Career and technical education may be facing deep financial cuts. A proposed federal budget could mean as much as a 20 percent reduction to funding for vocational programs in 2012, according to the New York Times. Obama instead seeks to increase funding for overall education by 11 percent.
The Times reports that these proposed cuts are a step toward the president’s goal of raising academic standards and ultimately have the highest share of college graduates of any other nation by 2020. But Dr. David Dabaco, a teacher at Lincoln High school Engineering and Construction Academy in Stockton, CA, disagrees with the president’s college-bound campaign. “As a society we have to provide educational opportunities for all students, not just those college-bound,” he says. “If we can show these kids we can provide you with these skills and you’ll get your foot in the door, and you’ll make x numbers of dollars. That can break the cycle of poverty, and that’s an accomplishment.”
The Academy where Dabaco teaches is not a typical vocational program. It provides students with opportunities to choose from four unique career paths such as Architecture, Mechanical Construction, Construction Technology, and Cabinetry and Woodwork but at the same time exists within a traditional high school.
Programs like these seem particularly relevant considering the recent census data that projects that the construction industry has the largest growth. “The bottom line is that you can’t hammer on a nail over the internet, you need someone to hold the nail, you need someone to hammer it and do the work,” said Dabaco. The United States, he said, needs to work on creating a workforce.
Vocational programs like the Academy's can also make a difference for students who are in danger of falling through the cracks. Dabaco remembers a particular student, Cody, who struggled his freshman year, receiving C’s, D’s, and F’s in all his classes. Then Cody took a class called Introduction to Construction and blossomed. One particular project was to create a boat made of just cardboard and duct-tape and eventually sail the boat across the school’s pool. They had to learn mathematics in conjunction with the law of density to ensure the boat would float. Cody dived right in. “We have plenty of kids like Cody, who don’t like mathematics but now they really want to understand the mathematic principals… [With] some students you can come in to class and throw up a problem and they'll solve it. Other students need to see what the point is. 'How is this going to help me?' We tell them--concretely--where it can be applied to what they’re interested in.”