Friday, March 8, 2013

Career Education Proves Boys Are No Dummies

We have an interesting dichotomy in this country: men make more money than women and hold more positions of leadership than women in every field and walk of life. And? 

"Boys are less likely to finish high school, go to college, finish college, go to graduate school, or finish grad school," says Professor James Stone III, director of the National Research Center of Career and Technical Education at the University of Louisville, at the National Policy Seminar of the Association of Career and Technical Education in Crystal City, Va. He points out that 75 percent of D's and F's are given to male students. "We are driving them out. We are not giving them things that engage them" (At least, that's what I hear from this Education Week story).

I think we've been asking the wrong questions about dropouts. I think the same thing about college and grad school drop outs, too. Educators wring their hands, understandably, when they look at kids leaving the formal school system.  They know these decisions can make kids more vulnerable to changes in the economy and less resilient when their own lives change as they age. 

But what I'm not hearing is a conversation about where the boys are going. Many, many, many of them are going to work. When the economy dips, dropout rates decrease--it makes more economic sense to stay in school. When the economy strengthens and as society begins to demand more credentials for even lower level work, dropouts decrease again across the board.  Surely there are other factors, but the boys are no dummies. 

When you think of the boys as rational economic men, it makes perfect sense that Career and Technical Education (CATE) would work for them. In a CATE classroom, students are on their feet, using their hands, interacting, able to bring their whole physical selves, to exert leadership. Boys are almost three times as likely as girls to have ADHD, and twice as likely to have a learning disability that makes working in our single-modality, sensory-deprived classrooms difficult. Of course CATE is more motivating for this crowd. 

Another facet of CATE is its rewards: they're immediate and authentic.  When you're replacing a fan belt or baking a soufflĂ© or toweling off a newborn goat, the results of your efforts are clear. There's no turning in the goat and waiting two weeks to get it back with a bunch of criticisms and a letter written on it.  The goat is alive. The soufflĂ© rises. The car starts. It's simple, and it's powerful.

CATE is also social. This factor may not, at first glance, seem to be one of the most salient factors for boys, but consider that other go-to for keeping boys in school: sports. Football and other sports teams provide not only a great place for boys to play, but a safe community where they can try out their social abilities. Recent research on Hispanic students should make it no surprise that dropouts, so many of whom are Hispanic, are motivated by CATE classrooms where sitting down and keeping quiet are not the rules of the game.  

So, CATE doesn't make boys miserable. That's honestly more than we can say for the classes these boys at risk for dropping out are taking the rest of the day.  And, it makes economic sense. The focus in the classroom is on building skills now for a job in the near-term future. As they progress, they meet professionals in their field and spend a lot of time learning about the career arc of those in their field. 

The stats tell us that the boys understand that completing their education will improve their wages enough to stick with it. Between now and the next time, I'll be thinking about how regular-ed classrooms can become more like CATE and football for the sake of all our students, but especially these boys vulnerable to dropout at a higher rate.

In fact, let's think about football one more time right now. Consider it an anticipatory set. ;)
Troy Aikman by Allison V. Smith for USA Today

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