Stakeholders in the United States education system continue to be concerned with the perceived low quality of public high school education and the inability of schools to produce students who are well-prepared to meet the demands of higher employment standards and a more competitive, continually changing, global labor market. Hanson observes how the United States trails behind Japan and Germany in terms of educating “the average student, the person who will be the backbone of the future workforce” (27). Indeed, tremendous changes in the global economy, and the “changing nature of skill, work, and jobs, wrought largely by the impact of technology and by high performance work organizations,” (Lewis 13) have called attention to the deficiences and weaknesses of the United States’ public high school education system in supplying the country’s increasing need for a more competitive workforce that is crucial in maintaining or even furthering the United States’ economic advantage and global competitive edge. (Hanson 26)
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In response, the United States government has sought to institute changes in the education sector through policy reforms such as the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 which emphasized standards-based K-12 education and mandated the annual assessment of children’s progress in learning. (Gaddy, Dean, & Kendall 1) Accordingly, States were encouraged to develop their own benchmarks and the means to measure school achievement of grade-level expectations. Likewise, the No Child Left Behind Act also encouraged efforts to implement technology integration in curriculums and in the classrooms in the aim of developing higher order thinking skills among students. (Gaddy, Dean, & Kendall 6)
Despite such efforts at improving student learning outcomes, a lot of work clearly needs to be done to transform both the primary and secondary education systems. Weller argues, for instance, that the rapidly changing face of the global economy and the rapid development of technology necessitates schools that emphasize “critical and high quality thinking skills, the use of and instruction in the latest technology, the use of teams and cooperative learning strategies to solve problems and make decisions, and the ability to adapt and work in fluid, changing environments.” (251) In high school education, this entails aligning curriculums and learning expectations with the changing demands of the labor market in order to provide students with meaningful knowledge and skills appropriate for actual employment.
Consequently, the most important change that the government must institute in public high school education is curriculum restructuring particularly in career and technical education courses to adequately prepare students for employment after graduation. Lynch observes that while the government has initiated a partial reform in vocational course teaching and approach in public high school education, there remains a need to redefine the concept of career and technical education in American high schools to address competing expectations from the public and private sectors. (4) In particular, the reform of career and technical education must satisfy the student’s need for “relevant, contemporary career information, knowledge, and skills.” (7) To this end, Lynch suggests the implementation of a career and technical education program that enables students to engage in career planning, supports intellectual as well as technical training and preparation, and emphasizes contextual and work-based instruction and learning strategies. (8-10)
Clearly, there is a need for educational reforms that would improve the capability of American high schools in producing graduates that would be an asset to the country’s workforce and economy. In this aspect, changes in the quality of the career and technical education courses being offered in public high schools is crucial in education reform. Such changes have address societal expectations in increasing workforce competencies while at the same time responsive to the learning and training needs and expectations of students.
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