Public Vocational High Schools Can Sustain Tennessee’s Economy –

Public Vocational High Schools Can Sustain Tennessee’s Economy

Released at 4:32 pm on Friday, August 19, 2022

Tennessee is growing. Its low tax environment and booming metropolitan areas attract top talent from around the world.
To sustain its growth, the nation must create and replenish the skilled workforce that fuels the economy. Analysts predict Tennessee will face labor shortages in areas such as her IT and healthcare. At the same time, the statewide public school dropout rate hit her 6.7%, well above her national average of 5.1%.
Tennessee leaders should look to Massachusetts as an effective way to address this growing workforce development problem. The Bay State has developed a system of public vocational and technical high schools that is considered a national model.
Vocational and technical schools in Massachusetts were once havens for underperforming students. There is now a long waiting list to join. The State Education Reform Act of 1993 required students, including vocational and technical students, to pass state examinations in order to obtain a high school diploma. Vocational and technical schools have risen to the occasion and invested in scholarship while maintaining a focus on vocational training.
According to a new book published by the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based public policy think tank, there are three keys to professional and technical success in Massachusetts. The first is that students alternate between academic and technical education on a weekly basis, allowing each area to benefit from the skills learned in the other. Voc-tech students spend only half the time in college classes, but their state test scores match their overall high school counterparts.
The second key is autonomy. Massachusetts has regional technical school districts with their own school boards, administrators and budgets to meet the unique needs of the region’s technical and technical students.
The third key is our close relationship with the business community. These relationships provide jobs for both students and alumni, as well as equipment donations from employers seeking to keep the talent pipeline flowing.
This collaboration brings another important advantage. As technical jobs demand higher skill levels than ever before, voc-techs of Massachusetts has turned to school advisory committees to provide schools with the information they need to train graduates with the in-demand skills. Business his leader has also joined and is not lagging behind. Voc-techs continually updates its programs, adding new programs and removing underutilized programs as economic conditions change. As the likelihood of a recession grows, this skill matching will help blunt its impact.
The results were impressive. Vocational and technical schools in Massachusetts enroll twice as many students with special needs as her state average, yet these students have shown exceptional academic growth since her ninth grade. The dropout rate for special needs students is very low, and the graduation rate for its population is 24 percent higher than the state average.
Today, two-thirds of Massachusetts voc-tech students receive some form of tertiary education after graduation. A survey of business owners and others conducted by Northeastern University found that students who choose not to pursue secondary education are more job-ready than their regular high school peers.
Improving Tennessee’s technical high schools after Massachusetts’ model would have many benefits, including helping address the state’s dropout problem. It will also increase the production of skilled workers who are essential for economic growth.
Vocational and technical education also provides a path to a lucrative career that allows you to support a family without incurring the debt associated with four years of college education. In Tennessee, student debt averages $36,418 per borrower.
Tennessee is experiencing a period of strong economic growth. Sustaining this growth over the long term will require wise decisions by national leaders. Vocational and technical high schools in Massachusetts provide a model for producing the talent employers need and provide financial opportunities for students, including those who are not well off and those with special needs.
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