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Kasich pushes for early vocational training
But school systems say the resources aren't available and younger kids may not be ready

Vocational education in public schools has been around for decades. But a 21st century shop class is expensive, and school systems say the resources aren't available for expanding vo-ed.
Courtesy of Bernard Hoffman, LIFE Archives
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The Ohio Department of Education estimates more than 120,000 high school students take part in some type of vocational education classes every year.  Governor John Kasich wants to boost that number by offering hands-on classes to kids as early as the seventh grade. In fact, state rules already allow it.

But as StateImpact Ohio's Amy Hansen reports, educators are uncertain about how this new chapter to a long-existing program might work.

Next chapter in vocational education in Ohio

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Vocational education enters a new century
Vocational education classes have been shaping America’s workforce since the 1900s, says Kimberly Green, who heads a national association of career tech education leaders. And as the economy evolved over the years, she says, the types of skills-based courses that were offered changed right along with it.

She says, “a lot of connections in areas that the students were focused when during the world wars, the types of skills people would need to support a war economy, then you saw in the 60's and 70's, career technical education very much focused on gender equity and helping girls get the skills that were needed to help break the glass ceiling.”

In the mid-1990's, classes started to become more technology driven, and schools broadened their vocational offerings to cover a wider variety of career fields, like marketing, graphic design, and health science. The term “vocational education” was eventually replaced with “career tech education”.

Today, Green says about 25 percent of high school students nationwide take at least three career-tech courses, and she adds that even traditional vocational trades, like electrical work and welding, are demanding more technology-based skills.

She says, “There’s all kinds of new technologies in the construction field that make the work more efficient, and thinking about and talking to the electrical field about what’s involved in wiring a house today versus wiring a house, you know, 50 years ago...the world has changed and even those traditional trades have changed as well.”

Governor's Vo-Ed goals exceed resources 
Governor Kasich is calling for renewed attention to teaching skilled trades. At his state-of-the-state address in February, Kasich not only talked up career tech, but suggested introducing it to kids much earlier.

Kasich says, "We want kids to have a connection to this in the seventh grade. Now Mom and Dad, I have to tell you, you can clap for that. We want to bring it down." 

But that idea has some in the field scratching their heads. At E-HOVE, a career tech center near Sandusky, Superintendent Sharon Mastroianni thinks it’s a great idea for middle school students to explore their career interests at an earlier age. But, she says, the resources aren’t there to do it.

Mastroianni says, "We do not have the capacity, facility wise or staff wise, to have 7th and 8th graders on our campus earning credit...And I don’t know any career center that could have that opportunity.”

Lima City Schools superintendent Jill Ackerman says that’s also true in her district.

But that’s not her only reservation.

Younger students may not be ready for the training
She says some of the hands-on experience that comes along with certain career tech offerings may not work for a younger crowd.

Ackerman says, "We’re not going to weld and do construction trades in seventh grade.”

But she does like the idea of introducing the basic concepts of potential careers to seventh and eighth graders.

Ackerman says, “I think we need to help kids to develop an awareness of what is welding, what is construction trades, how does it apply…”

Last September, the Ohio Department of Education quietly changed its rules to allow younger kids in career tech programs. But so far, no specific plans or appropriations have been proposed - either by the governor in his mid-biennium review, or by the legislature.

To ODE spokesman John Charlton, the governor’s ideas about expanding career tech education are just the beginning of the career-tech conversation rather than the end.

Charlton says,  “These are things that are going to have to be discussed and talked about and how they can best be rolled out…it’s going to play out differently in every single school district. “

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