Preparing students for the "knowledge economy"
In their articles yesterday and today, my colleagues Jamie Smith Hopkins and Steve Kiehl explore Maryland's shift from a manufacturing economy to a "knowledge economy," where workers need technical skills to find decent employment. This doesn't necessarily mean college, but at a minimum it means trade school.
Today's story followed Dr. Alonso on a tour of a five-year apprenticeship program in West Baltimore. A high school diploma is needed for entry into the program, and graduates are placed in jobs earning $60,000. In the classroom they visited, none of the 10 students had graduated from a city high school. Most were from Baltimore County.
So in a city where historically nearly half of students haven't even graduated from high school, how can Baltimore prepare its future workforce for the knowledge economy?
Alonso wants to provide more specialized training in high school, but finding the money and people with expertise to do so is challenging. It costs much more to run a trade-themed high school than a traditional one. And there is far more demand for the city's admissions-based vocational high schools -- Carver, Mervo and Edmondson-Westside -- than there are seats for qualified students.
A third of the 24 middle/high schools that the Alonso administration plans to open in the coming years are supposed to have a vocational focus. Of the six that opened this year, the Reach! School is designed to prepare students for jobs in health and construction. The two Friendship schools are college-prep, with an emphasis on science and technology careers.
But of the nine additional middle/high schools approved by the school board to open in 2009, all are college-prep and alternative schools; none is vocational. System officials say it's hard to find quality operators for such schools, and they are spending this year studying how to do that.