Oregon’s dismal graduation rate as the country’s fourth-worst means way too many of our high school students are not succeeding. Today, one in four students fail to graduate with their class. And for the children entering kindergarten this year, the way we’re tracking is that one out of every five won’t graduate. And, of those who go directly to community college, 75 percent must take basic (remedial) education classes before they can earn credits toward their degree.
Both situations are challenging for our young people who are eager to work and build lives for themselves.
Fortunately, these problems are far from insurmountable. Teachers and administrators know what works to engage high school students: Hands-on environments of vocational and career technical education.
Career tech education (CTE) is traditional vocational classes such as wood and automotive shops, along with modern classes like robotics, engineering, computer coding and other high-tech subjects. These classes always relate to the real world and make lessons in core classes relevant.
Teachers see every day how these courses ignite a student’s interest in learning.
Graduation rates for students in career tech ed are the proof: In Oregon, when students take one or more career tech courses, their graduation rate is about 22 percentage points higher than the general graduation rate.
Students who have struggled in academic classes often find their calling in hands-on courses. They realize why math, writing and other core subjects are essential. They learn that academic subjects aren’t just for the college-bound, rather that they’re equally important for finding a decent-paying job.
The problem is that Oregon high schools had to cut their vocational and career tech classes during the past decade.
This brings me back to Measure 98 on this November’s election ballot. It will distribute a portion of state revenue that results from economic growth and does not take away from existing programs. High schools that show their plan for spending the money appropriately will receive the equivalent of about $800 per student per year.
For Medford schools, Measure 98 would mean about $3.28 million in the 2017-2018 school year.
Measure 98 dollars are available for high schools to:
Create a broad array of career technical classes where students get exposure to serving the public, to emergency medical response, and to hands-on skills. Schools also can expand existing career tech.
Expand advanced classes and opportunities to earn early college credit so college-bound students get a taste of college-level academics and can save money on tuition.
Provide dropout prevention in the form of guidance counselors and tutors focused on keeping more students in school and interested.
Schools will be required to monitor and report their progress to the community and the state.
Right now, most high schools in Oregon don’t have career tech and vocational ed or they don’t have enough for all the students who are interested. About 26 percent of Oregon high school students take CTE. In many states, more like 75 percent take it.
Oregon students deserve a chance to succeed, whether in a career directly out of high school, in a community college or trade school, or at university.
Your support for Ballot Measure 98 can provide real opportunity for Oregon’s young people. Please join me in voting yes!
— Bill Thorndike is president of Medford Fabrication.