NEWS THAT the District public schools will be
entering into agreements with major corporations to develop five high school career training programs cannot be praised too highly. This is exactly what the public schools need to do. By tying academic training directly to job training the school system is offering students some tangible evidence of the value of education and is simultaneously helping put its students in an association with companies that can hire them when they graduate. Add to this that the companies involved are picking up the cost of the programs and there is the temptation to throw roses at Superintendent Floretta McKenzie for this major accomplishment only five months into her term as superintendent.
If there is an argument to be made against the career programs in banking and insurance, communications, engineering, computer sciences and hotel management, it is that the end of junior high school is pretty early to ask a student to decide on a career. Vocational training may also take away from giving much-needed attention to improving academics. Superintendent McKenzie answers this reservation by saying that the career training will be in addition to regular academic training, not a replacement for it. And she contends that the high rate of black teen-age unemployment in this city is evidence of the need for students to make more contacts with businesses so they can find out what jobs are available and prepare themselves for those jobs.
There is a hidden benefit to all this, too, in its effect on the reputation of the public schools. Working with professionals from General Motors, Control Data and Goldberg/Marchesano and Associates can only promote professional standards of work throughout the schools and make more parents and employers confident of the job the public schools are doing. Those companies, Superintendent McKenzie points out, are not entering into this project only because they are being charitable to a public school system. They expect results--such as capable graduates--and benefits--such as having those capable people come to work for them. That would reduce the companies' expenses for private training programs. Those expectations should also help to pull up academic standards in the schools.
With this start--and, ideally, more investments of time and money from local businesses as enthusiasm builds for the project--the public schools will have a much-needed high-profile program to be proud of. It should help to keep the schools on the road to improvement and persuade more parents that the public schools are beginning to do a better job. The career high schools provide a great prospect for a school system too long beset by pessimism. Things are finally on the upswing.