Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

Reform Is Risky Business

Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

Reform Is Risky Business

Article excerpt

Education reform is a little like boxing; few leave the ring unscathed.

Assistant Editor Chuong-Dai Vo discovered this when she returned from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she gathered material for a profile of the Rindge School of Technical Arts (p. 18). Chuong-Dai was impressed with RSTA, which has gained national acclaim for its restructured programs, but she also found a textbook example of the quandary vocational education frequently finds itself in these days.

Formerly known as the Rindge School of Manual Arts, RSTA had a century-old tradition of providing skill-specific training for young people. By the 1990s, however, RSTA -then a department of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School-was lacking in enrollment and respect.

Lawyer and former carpentry teacher Larry Rosenstock came to the principalship in 1991 with top-to-bottom reform in mind-and the full support of the superintendent. Rosenstock and former Harvard colleague Adria Steinberg set about overhauling the curriculum, quickly closing shops they felt were not tied in any way to community business needs.Their philosophy favored a broad, career-oriented education over job-specific skill training.

More than four years after Rosenstock came on board, achievement test scores are up a notch for RSTA students, enrollment is up and students are involved in exciting projects. But Steinberg admits there's no student tracking mechanism yet. Not all of the curriculum is in place, and there has not been a formal evaluation. And that has created a murmur of discontent amid the acclaim. "I think kids who go to RSTA want to learn a certain trade and are inclined to want to go to work right after high school," says a skeptical school board member.

This is the central issue facing vocational education today. If it embraces "reform," will its niche be lost? Will "academic creep" lessen the time teachers have to teach job skills-or ultimately phase out the need for vocational teachers? Will students get frustrated?

As the debate continues, one point educators cannot ignore is the economy. Many followers of the marketplace say the business world is evolving so rapidly that people can no longer count on just one set of job skills, no matter how well honed, to carry them through their working lives. …

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