Technical courses shouldn't foreclose other options

"Why do we need to learn this stuff, Mrs. Kazmin?" I retired from teaching math in Los Angeles two decades ago, but can still remember the earnest young students who asked me this question. They were in my ninth-grade Algebra 1 classes, and they were not thrilled to be there.

My answer was simple. Algebra 1 is the foundation for all the math and science classes to follow, classes needed to keep your career and education options open. These are the years when you explore all the opportunities for your future. You don't want to cut off your choices while you're still so young. Happily, my students understood this message.

The Medford School District's plan to expand career and technical education (CTE) programs concerns me as both a teacher and parent. As explained by Medford School Board chair Karen Starchvick in her guest editorial of Feb. 20, the district wants voters' permission to "issue $25 million of bonds to construct and equip facilities to expand career and technical pathways and programs."

A front page story in the Feb. 7 Mail Tribune, headed "Laying the groundwork," says CTE students could study carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, drafting, computer work and other technical skills. Starchvick notes that a CTE concentration means "more than two classes" taken. Does that mean more than two each year, or the total taken during a student's high school years ?

If it's the latter, then students could take such courses as electives, like music, art and other non-academic subjects. If it means two classes per semester, that would limit the number of college preparatory academic courses and students' future opportunities, much as I explained to my own algebra students.

I understand that not everybody needs a college degree, that there are important jobs that require vocational training. It's important to offer learning programs that motivate students to stay in school and graduate. If a CTE concentration requires numerous courses, would students commit to the program at age 15, thus limiting their access to college preparatory courses? At that young age, would they be aware of the wide range of opportunities provided by community colleges and universities, valuable resources for today's students?

The Medford School board wants this ballot measure approving $25 million of bonds before voters in a special election on May 15. It therefore must file notice with the secretary of state's office by March 15. I respectfully suggest the board needs to provide far more information to voters, and the sooner the better. A survey of all Medford high school students and parents might also be useful. Voters need more information to make a wise decision.

What exactly is a CTE concentration? How many courses does it require? At what age or grade level must students commit to this option? What effect would that have on their choice of high school classes? Would parents' permission be required? Only one of my own three children knew what career they wanted, even as they graduated from high school. Are today's 15-year-old students truly prepared to make that decision, and to limit their educational opportunities accordingly?

— Betty Kazmin of Medford taught algebra in Los Angeles public and private secondary schools for 20 years, and served on the Board of Education in Willard, Ohio.

 

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