Path Not Taken

It seems that both the school superintendents in the county are in favor of a school system that prepares people for jobs rather than emphasizing a curriculum that only focuses on going to college. I can’t say that I disagree with a careers approach in our school system. That is what educators with knowledge, training, and experience in workforce education and social foundations have pushed for in our secondary school systems for years. More recently, it is needed to take up the slack created by the state trade schools (once called technical institutes and now going by technical college) trying to be more and more like academic colleges and not so much career colleges. In fact, the state education department has provided a career-path design and is urging its implementation everywhere in Georgia. Since the county school board has been an echo for the superintendent in changing policy for years, and since he is now more and more expressing support for this approach, we should expect to see a policy change from them soon.

However, the implied reason to change to a career path curriculum is to reduce the dropout rate or increase the graduation rates for students. Certainly, interest, or lack of interest in what is being provided in school is a factor in decisions to drop out of school, but it is almost never the sole reason. Addressing it as the sole reason for being below the norm in a state whose record is in the bottom five nationwide is not realistic. Regardless, I think it is a step up to change the policies that for years have been geared to getting as many students as we can into colleges, including special attention to so-called gifted students to get them to “prestigious” colleges. There are studies of schools in states ranking in the top 5 nationally that show there is more attention to the interests and needs of the “average” student and that “gifted” students tend to do well regardless of the degree of interest and resources funneled toward them.

Perhaps offering more schools with career path options will increase interest in the “average” student in Hall County so they stay in school and complete with a diploma. I think we all could support that as a policy change. The Lanier Career Academy has attempted to implement such a career paths program since the establishment of the initial Lanier Career Center in 2004. While the hoped for integration between the Lanier Career Academy and Lanier Technical College hasn’t work so well due to management shortfalls I have observed on the Lanier Tech side, the Lanier Career Academy has had some success. But, as reported last year, the Academy’s may have been the recipient of students in trouble from other county schools making the graduation and retention rates for this school worse than the 62.1% graduation rate and 4.4% dropout rate of the county as a whole. Our local officials defended the academy last year, and decried any gaming to make numbers look better. But without changing ALL the county and city schools to an academy-like format, we will not remove the temptation to game the system on a larger scale as a way to solve a graduation/dropout rate problem.

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