In his State-of-the-State speech on Monday evening, Governor Mike Easley called upon the General Assembly to expand the Earn to Learn Program to include high schoolers who currently are unable to attend a college due to their location by providing internet based courses and opportunities for these students. The state of North Carolina has made the preparation of high schoolers for college a major necessity. I applaud these efforts, but as an educator who sees high schoolers on a daily basis, I am concerned that too many students are being left behind because of the increased efforts of the state to push students down the college track.
North Carolina, like other states, faces a severe situation concerning the amount of teenagers failing to finish high school by dropping out. I teach "at-risk" students who on a daily basis consider dropping out of high school for a number of reasons generally related to their lives out of school. Coupled with these home related issues is the lack of a "keeping mechanism" for these students that would compel them to finish school.
I hear this often when the drop out issue is discussed in class. For many "at-risk" students, college is not needed for the career track they want to pursue and the forcing of college-prep curriculum upon them makes it more likely they will drop out.
Consider a recent class discussion, out of 25 students 20 have considered dropping out of high school in the past three months. When asked why they did not, five students answered they want to enlist in the military and a diploma is necessary, while the other 15 stated they were not 16 yet. Never once did any of these students mention the suspension of their driving privileges as a reason for staying in school.
I pressed these students further and found that most of them do not want to attend college and would love nothing more but to learn a trade while in high school so they can enter the job force upon graduation. If asked whether vocational education would keep them in high school, the resounding answer was yes.
The state of North Carolina is considering changing the drop out age to 18 years of age with the drivers license privilege requirement. I stand opposed to this idea because I see it as further adding to the drop out rate of our teenagers.
Instead of changing the age of drop out, why not consider adding vocation education programs as options for our state's high schoolers. There is nothing wrong with learning construction, plumbing, and auto mechanics. Hell, I encourage it because these skilled labor jobs pay well and can not be outsourced to other countries.
Having an auto mechanic who can quote Shakespeare and Homer is a wonderful idea for some, but I'd rather settle for a mechanic who understands his car parts and country music!
North Carolina can do better for its students who want to learn a vocation. Pushing every student on a college track is not the solution to the information aged economy and will only add to our state's drop out woes that currently plague a number of our school districts.
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