By Nancy Gutierrez
Agricultural education, along with other high school class electives like industrial education, woodshop and home economics receive funding through the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998.
Vocational education, or career technical education as it is now called, has changed from a job training program in 1910 to a hands-on educational experience with value added academic components. However, proponents of this form of academics must continually fight budget cuts and work to keep vocational education classes in institutions. With the current budget crisis vocational education is certain to experience cuts in funding and classes.
A July 8 article in the Christian Science Monitor reported that, "President Bush's budget proposal for fiscal 2004, which began Oct. 1, 2003, recommends cutting federal funding for vocational education from $1.3 billion to $1 billion. It also proposes that states be allowed to transfer vocational education money to Title I, the federal program designed to improve education in low income schools."
Current budget constraints, an increase in school enrollment, and pressure on schools to boost basic academic achievement has left little support for non-core academic classes. But some educators see vocational education classes as effective tools in teaching those standards to students and keeping students in school.
Director of the Tulare County Organization for Vocational Education (TCOVE) Ron Johnson said studies done by Visalia Schools show an increase in graduation rates among students involved in vocational education and the TCOVE program.
Tulare County school administrators saw the importance of career technical education in the early '70s. The County Office of Education and 13 other school districts created a joint powers agreement that brought TCOVE to life and built a Regional Occupation Center (ROC) for each district to use. The center boasted a centralized kitchen for culinary instruction and facilities for instruction on public safety.
Johnson said there were three methods used at the ROC: classroom instruction, community classrooms; and cooperative vocational education. Community classrooms involved students working at various job sites as interns. Cooperative vocational education involved actual payment for students working at cooperating job, sites.
"It went well until the 1990s, when lack of funds caused its closure," Johnson said. "There has since been a movement to eliminate funding."
Federal funding for vocational education in the U.S. shrank from 5.5 percent of the total federal education budget in 1980 to 2.5 percent in 2002.
Though this has occurred, vocational education continues to be found in high schools around the county. At Lindsay High School Vhie Cellan teaches students entry level career skills for the health care industry. She said students complete 350 hours of training in preparation for clinical training they would receive in college if they continue in the health care field.
"The program is approved by the State Department of Heath as far as the content of training," Cellan said. "It's all based on state and federal regulations."
Cellan's students are not taught in a conventional classroom. They intern at Lindsay Gardens and apply what Cellan has taught them during theory training in daily activities. Once they have finished their training they will take an exam to become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA)
"Once they pass the written and skills test they can be employed in any health care facility," She said.
Some California school districts have gone even farther and created career schools and academies in which the school population is divided into possible career options, and taught core subjects flavored with their respective career areas. These career schools integrate a variety of real life jobs and careers, including health care, engineering, industrial technology and agriculture into the students' daily academic schedule.
According to a 2003 "California Schools" article, "Recent testing data indicate that students in these academies score higher in achievement tests and are less likely to drop out of school than their classmates in conventional high schools. California Department of Education vocational education staff agrees with industrial and technical education leaders that it makes sense to integrate academic standards and learning goals into the vocational education curriculum so that kids can learn math, language arts and even history in an applied way."
One Valley school, Madera High School, has changed its whole academic system and broken its institution into six different career schools. Each school has English, history and science teachers but the career area is incorporated in the instruction of these core subjects.
"We had a big drop-out rate and decided to go to this style of instruction," Vice Principal for the School of Agriculture and Technology Brett Theodozio said. "We've been able to keep our students in school doing the things they are interested in and at the same time exceed our API scores."
The California Department of Education is working to help schools design an industrial and technical curriculum that incorporates academic standards.
Lindsay Unified School District board member, Vahnn Blue said that as the owner of a construction company he has seen a decline in the amount of skilled employees leaving high school.
"It's not just in my business but auto mechanics and other areas," he said. "There needs to be a better emphasis on vocational education. I went through those programs and did vocational education."
LUSD board members have made vocational education a priority and Blue said that TCOVE courses at LHS are based mainly on interests of students and economic need.
"We depend on the service industry a lot," he said. "Students can still learn core subjects in voc ed. In my industry math is used all the time. Curriculum is important but it's not a profession."
Blue added that vocational education is also a way to get students excited about learning and school.
California lawmakers agree and have passed legislation that requires the state to devise "frameworks and standards" for career and technical education courses. Assembly Bill 1412 and Senate Bill 1943 require UC and CSUs to develop a process for high schools to get their career-technical courses approved for admission to a state college or university.
Most of the TCOVE classes are articulated and earn college credit for those students who complete the courses. TCOVE helps to prepare students for work in a wide variety of career pathways or options through both traditional classroom instruction and work-site based community classroom
internship placement. The San Joaquin Valley, along with the state and nation, has seen significant economic change during the past 10 years.
Future projections of population growth and business development activity for the Valley indicate a transitioning from a primarily agriculture-based economy to an economy more reliant on construction, environmental support, retail, services, transportation, telecommunications and manufacturing.
TCOVE attempts to address the necessity of a quality workforce that will need higher order skills and technical training. Its mission as part of the educational community, is to be responsive to the local, regional and state employment and economic requirements and be flexible in order to adjust to and embrace new career opportunities and emerging technologies. For more information on TCOVE visit www.tcove.org.