It's All About The Children

Education it’s not what it used to be . . . or so goes the mantra uttered by many baby boomers and their parents.  And it’s true.  It’s not what it used to be especially when it comes to technical/vocational training.  As our society has become more complex and the demand for better educated individuals has been voiced over the past two decades, the solution has been a focus by our country’s educators to improve education in the United States. Yet, I’m concerned about the results.

I was recently part of an ad hoc committee discussing the closing of all the printing vocational programs in Kansas by 2012.  Closing programs in our region is “old” news.  Typically the closures were the result of funding problem at the local level, but what I learned in Kansas makes me more and more a believer that we don’t want the federal government involved in education.

I’ll try to summarize what it took R. J. Dake from the Kansas Department of Education (KDOE) nearly two hours to explain.  As we all know, approximately 4-6 years ago we were losing many high-tech jobs overseas.  Thus, there was an outcry by high-tech companies (well voiced by Microsoft’s Bill Gates) with the result being the Federal government passed legislation which would fund high school career and technology programs (a.k.a. vocational education) which targeted certain careers.  These career paths were based on the Bureau of Labor’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC Code). Funding would go to programs which would provide opportunities in careers/jobs where those jobs were growing in excess of 20% a year or had a high skill level involved or had a minimum starting salary of $13.15 per hour.  Thus, the KDOE has begun the process of closing programs down that do not meet the guidelines for funding and totally restructuring their technology & career programs.   Given funding shortfalls for education and that the feds would fund programs which would hopefully employ Kansas students, the decision was not that difficult.

What really concerned me and the other individuals in the room, who represented graphic designers, photographers, as well as a broad range of print and journalism, was that the decisions were based on bureaucratic criteria totally out of date.  When an industry like ours brought it to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) attention that the SOC codes were woefully out of date, the bureaucrats dragged their feet.  It was 2004 when the PIA office in Denver brought this issue up, and as of January 2010, the DOL had yet to publish new codes which recognize that our industry no longer employs photoengravers and plate mounters.  We can argue all day about printing being or not being a valid program.  That is a topic for another day. 

This issue is further further complicated by “No Child Left Behind,” which in concept sounds great, but making it work is another issue.  Ask any teacher (not someone from administration) and they’ll tell you about the frustration they have when being required to teach to the test. Ask any career and technology administrator and they’ll tell you about having to close certain programs because funds having to be re-directed to “No Child Left Behind.”  Someone in Washington, Austin, Topeka, etc. established guidelines, which sounded great in an election sound bite, but when implemented, is harming our children’s education.

I left the meeting very frustrated.  R.J. Dake was very candid.  They want to work with industry – but can not go against what has been dictated by the federal government regarding career and technical education – if they want to receive funding.  So the bureaucracy will continue and our children’s education will suffer, and we’ll wonder why our business innovators will go overseas.

Maybe it’s time we start demanding that education become more of a local community issue rather than a “government” one.  I find it fascinating that many parents in our country feel that education is the government’s responsibility rather than theirs.  I still believe that public education is a good thing, but we are just delegating too much to the federal government and the bureaucracies which are the results of “well-meaning” legislation.  So, is it time to talk about health care?

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