Patricia Kilday Hart has a conversation with Texas Workforce Commission Chair Tom Pauken about testing and accountability in public schools.
As a Texas Workforce Commissioner, Pauken has spent a lot of time studying whether our public school system prepares an educated workforce.
His conclusion? The focus on college-prep and testing has, well, “left behind” kids who would be better served earning an industrial certificate that would snag them a good job with a middle-class income.
Right now, “Help Wanted” signs across Texas beg for trained workers in welding, machinist, electrical or commercial trucking fields. But our college-centered school system – measured incessantly by tests – isn’t producing an adequate pool of applicants.
“I don’t think this teaching to the test benefits anyone,” said Pauken. “It is taking away from learning.”
Does every student need to be college ready? “We need multiple pathways to high school education,” he said. One pathway would be getting ready for college; another would be “career-oriented, with an emphasis on an industrial credential.”
Students who aren’t inclined to pursue college simply give up and drop out of school, Pauken says.
“It’s self-defeating. There are blue-collar jobs out there,” said Pauken. And more to come soon: “The average age of a welder is 50. This is a huge opportunity for young people, and it pays well.”
Pauken hopes to persuade the Texas Legislature to make sweeping changes to our education system when it meets in January – beginning with the acknowledgement that some students are not well-served by a strictly college-prep curriculum.
I agree with what Pauken says about the need for more vocational education, a subject he discusses at greater length in this Statesman editorial. I daresay most people would agree with that, and with the idea that there ought to be more than one pathway to educational success. I’ve interviewed a lot of candidates for various offices and asked them questions about public education and college readiness and standardized testing, and I’ve yet to hear one say that we need less vocational education. If Pauken has a strategy to achieve his stated goals then more power to him. I’m wondering what his plan is to overcome accountability absolutists like Bill Hammon and TAB, as they are unlikely to back off their no-retreat-on-testing stance. I wish Hart had explored that in her column, since it is potentially a critical story line for the 2013 Lege, but I suppose we’ll hear plenty about it before all is said and done. EoW has more.