I began this morning by reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, ostensibly about Yahoo’s decision to end their policy of “work at home.” Included in the article was discussion of companies who believe they have benefited by their work at home policy, one of which is Shaw Industries Group, Inc., headquartered in Dalton, Georgia. Shaw finds they are able to access talent remotely that they cannot find in their relatively rural and isolated location in northwest Georgia.
I have a long ago connection with Dalton, Georgia. and my curiosity was raised. At the time of my introduction to Dalton, they “enjoyed” one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country. That began to change when the local Chamber of Commerce succeeded in convincing the carpet companies, the dominant employers in the area, to change their hiring requirements to include a high school diploma. That simple change had an immediate impact and the all too common practice of dropping out of school and going into the mills at 16 years of age began to wane.
I wanted to know how Dalton was doing today. Dalton High School’s graduation rate has surged to 92 percent, from 56 percent only 10 years ago. Their English-proficiency test score is 89 percent, the math proficiency test score is 72 percent and their College Readiness Index is 26.4, slightly above the national average of 26. They did all that with a student body comprised of 73 percent minority (mostly Latino) and 65 percent economically disadvantaged.
Dalton also changed their educational model. Seventy-four percent of all students are enrolled in career, technical, and agricultural courses. Courses most of us might call vocational courses, but these courses are not “parking places” for underachievers. These courses are part of a well-rounded college-preparatory curriculum that is not an either/or approach. Additionally, the Dalton area manufacturers have stepped in as advisers to help match the schools' curricula with employers' needs.
This model, called CTE (Career Technical Education), combines technical education with high academic standards. Starting this year, all ninth-graders in Georgia will be required to follow one of seventeen career or academic focused "pathways” to graduate from high school. In Dalton, educators have found that industry-focused courses can help teens thrive, but only when such courses are not considered a separate track. The lines between electives, college-preparatory work, and career exploration are blurring. Schools that embrace this model can use career courses to elevate every student's education, rather than to warehouse the students lagging behind.
I encourage you to follow this link to review the pathway options being offered in Georgia: https://www.gadoe.org/Curriculum-Instruction-and-Assessment/CTAE/Pages/CTAE-Georgia-Career-Clusters.aspx.
The CTE concept is a welcome reversal to the vocation model rooted in the early 20th century, which pushed for, and succeeded in, creating a split “track” of college-preparatory or vocational training. The critics of that system feared the vocational track would funnel poor and disadvantaged children into a path that would limit their future access to higher education as well as their social and economic mobility. My own opinion is the critics were far too kind in their criticism; it helped promote a dated and unrealistic image of the trades and manufacturing, robbing us of needed talent for years.
Much of the information detailing Dalton High School’s performance came from US News and World Report: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/georgia/districts/dalton-city/dalton-high-school-5827. Take the time to check your local school and see how they compare and what their position is regarding the CTE program. It is up to us to raise awareness and drive change in our educational process.
We have a long way to go to recover from years of educational decay as it relates to industry and the trades, but I remain optimistic that we are moving toward a better path. You can learn more about CTE here: http://www.careertech.org/career-clusters/