A weekend interview with ...
... State Board of Education member Phoebe Raulerson. Raulerson, a former superintendent of Okeechobee schools, frequently has pushed for more hands-on training for high school students, voicing the concern that existing school curriculum does not work for every student. She now serves on a 26-member national task force charged with finding innovative ways to integrate career and technical education opportunities into the nation's high schools. She spoke with reporter Donna Winchester about career education.
A lot of school districts are working hard to meet the legislative mandate to create rigorous career technical education programs. What are some things school districts should keep in mind as they move forward in this area?
They have to keep in mind they need to see data on each child. I like the idea of the accountability, that a percentage of the students need to be involved in the industry and pass whatever the state test is. That will show that the program is strong, that we're preparing students for a good life. We're also helping our lifestyle by keeping each of those industries strong.
One of the other things districts need to do is give teachers enough in-service so they can earn their own national accreditation. Another thing I'd like to see is more English and math embedded in the career technical programs. There are very few programs where there is enough of that crossover. Hopefully, as time goes by, we will build more of that into the programs so kids can see the real reason for knowing the English, the math, the science. The whole point of teaching children math and science and language arts is that it is something they can use. It's not just, "You can use this some day." For a lot of kids, they need to see the relevance of it.
Do you foresee a danger in districts creating too many programs too quickly?
There could be a question of quantity over quality. But there is that piece that says a percentage of kids need to pass those national standards. If they can do that, it tells you the quality of the program is good. If you can't get kids successfully through the program to the point where they can meet those national standards, you need to shut that program down and start something else. There are programs that won't immediately produce results. You've got to do the teacher training and so forth. But you can't give it too much time. We'll use the data to help us know what we're doing right and how to fix it if it's wrong. If we can't fix it, we'll need to turn to something else.
What else appeals to you about this new foray into career technical education?
The other thing I like is that it involves your work force board. Educators will be working with the business community. That will make us stronger as a state and as a nation. It doesn't mean we're just producing whatever the business industry wants. It means we're setting kids up to the point where they're getting out in the world and they're ready, at least for that particular job. If you get kids involved in something they like, they'll go to the next level.
We need to have a range of possibilities for kids. Not everyone is going to go to a four-year school. Not everyone is going to be an engineer. On the other hand, a kid who is going to be a physics major, if he takes a career tech program that allows him to use his hands, he will understand physics at a far more gut level than a kid who just does it in his head. This is about making the connection between what you do with your hands and what you do with your brains. We need a bunch of theorists out there. But we also need physicists who understand how things work at a very fundamental level.
Do you anticipate there may be difficulties getting educators to take the lead of business?
That has to be worked through. When I was a principal, we had a drafting program. It was good, but we wanted to make it better. We got the math teachers and the drafting teacher together with some engineers who actually did drafting. They sat down together and began to talk. What they found out was that what was in the textbook skipped most of the important things the kids needed to now in drafting. So we changed the textbook series. I think the more we can bring teachers and business people together, the more they'll find they can help each other. If the business person is saying, "You need to know this if you want to work with me," that helps the teachers.
Success is a tremendous motivator. If teachers see success with some of these programs, there will be more and more who will get on board. It does take time. All change take time. Most people don't like change. It tends to be more so in education than in other places. Many times, educators feel if they learned it, they know it, and that's that.