Amid the excitement of this month’s high school graduations was a little-noticed cancer that threatens the future of our community; it was the large number of “Career Diplomas” that were presented to graduates at every public high school.
The Career Diploma is the Republican Party’s idea of a quality education for the working poor. It prepares them for a job but almost guarantees that most will remain among the working poor stay poor.
At graduations, the career diploma students marched across the stage with other graduates, but they received a diploma that had a different meaning than the regular high school diploma.
What’s the difference? The Career Diplomas prepares a student for work in one of the ten areas the state has decided are important: construction, agriculture, food and natural resources, architecture, arts, audiovisual technology and communication, health science, hospitality and tourism, human services, information technology, manufacturing, transportation, distribution and logistics.
The student receives a diploma that employers in these areas will recognize, but will not be recognized as sufficient to enter a college or a university. Noticeably absent from the curriculum is business ownership, real estate, and finance management; three career areas that lead to wealth. The career program is designed to train workers, not owners and thinkers, and leaders.
When this idea was introduced by former Governor Bobby Jindal, in Louisiana this newspaper dubbed the Career Diplomas as a “Diploma for Dummies” program. The designers assumed that the poor and working classes were generally not fit for higher education; so they are provided a career track to “at least” get them a job that pays them enough to scratch through life at or below poverty and stay out of jail.
The old program provided college prep and career training as electives. The new program provides career prep but does not offer the option of college prep as an option.
In effect, students in the career program must choose one or the other, but not both.
Studies are showing that career tech students get jobs, but without the broader education required to shift up, are mostly doomed to lives as laborers without an extraordinary push of their own.
Career diploma students, who decide to move up after graduation will learn that they are not prepared to move up. They will be required to enroll in a community college for two years before they can shift over to a college program.
At Carroll High School, there were more career diplomas than college ready diplomas awarded. Students were identified by name on the program. Wossman proudly presented scholars chords to its career graduates and many graduates were unaware that a career diploma is recognized for employment purposes, but does not indicate that they are scholars. Neville, Ouachita and Richwood also awarded career diplomas but mingled them in with other graduates giving the impression that all of the students received the same level of training.
Making matters worse the Louisiana Department of Education gives schools that push career and technical tracks more points than it does regular diplomas. It’s a powerful incentive to push students into the career track. A school can instantly move from a “D” school to a “B” school if it throws in the towel and pushes students, as many as possible into the career track.
The number of career diplomas is expected to increase in the years ahead, but as they increase the number of college-bound students will decrease. That should be worrisome to our community because it signals a dumbing down of our future.
What is surprising is that there is no push back from Black educators. The black teacher’s groups are not rallying against this program that is so obviously aimed at urban youth.
We should ensure that every student is college ready with a career based set of electives. It should not be a choice between college or a job.
Parents with 10th graders should be told in simple language “If you choose the career diploma for your child, his/her diploma will not be enough to go to college later without going to community college for two years.”
Athletes who choose the career track won’t go to college, instead can only go to a community college putting NFL and NBA dreams further out of reach.
The career track admits that your child, even with great teachers and opportunities, doesn’t have what it takes to be a teacher, doctor, lawyer, scientist, banker, or other professions that require higher level thinking.
Our school board members are predominately Black, but not one of them has led a fight to counter this growing trend. The board members focus on building pretty buildings, but not the quality of the programs in the buildings. At the very least the school board should cap the percentage of career track students in each graduating class.
The State BESE Board should not incentivize the career track more than regular diploma tracks.
Those who praise the career track are usually people outside of our community. What they are really saying is that “most of your kids are not college material anyway, you should be happy, at least they will have a job.”
Educators, where is your fight? School Board members where is your backbone? Parents, where is your fire?
Should we roll over and accept the dumbing down of our future?
In high school, my career track was determined through my electives. I chose the business track: typing, shorthand, business math, and Junior achievement (Entrepreneurship).
The school would not allow me to take easy subjects, they pushed me through. Nearly every student was pushed the same way.
With my high school diploma, I went to college, graduated and also used every one of my career electives to make a living.
Unfortunately, students entering the Republican Party’s Career Diploma track won’t have the chance to be college prepared AND job ready.
Everyone in our community should be angry as this dumbing down of our future unfolds in front of our eyes.
It’s a growing cancer that’s threatening our future. If we don’t complain, then we deserve what we get.