Dan Walters: Governor promotes job training
By Dan Walters - Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PST Friday, January 5, 2007
Whatever else one might say about Arnold Schwarzenegger's political career -- and it's a mixed bag -- he deserves boundless credit for being the first governor in living memory to make improving the state's shameful neglect of work-oriented education a priority.
We used to call it "vocational education," but today its advocates prefer "career and technical education" (CTE), hoping that the new title gives it a more modern image. Whatever the nomenclature, it means giving young people who are so inclined the training necessary to secure and hold high-paying jobs that are vital to society's day-to-day functioning with employers who are begging for skilled workers.
Carpenters, electricians, telecommunications technicians, plumbers, auto mechanics and other skilled workers are in short supply, largely because politicians and others who make education policy in California have catered to the wholly fallacious notion that everyone should go to college and hold a white-collar job.
The mathematical fact is that a relatively small minority of ninth-grade students will go on to earn four-year or higher college degrees. At least as many, in fact, will drop out before even getting high school diplomas. Why, then, have we adopted policies that ignore the majority and cater to the minority and, in effect, encourage non- academic-oriented youngsters to drop out? Because adopting the college-for-everyone approach carries the least political risk.
As a teenager in Austria, Schwarzenegger was trained as a salesman and became a huge success by selling himself as an athlete and motion picture star. He later attended community college in California and has retained his appreciation of job-oriented education that doesn't entail a four-year college degree. There's no political advantage to adopting that attitude; he's done it, from all appearances, just because he thinks it's the right thing to do for California's economy and young people.
Schwarzenegger has singled out CTE for special appropriations throughout his brief governorship and included $500 million for more vocational classrooms, shops and other facilities in the recently approved school bond issue. This week, he took another step by announcing that his 2007-08 budget would include $52 million to enhance CTE, including all-important reforms to increase the number of teachers in career fields. The ranks of those teachers have been shrinking as misguided local school boards and administrators denigrated their programs and grabbed their classrooms for other purposes.
"We must reverse the trend of underfunding career technical education," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "California is leading the way in giving students a first-class ticket to high-paying jobs in the global marketplace. In addition, these programs help prevent dropouts by keeping students interested in school. I know firsthand how beneficial these programs can be in helping students succeed. When I was in Austria, I learned how to work in retail and how to be a salesman, skills I've used for the rest of my life."
Schwarzenegger's commitment to CTE was singled out in a cover story in Time magazine last April, spotlighting the growing problem of youngsters dropping out of high school, and since he began trumpeting the issue, there's been a palpable change in the political climate.
Foundations are touting CTE as a win-win cure for dropouts and society's need for trained workers, business leaders are making noise about the job vacancies that will become more numerous as baby boomers retire and some politicians who had previously championed college-for-everyone are jumping on the CTE bandwagon.
Schwarzenegger is clinching the political sale for CTE, just in time.
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