A 1411 – Testimony Before Assembly Education Committee
Judy Savage, Executive Director, NJ Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools
February 2, 2012
Good afternoon. I am Judy Savage, Executive Director of the NJ Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. As the Assembly Education Committee begins the term with some new members and the continued steady leadership of Chairman Diegnan, I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts from our county vocational-technical schools about the proposal to keep all students in school to age 18.
Our members did not take a position on this bill, but we strongly support the goal of keeping more students in school though graduation and ensuring that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed. While the Legislature can act to raise the age at which a student can legally drop out of high school, we believe a broader effort is needed to ensure that at-risk and disaffected students will be engaged in learning and given a viable chance to succeed in high school and beyond.
If NJ is to keep more students in school, we will need multiple pathways for students to earn a diploma. Schools must offer flexible approaches to teaching and learning that meet the needs of students who have not been successful in a traditional classroom. Students will need more alternative high schools that take an individualized approach to educating students. They will need small learning environments and flexible programs to accommodate those with work or family care obligations. Schools and the state will need to consider different ways to measure and recognize student success.
The state will also need to expand career and technical education and work-based training programs so that students who want and need to enter the workforce after high school can be job-ready with the skills that employers demand.
I have shared with you a copy of an excellent report published last year by the Harvard Graduate School of Education that directly addresses the challenges of preparing all students for success in the 21st century. The report busts the myth that a college degree is the best or only pathway to a viable and rewarding career, and it makes concrete suggestions that are worth considering if we are serious about keeping all students in school through graduation.
In considering the problem of the roughly one million students who drop out of high school each year, the report states:
Students who are bored and at risk of dropping out need to be engaged more effectively. They need to know that there are navigable pathways leading to rewarding careers in the mainstream economy. Our hope is that states will recognize the importance of providing such options and not make the mistake of mandating a narrow common college prep curriculum for all.
Instead, the report calls for the development of clear career pathways so that students can see how what they learn in middle and high school will lead to a degree or credential and a good-paying job. It recommends expanded career and technical education opportunities, better career counseling, more student work experiences, and an increased emphasis on technical skill credentials and two-year degrees. It seeks to engage business and industry in the process of developing career pathways and relevant work experiences so that students can reinforce their classroom learning on the job.
The Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools endorses the recommendations of the Pathways to Prosperity report, and we urge you to review it carefully. While career and technical education is not the only answer, we know from experience that it is a proven strategy for engaging students and boosting their achievement levels.
However, as the Harvard report makes clear, quality career and technical education is not an easy program geared toward students who lack basic academic skills. In fact, the students in NJ’s county vocational-technical schools must meet two sets of standards – both regular academic requirements and the industry standards associated with their particular career program.
February is national Career and Technical Education month, so it is the perfect time for me to extend an invitation to all of you to visit your local county vocational-technical school to see how today’s CTE programs to respond to the 21st century economy, engage students, and prepare them for college and careers.
Thank you for the opportunity to share this information with you. As the Legislature considers many facets of education reform, our county vocational-technical school leaders would welcome the chance to be part of the dialogue and contribute to county-based solutions that will improve student achievement throughout New Jersey.