Letters to the Editor
If business wants well-trained workers,
high schools need funding
While I understand Don Brunell's [Association of Washington Business] lament regarding preparation of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, I would point out that there is far more to this subject than Mr. Brunell addresses.
I am a [retired] professional auto and truck technician with management experience and multiple licenses and certifications, some now lapsed. For the past four years prior to retirement I taught Automotive Technology and welding in the Clark County [Las Vegas, Nevada] School District [CCSD] and served on the Career and Technical Education [CTE] panel writing curriculum for Auto, Diesel and Power Technology incorporating STEM principles and common core standards. Stem is an acronym which means different things to different organizations. There is a STEM Partnership, a STEM Taskforce at the Department of Labor, STEM promotion within State Departments of Education and School Districts. Each focuses on different definitions and offerings of STEM because there is no hard and fast definition.
There is no doubt that STEM subjects are often scant in school districts. The first barrier is recruiting and hiring qualified instructional staff. The second is the cost of offering STEM classes, which are often project-based, requiring equipment, tools and technology which are expensive, require labs with safety and environmental equipment and rapidly become obsolete. An English Literature textbook, barring physical destruction, can easily have a 10-year life, while the software for a piece of diagnostic equipment may be obsolete in three.
STEM principles, though, are incorporated into CTE subjects. In CCSD, our curriculum had to meet certain standards and our lesson plans had to incorporate and identify STEM principles and, in Auto and Diesel, had to be consistent with Common-Core, in our case standards from the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation [NATEF]. For Mr. Brunell to claim that schools are not addressing STEM education in the vocational, military or school-to-work tracks is simply not true.
Based on my experience as an educator and as a shop manager, foreman and lead tech, what is true is that there are fewer and fewer people who are capable of both understanding technological complexity and building/maintaining/repairing that technology when it fails. Forty years ago maintaining your own car was reasonably simple. Now something as simple as using the wrong weight of oil in an oil change can have negative consequences. The trade-off is that your old car got 15 mpg and lasted 120K miles while your new one gets 30mpg and can last 500K miles. Taking care of this technology takes knowledge and skill far in excess of that required 50 years ago when I started in the trade.
High schools need sufficient funding if AWB and other business organizations want well-trained, skilled workers with the knowledge to contribute. They need to consider continuing education for technological evolution and advancement. When you have school boards such as Coeur D'Alene where the Board criticized and cut courses promoting critical thinking for ideological reasons, I have to question the commitment to and direction of education.