“ I want to tell you that you are greatly under-rated!” he said to a resounding round of cheering and clapping. You can’t go wrong when you say that you say to a group of educators.
So began US Secretary of Labor, Thomas E. Perez, in addressing the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Awards Dinner in Nashville TN last night. A crowd of 1,000 educators gathered to acknowledge the sector leaders in quality in a range of categories. Interestingly, also included were an ACTE Business Leader of the Year, an ACTE Business of the Year, and an ACTE Champion of the Year Awards. It was great to see that the awards acknowledged that partnerships and support outside of the sector were critical to the successes.
The Secretary of Labor apologised for the way in which governments (both state and federal) had turned away from career and technical education in the false belief that the American Dream could only be achieved if every child was headed towards college (university). Now, he argued, the effort put into career and technical education was central to economic prosperity and he underlined the critical importance of a skilled workforce.
As usually happens in such speeches, he dwelt on the amazing record of the Obama administration in creating jobs and used this to segue into the theme that despite this, too many young people lacked the skills to fill the positions. There was a need, he challenged the audience, for educators to “re-invent yourselves”. This would require a “dramatic re-design of how people are prepared with the skills to succeed in the future.”
He outlined his view that there would be three clear factors in this: it would be demand-driven, there would have to be multiple pathways and any success must be scalable. I gave a one-person silent cheer to this. I like demand driven, I adore multiple pathways and I am totally puzzled at the push-back in New Zealand on pathways that have been shown to succeed in achieving just such a set of goals.
He then spoke of what seems to be a uniquely American view that it is really the middle classes that are the victims. He described the middle classes as facing an “existential crisis.” No it could be that “existential” has an American meaning just as “momentarily” has. But I really do not know what he means. The portraying of the middle class as the victim in the changes of the last forty years and in the performance of the education systems is too cute for words. But then he provided the clue. The ‘multiple pathways’ he wanted were to be “multiple pathways to the middle classes”.
The citation for his award as ACTE Champion of the Year for Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor of Austin, Texas, spoke of ”industry / education partnerships” and the importance of high school students having “hands-on experience” and “experiential learning” that would lead to career exploration and an improvement in “employability skills”. A particular project with which he was associated was one in which students after “two years of coursework are offered paid internships during their senior (i.e. final) year.” He has placed high value on the students’ developing employability skills and noted the value of work experiences in achieving these. He had led the City of Austin in working with the Austin Independent School District in achieving this.
New Zealand should find ways of acknowledging excellence in such partnerships. This had been an excellent evening and to achieve this in such a vast country should encourage us to think that we could do this easily in such a small country as ours. I have a plan in mind!