The forgotten promise

Pittsburgh owes its kids a first-rate technical education

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Once again the Pittsburgh public school district is juggling ideas for a career and technical high school. This time it's talking about reviving the Clifford B. Connelly Trade School, which, given its admirable history of training students for jobs, should never have been closed. How many more times must the public hear about such plans without results?

What the public needs to know is that career and technical education seemed to be a top priority for the district just a few years ago. At the end of 2004, five different plans for a new technical high school were on the agenda. One proposed a $70 million state-of-the-art career and technical center; another would have converted Peabody High School into six different career academies.

Each model followed the latest research in the field and provided for rigorous academic studies that related directly to technical course work. Business partners had approved the plans and were ready to provide internships for students in their senior year. The career development staff worked closely with teachers and outside architects to design the curriculum and work spaces.

Both plans were acknowledged by key researchers in the field as symbolic of what an innovative technical high school should offer students. In addition, a full-scale K-12 integrated career-development curriculum was designed with computer software for all students to explore a variety of career possibilities.

Sadly, the district administration and school board let these models gather dust as they spent time deciding the fate of Schenley and CAPA high schools. We also will see next school year a new science and technology high school for a very select group of students. Meanwhile, the career and technical high school remains on the back burner.

Shame on the school board! This level of procrastination can be seen as educational discrimination, with one academic group incessantly passed over for another.

As the former director of career and technical education for Pittsburgh Public Schools, I was instructed to close South Vocational High School. I told parents that we were working on new ideas and promised them that they would have a better program in less than two years.

Unfortunately, after bouts of verbal jousting between board members, the project was placed on the shelf and faced several revisions over the course of that year. However, in 2004 the board did reach partial agreement on the Peabody plan only later to place it in the can, as well. Imagine the amount of time and money wasted to develop first-rate ideas -- ideas that still can be implemented today.

Four years have passed and still the students interested in technical education tragically are left behind in Pittsburgh public schools.

Perhaps the administrative powers-to-be believe the "thinkers" of the empire to be more important than the "builders" of the empire. Even Plato had a place for skilled tradesmen in his Republic. His "ideal state" proposed the development of all abilities at each level. An "ideal" school district should do the same.

Pittsburgh once was a leader in industrial education to provide skilled workers for the growing industries of the region. Today, the neo-educators want every student to attend college and therefore plan curricula that puts all students on that path.

Yet some students are more suited to seek more immediate employment after high school in the changing Pittsburgh workplace, which requires both strong academics and technical programs.

Could we one day have a city of unemployed savants and no working plumbing?

The students and teachers who are interested in a high school technical education do not want to see more plans or colorful presentations. What's needed now are:

1) the date that a career and technical high school will open, and

2) an implementation process.

If this cannot be done, then throw out the "Excellence for All" slogan and replace it with "Excellence for Some."

Johnson Martin , now retired, was a principal and director of career and technical education for Pittsburgh Public Schools ( ).


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