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Del. Ken Plum: Making High School More Meaningful

by Del. Ken Plum November 17, 2016 at 10:00 am 11 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

As an avid user of social media I was surprised that a link to a Forbes article I posted recently on Facebook on “Why We Desperately Need to Bring Back Vocational Training in Schools” had been shared by nearly a hundred of my friends on their own pages.

Obviously, the subject hit a chord of interest on the part of many people. The author, Nicholas Wyman, asserts that the “college-for-everyone” attitude has pushed vocational and career education programs to the margins. He says that “if we want everyone’s kid to succeed, we need to bring vocational education back to the core of high school learning.”

He is not alone in his belief as evidenced by the wide range of readership of his article. I can relate to what he has to say because for several of the years of my 30-year career with Fairfax County Public Schools, my job title was director of vocational and adult education.

There is widespread interest in a redesign of high school education. As many point out, high schools are largely operated under an industrial model that has not changed in a 100 years even though the world around public schools has undergone major changes. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded Next Generation Learning Challenges that has funded dozens of new schools around the country that take new approaches to learning that include online and personalized learning.

More recently, Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple’s Steve Jobs, has put up $50 million to support competition on the redesign of public high schools. Her effort, XQ: The Super School Project, hopes to lead to community efforts to overhaul high schools to be more relevant, more engaging and more successful at turning out students who can compete in a fast-evolving economy.

Fortunately, Virginia is underway with its own effort to redesign high school. Secretary of Education for Virginia, Dr. Dietra Trent, wrote recently that the Board of Education is developing new graduation requirements that align programs with the skills every student should have upon graduation, removing the pressure of high-stakes testing, and ensuring that all students are exposed to 21st century skills.

Under the new model that is being considered, the first two years of high school would focus more on core classes while the next two years would allow for experiential learning, internships, externships, on-the-job training, and other opportunities.

As the Secretary explained it, “by adding experiential learning opportunities, expanding how credits can be earned and developing a variety of rigorous new pathways to graduation, high school redesign will finally unleash the full potential of our teachers, our students and our schools.”

A unifying topic I find among my constituents is the desire that we have the best schools possible for our children and grandchildren. I like the work that is going on in many places to rethink how we do schooling, especially at the high school level. With the wonderful schools we have in our community we need to examine the requirements of our schools to ensure that we provide students with opportunities to explore, create, innovate and become lifelong learners.

  • The Constitutionalist

    I wonder how much this will cost me next year.

  • RoadApples

    Del. Plum:
    While I differ with your ideas on many issues.
    I wholeheartedly support/concur with you on this particular emphasis:
    ‘we need to bring vocational education back to the core of High School learning’.
    Additional expenditure on this redesign; if managed/budgeted responsibly; will be an excellent educational opportunity going forward.

  • Arielle in NoVA

    I think nearly all of us would agree that standardized testing has taken over way too much of our kids’ educational experiences and that eliminating it or at least cutting it way back would be a win-win for students, teachers, and families.

    • drb

      Read my statement above for some insight.

  • Ming the Merciless

    AT LAST a sensible idea from him. And no partisan cheap shots!

    World Turned Upside Down!

  • SSM2012

    I’d love for the school district to consider online vocational training. I served on the board of an organization that invested millions in making practical skills-based training free and open online — they have a curriculum of +100 online vocational training programs that no school district will adopt because it’s not within their mandate of “bricks and books” education, and yet millions graduate without practical skills. This is a huge untapped opportunity for a visionary school district.

  • Mike M

    Thanks Ken, we love you man ♡

    • Mike M

      Actually, this is one of the most reasonable positions Ken has ever taken. The problem is his educational mafia will not approve and if they ever got the go ahead for such an effort they would destroy it.

  • Argyn Kuketayev

    Who’s going to vocation schools and who’s going to colleges? Poor people will be steered to vocational schools, and reach kids will go to colleges. So, the rich kids will be competitive with foreign highly educated workers, while poor kids won’t be. That’s where this is going to.

    • CS

      Actually, what would happen in that situation is that the poor kids with the vocational training would have job security because they would have the skills and training to perform highly needed services that they must be physically present to perform, whereas, the rich kids would go to college and get degrees in things like graphic design and computer programming, that are easily outsourced to people in third world countries who will do it for pennies and work over the Internet. It’s already happening.

  • drb

    I would love to endorse Mr. Plum here but as we have witnessed in the past with Liberals what they advertise is not what you will be buying.

    There are those that will think that this may be a way to push back on Standardize Testing. Standardize testing isn’t the problem. It was the lack of educating that brought about the testing, a lack of educating due to the curriculum teachers were forced to use. Standardize Testing was a way of keeping the schools honest. What you got was complaints that the teachers did not know how to teach so that the kids could pass the tests. So the solution from the schools was that the teachers were to teach the test.

    The tests were easy enough to pass by someone educated in the 50’s and 60″s and some of the 70″s by the end of their sophomore year which allowed them to move onto vocational education that was offered by many schools back then or the more advanced curriculum that prepares them for College. Not so today. We see kids today having to be tested in College prior to allowing them to take College level courses.

    There are kids these days that are figuring out that they can work a little harder in High School and eighth grade and go to Community College in their Junior and or Senior years, thus ending High School with both a High School degree and a two year degree. The reason the kids need to bust their rear is because a lot of time is wasted in the lower schools with Earth Day and diversity appreciation and a load of other nonsense.

    That is why you see the Asian families in Fairfax County sending their kids to private schools the first few years and asking to get their children rated as gifted and talented. They want to bypass the normal run kids get when enrolled at their local neighborhood elementary schools. The Private Schools build a base of academics that make their kids look in comparison as gifted and talented.

    So yes let us go back to a better education time but not with Liberals running and controlling it.


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