Expectations of secondary education

I think many people have little insight into the complexity of secondary (high school) education – the diversity of students and the ever increasing expectations for what is to be accomplished on limited budgets. This recent Washington Post article indicating that quality manufacturing jobs exist, but U.S.-born workers are not available in sufficient numbers to fill them.  It was the comments made in response to this article that resulted in these comments about the unfair expectations placed on our public schools.

How many high schools would be able to offer the sophisticated curriculum and have the equipment to prepare high school students to take sophisticated welding and robotic assembly jobs. What would this cost if appropriate for high school students and how many students in a given school would be interested.

I certainly agree as a college professor teaching some freshman classes that many students are not prepared for college and maybe would never be suited to the courses we offer. However, what is it that critics expect. Students want to attend and they have certain goals in mind. It is not our role to deny them the opportunity to try. There is great pressure from parents to allow their kids the chance to try. I know the odds of success, but if the parents want to spend the money the public kind of determines that many unqualified students be allowed to give it a shot. Denying access based on high school GPA or test scores brings all kinds of criticism.  We deny access to students with a likely high failure rate and we are wrong. If a high percentage of such students do not survive the first year, we are wrong. We can’t claim students know things and can do things when they can’t. We can’t win.

My university offered an Industrial Technology program with resources that were quite sophisticated. A couple of faculty members were friends of mine. I knew their struggles and despite the rise of the oil industry in North Dakota a decision to close the program for lack of interest.

So, it annoys me when uninformed critics of education place the blame on secondary schools and higher education. Educational institutions are big on allowing students to make decisions that end up determining what their preparation for work will be. If students are not interested in certain fields (e.g., computer science, industrial technology), you need to take a look at the values that cause those who might be involved to make other decisions.

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