Vocational education is the subject area that serves most of the students in the average high school today, but the future of this "alternative to a university" looks bleak, according to a local board member of the California Industrial and Technology Education Association.
In addition to serving on this board, which represents all the vocational teachers in the state of California, John Chocholak -- who retired in June from Ukiah High School after 30 years and does consulting work with the California Department of Education -- also serves on the Equipment, Engine and Training Counsel Board, which is a national board of about 77 companies that makes "everything from lawn mowers to road graders."Hence, it's safe to say this Voc Ed supporter has more to offer than just an opinion on the subject.
"When Delaine Easton was (state school) superintendent she said about 17 percent of the students in high school eventually go to a university, and that leaves about 83 percent of the students who will never see a university and therefore need to be in an educational program to train them for non-university type jobs," said Chocholak, who taught precision machining and first-year auto shop at UHS and taught advanced ROP courses in those areas through the Mendocino County Office of Education.
"Most of the occupations today in the United States do not require a college degree," Chocholak added.
These job occupations today require more academic background than ever, but a college degree is not what they require, he said. What they require are more specific kinds of hands-on-skills, he said.
"For example, a machinist today will work with machinery that is controlled by computers. Now, he still needs to know all the trade skills a machinist needs to know, but he has to have a greater math background so he can do the programing on these computers; but he doesn't need a college degree to do this work. So even though his academic education is more in-depth, he also has to have more in-depth trade skills," Chocholak said.
Chocholak feels the No Child Left Behind Act -- signed by President George Bush on Jan. 8, 2002 -- takes away a student's choice.
"The No Child Left Behind Act, a federal program, is now requiring all schools in the United States to prepare all students to go to the university. When you are preparing all students to go to the university then you are leaving out what I call choice. Students should be able to choose whether or not they want to go to the university, or would prefer to seek a position, or trade, that does not require a university type of education. You give them choices of course there are some required classes they need to take and I think it's wonderful a student has to take two years of a foreign language, but two years of a foreign language isn't going to help a student get a job and earn a living in this town," he said.
Yet, the average high school is not built for trade skills, it is built to send students to the university, he said.
Asked the future of Voc Ed, Chocholak said: "It's likely very grim, because as all aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act are being installed in the school system. There's no room left in the school day for a student to take vocational classes."
"We are watching automotive programs close up and down the north coast," he said. "If the federal government pushes the No Child venue it will eventually force the closing of our programs at the high school. ... It really has to do with the graduation requirements. For instance, today if you are a student who is going to one of the UC colleges, you really don't have time in your schedule to take a vocational class because the courses you take are pretty well predicted for four years. Every period is taken up for four years to get you into the UC system.
"No Child Left behind will require all students to take those courses, even if they don't want to go to a university. The state has signed on to that plan. It is policy and they are following through on it now," he added, guessing it will happen over the next five to 10 years.
"The master plan" of the No Child Left Behind Act is to move all vocational studies to the community college, Chocholak said. Which is poor planning, according to Chocholak, who says doing so would kill vocational education altogether.
"What would happen if the first football experience was at the community college level? On its face it sounds ridiculous. Nobody would do that because it would kill the game. What if we started music at the community college level, or art, or English, or science? So what is going to happen to vocational education is, if it starts at the community college level, it is going to die," he said.
"This is a big crisis, a very big crisis, some people are tying to minimize it, but I feel like the Titanic has hit the iceberg and everyone is saying the ship is safe, but we all know what happened."
"It does not bode well at all. It's not a bright outlook. I think we need the university system and I think we need to send our best there. I am not saying we don't need the university system. I am a graduate from a university, but we really need to uphold and keep trade skills in our system (too)."Unless of course, one wants to totally destroy public education.