Gauging Trends and Utilizing the Strengths of Our Community

In some ways, Howard County is like school districts all over the world: We constantly walk the line between the quality of our educational programs and the health of our budget.

Our students need many things to be successful, including small class sizes, better technology, and the improved professional development of teachers. But all of these necessities come with price tags attached.

To complicate the issue even further, our schools often seem to be unable to fund essential programs.

With the recent budget deficit issue, it forces us to examine our spending: What are the needs of our students, as opposed to the wants? When trying to answer this question, be sure to factor vocational programs and trade schools into the discussion.

Assessing Education Trends

The most essential mission of any educational system is to ensure that students are prepared for life after high school, whether they’re attending college or immediately entering the workforce.

Statistics from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show that enrollment in post-secondary education has been on a steady decline in the new millennium. Therefore, we may need to rethink the preparation we give our students.

We now have a growing population of students that want to prepare for a specific vocation or trade. The obvious response to this need is to open more vocational high schools. To clarify, vocational schools offer courses that are specific to a particular vocation, as opposed to general courses that can be applied to a variety of careers. (Intriguingly, the Public School Review reported that 75% of the population in Maryland trade schools are minorities.)

But from the perspective of our financial responsibilities, is the trade-school solution practical? On one hand, Maryland currently has programs such as Career and Technology Education (CTE), which prepares both children and adults for a variety of careers. But on the other hand, in ten years, will there be enough students interested in a specific field to warrant an entire high school devoted to it? If not, why fund it now?

A more feasible solution may lie in rethinking ways to utilize the resources we already have in place. Innovative educators within our school systems can be recruited to introduce quality vocational programs within our existing high schools.

According to WTOP, a paradigm for this idea is already in place: A Maryland education commission is attempting to generally figure out how to apply success in continuing education programs to improve schools. For instance, Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) schools create direct trajectories from middle schools to practical careers.

Deploying Local Businesses

Of course, we all know that the best vocational training includes opportunities for hands-on experience. According to RMI of Maryland, area businesses and various organizations are our greatest resources for making these programs a success for our students and our pocketbooks.

For our vocational students, an apprenticeship is a win-win. These programs give our students practical experience, and they give local businesses access to a more prepared workforce. Our schools also benefit, as more apprenticeships mean less overcrowding.

The hands-on experiences available to HCPSS students through its Applications and Research Laboratory are great places to start, but we need to provide more of these opportunities to our students.

Presently, students are somewhat limited in their options. As of this writing, there are 27 public vocational schools in Maryland, and 10 of them are high schools. And some schools only offer one or two vocational programs. But why limit students to apprenticeships in their own districts?

We can open up residency requirements, and pair students with businesses that are better matches for their skills and interests. This tactic will lead to even more successful programs that can train and prepare even more students. With over 10,000 businesses in Howard County, it shouldn’t be challenging to find opportunities for every student that might benefit from on-the-job learning.

By working together, we can find solutions that are budget-friendly and provide our students with the tools they need to excel.


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