LAUSD’s career education comeback: an interview


While reporting on the resurgence of career and technical education (CTE) in the Los Angeles Unified School District and the struggles South L.A. high schools face in the quest to add more career classes, Watt Way reporter Jessica Selva interviewed LAUSD's CTE director, Isabel Vazquez. Vazquez described some of the ways the district is changing its focus on career classes. She also explained some of the challenges the district faces in general, since it receives limited state funding for its Regional Occupational Programs (ROPs), which provide schools with CTE teachers and equipment. In fact, LAUSD receives the lowest ROP funding levels in the state, thanks to revenue limits set by Proposition 13. Here is more from that interview.

Jessica Selva: What is the purpose of having more of these career and technical education and ROP classes?

Isabel Vazquez: There's been a renewed interest in career technical education, partly because employers are letting us know that their needs are not being met. There are not sufficient folks going into the fields. One of the reasons is because the baby-boomers are retiring...and as they retire, employers are realizing that they don't have sufficient numbers of replacements with the technical skills to take those jobs.

We've been perceived as the route for students that are not college bound, but we've been redirecting the conversation so that the schools prepare students both for college and work.

JS: What about the stigma those classes used to have?

IV: There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of changing people's perspective in terms of what it is and who it's intended for...because for those of us, my generation, the issue of tracking is very important. We recognize it's something that kids were tracked (into), or were considered to be tracked.

And then with the reduction, or sometimes virtually the elimination, of career technical education, the assumption was that all students would be prepared for college, but from my standpoint, all the students that are leaving school are not being prepared for college, and they're not being prepared for anything else. I mean, they're not being tracked into anything.

So, that's part of the discussion, in terms of: How do you provide students career technical education programs without going the tracking route or perceived tracking?

JS: Can you talk about how career and technical education classes disappeared and then reappeared?

IV: Part of it is, if you don't invest in the facilities that are needed, it's going to be difficult to implement them. So, most of the traditional shops that existed in the high school were converted into remediation labs and additional classrooms. In fact, the school district population grew and didn't have enough facilities. And now if you try to go back to those shops, some of them are obsolete.

JS: Can you explain issue of the shortage of CTE teachers?

IV: Going back to the retirement of the baby boomers, the existing CTE teachers, especially the traditional high school CTE teachers, when they've been retiring, they really haven't been replaced, either because the school decided to do something else, or because...some of the areas, they are harder to identify replacement teachers in some of the key fields.

The health career... This is like a crisis in the country because we do not have sufficient health career professionals and everybody's asking for classes and teachers, and we have thousands of people on waiting lists for health career program(s)...

You make more as a nurse with the overtime. What would be the incentive to teach rather than work in that field? The cost of running those programs would be more than, say, a computer literacy class. And then there are requirements for certain programs that require you to have less students. So, for instance, for the health career programs, they require 15 students in a class instead of 30, so that means we have to have more teachers for a smaller number, so that brings up the cost of the program... We don't have the funds to provide a higher salary for those teachers, and all the equipment that's needed. It's like a catch-22, if you will. So we really do need to resolve the funding issue while we provide those services to a capacity.

JS: Are there any changes being done right now in career and technical education in LAUSD?

IV: We're working on equity in funding...That's critical. We're doing that at the state level and at the federal level. There are federal funds that come into our state and then into our district to provide workforce development and adult education both for the high school students and for the adults... The Workforce Investment Act hasn't been reauthorized. We're still receiving funding, and after the election and the new Congress, there will be proposed changes or modifications at the federal level that we are participating (in)—and we are actively seeking participation at that level because it will impact us directly. We're such a large district. So that's at the federal and state level, and then at the local level, we're looking at the small learning community reform, the multiple pathways...