Lodi News-Sentinel: GetREAL Fights for CTE Constriction Class 

Keeping Construction?

By Amanda Dyer
News-Sentinel Staff Writer
April 4, 2008

To chop or not to chop? That's the question surrounding a Tokay High School advanced construction class.

Supporters of the class say it offers hands-on skills that are applicable to students' lives, no matter where they end up after high school.

Though administrators agree that these hands-on classes are important, they say the classes are not graduation requirements. Students need to grasp basic language arts and mathematical concepts, they argue, before taking electives.

The issue came to a head this week during a Lodi Unified board meeting at which students, teachers and advocates urged the board to not cancel the construction class.

Mike Murphy, who teaches the class, said board members listened, but put the topic at the very end of the meeting and gave them a limited amount of time.

"We got a very soft response," Murphy said.

Murphy said his class has already been canceled, and that all the district can do is add it back to the schedule.

However, Martha Dent, vice principal at Tokay High and organizer of the school's master schedule, said Murphy's classes haven't been canceled.

Dent said the classes might have to be combined to increase the number of students in the class, but they're not going away.

"There will be opportunities for all kids to take woodshop," Dent said.

Len Casanega, interim superintendent at Lodi Unified School District, said some students do have fewer opportunities to take electives for a variety of reasons.

One reason is that students who don't pass required classes sometimes have to take an intervention class or another class to get them back on track.

"When you do that, it takes the slot that could've been filled with an elective," Casanega said.

Gino DiCaro is a spokesman for GetREAL, a coalition of industry associations and manufacturers that supports hands-on classes.

He agrees that students should learn basic academic concepts, but said these concepts can be learned in career and technical education classes, like Murphy's class at Tokay High.

"Most of the students end up learning math and reading in these courses," DiCaro said.

Moreover, DiCaro said hands-on classes like woodshop are giving students additional skills that are relevant to their future, whether that future includes going straight to work, to community college or to a four-year college.

He proposes that schools wouldn't have as many remediation and intervention classes if the career and technical classes were kept. He added they certainly shouldn't be the first to go.

However, Casanega said that keeping classes with low enrollment causes a swell in enrollment in other classes.

For example, if there are only 12 students in an elective class and the average class size for a school is 30 students, then that means 18 other students have to be absorbed by other classes.

Sooner or later teachers in packed classes will start saying, "'Our class is at 34 (students). How long are you going to offer a class with 12 (students)?'" Casanega said.

To keep those classes even, Casanega said, elective teachers need to find a way to increase their enrollment.

While the time students have to take electives may be decreasing, the number of students in regional occupation classes has shown a significant jump.

Murphy said he's been able to generate more than enough interest in his class, but somebody either changes the class or convinces the student that they can't take it.

He believes administrators make students take courses they don't need to boost standardized test scores.

"They say what they want in public, but behind closed doors, they'll do what they want," Murphy said.