocational training

LANSING — High school students are locked into a tougher core curriculum, leading to a drop in vocational program enrollment. Students have less time to leave their high school building to attend a career tech center program that provides career-oriented courses.

Career tech center enrollment decreased 30 percent the first year the new Michigan Merit Curriculum became effective for the class of 2011, according to Michigan Association of School Boards Deputy Director Don Wotruba.

“Students are juggling their schedules around all of these new core requirements,” Wotruba said.

Wotruba said he does not foresee the Department of Education changing the requirements.

The curriculum consists of four credits in math, four in English language arts, three in science, three in social studies, one in physical education and health, and one in performing and applied arts.

West Ottawa High School guidance counselor Kathy Wade said, “Because of those new requirements, there’s no room for failure. The state just keeps piling more and more of them on. We are just really, really concerned.”

If a student fails one core class, he or she may no longer be able to attend vocational classes.

Wotruba said reworking how requirements can be met is on the Association of School Boards’ agenda.

Big Rapids High School guidance counselor Lisa Buckingham said, “We suggest they do not participate in career tech center unless they are on track with core credits.”

In addition to the new curriculum, two world language credits are now required for the class of 2016. Wade said some students were already struggling in English classes before language classes became a requirement.

Hope College Associate Professor of Education John Yelding said: “I don’t necessarily think they’re getting out of hand in terms of basic requirements. I would argue there is some excessive micromanagement in exactly how those requirements are met.”

The Department of Education’s goal is “to ensure that Michigan’s high school graduates have the necessary skills to succeed either in postsecondary education or in the workplace.”

However, with no room for failure, career tech center enrollment is no longer an option for many high school students, experts said.

Students are not given a second chance after failing a class to jump-start their careers.

“A lot of them lose out,” Wade said.

Without a way to opt out of some core credits, students are losing the opportunity to graduate high school with a vocational certificate.

“I think it’s important to understand that all students don’t learn the same way,” Yelding said. “The Department of Education needs to set up a program where there is no provision for whether or not you fail a class. They need to match up expectation and requirements.”

High school schedules are tight due to forms of block scheduling of classes and cuts in funding, Yelding said.

A stereotype surrounding career tech centers may be the key cause, he said.

“We need to rethink our perspective of ‘tech center,’” Yelding said. “There’s a large part of the population locked into a mentality that tech centers offer a lesser education.”

Holland’s Careerline Tech Center offers programs in engineering, technology, communication, and health and human services, among others. Completion of some courses can be applied as college credit.

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