In 2009, a state-led effort to construct a set of high-quality standards in mathematics and English language arts and literacy began. The result was the controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative.
The standards were meant to be:
- Research- and evidence-based
- Clear, understandable, and consistent
- Aligned with college and career expectations
- Based on rigorous content and application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills
- Built upon the strengths and lessons of current state standards
- And informed by other top performing countries in order to prepare all students for careers in our global economy and society.
Not unlike AWS’ own SENSE program, the intention was to establish fixed national standards for education that ensure all students are receiving the same core education. However, where SENSE establishes guidelines specifically for welding programs, Common Core applies to the entire education system from Kindergarten through High School graduation.
So what does this curriculum mean for students interested in careers in welding and other skilled trades?
Proponents argue that the standards will help to remedy a widening skills gap in American Manufacturing. A report on talent in the manufacturing industry published by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute reveals that students are entering the job market with extremely poor math, science, reading and writing skills that are critical to skilled trades. The Common Core Standards are designed to address this fundamental deficiency.
However, critics say that bringing student coursework in line with the expectations of standardized testing and college admissions boards limits the educational prospects of students that have decided to pursue a career that does not necessarily involve a college degree. This perceived bias toward preparing students for standardized testing and college readiness are two of the program’s biggest areas of controversy.
But how exactly are non-college track students being negatively affected by the new standards? Veteran educator, Marion Brady argues that the new curriculum limits our educators’ ability to adapt to reality, and the reality at the moment is that our country needs more skilled workers. In a letter to the Washington Post Brady explains that the standards ignore important fields of study, thus perpetuating modern education’s “perspective-limiting boundaries.”
Paul Barnwell gives voice to this point of view in his article for Education Week:
“Instead of taking two years of foreign language to meet college ‘readiness’ requirements as a junior or senior, why can’t more students take core classes for half the day, then leave school to intern or train as carpenters, electricians, auto technicians, dental assistants, or fitness trainers?…High school should be about using time more creatively to create opportunities and real experiences for students.”
In other words, high school students should have the opportunity to learn a trade and get certified before heading out into the job market. While honest work in any form is always a worthy pursuit, fast-food restaurants and box stores should not be the only options for high school grads that have decided to pursue a non-college track.
At least one state is taking this opinion to heart. In an article for Businessweek, Harold L. Sirkin tells how North Carolina is taking action to put vocational training on an equal footing with college prep courses.
“Starting with the 2014-15 school year, North Carolina high school students will have two paths toward graduation: They can prepare for college, or they can prepare for work. When they graduate they will receive a new type of diploma, certifying that they are college-ready, career-ready, or both. In the meantime, state education officials will revamp the curriculum to reflect the dual mission.”
To some, this is precisely the kind of initiative that can successfully address the country’s widening skills gap. However, critics of common core standards insist that college-centric thinking has limited the kind of support and funding necessary for the restoration of vocational schools to catch on across the country.
Only time will tell what lasting impact these relatively new standards will have on American education. Will they serve to prepare American students for an increasingly complex and highly competitive global market? Or will these standards ultimately impede a significant number of young men and women from reaching their full potential and satisfying the needs of a recently resurgent American manufacturing sector?
Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
We also invite you to explore American Welding Online, where you can find links to our blog, YouTube channel, online courses, digital lectures and other tools to help you advance your welding career.