College & Workforce Readiness

Conn. Polishes Image of ‘Technical’ Schools

By Jeff Archer — September 24, 2004 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Connecticut education officials are sending a new message about the state’s vocational-technical schools: Slackers need not apply.

Prompted in part by new federal requirements that are forcing similar changes nationwide, the state has begun an overhaul aimed at raising academic standards for its system of 17 state-run vocational high schools.

Among the recent transformations in Connecticut: more stringent admissions criteria and coursetaking requirements; new curricula in English, mathematics, and science; and the elimination of the long-standing practice of grouping students into classes based on their performance.

“What we really want is that when our students graduate, they have mastery in a trade technology, and they have a college-preparation program, so they can make some choices,” said Abigail L. Hughes, the state official who oversees the schools.

Driving home that point, the Connecticut state board of education on Sept. 8 approved a new mission statement for the system by pledging to prepare students equally well for employment and postsecondary education. The board also dropped “vocational” from the system’s name, which is now the Connecticut Technical High School system.

No More Fiefdoms

With 11,500 students, Connecticut’s technical high school system has a larger enrollment of 9th to 12th graders than any local school district in the state. The system trains students for a host of trades and occupations, including restaurant management, drafting, car repair, and construction.

The need to bring greater academic rigor to the schools became apparent last year, when the state began listing schools that hadn’t made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Of the state’s six high schools that failed to meet the law’s expectations for student improvement, three were in the vocational-technical system.

The retooling began in February with the appointment of Ms. Hughes as the system’s superintendent. In her previous job as an associate commissioner in charge of research and evaluation at the Connecticut Department of Education, she had served as the state agency’s lead point-person on the No Child Left Behind law.

A top priority for Ms. Hughes has been to bring greater coherence to a system of schools that had been operating, she said, as “17 independent fiefdoms.” While instituting common curricula, she also put the schools on the same yearly calendar to make it easier to bring educators together for systemwide training.

The system also now requires 9th graders to take either algebra or geometry, not remedial math. In addition, students will not be admitted to the system unless they meet state standards on Connecticut’s proficiency tests.

Business leaders hope the changes can alter the image of the system as a place for students who can’t meet the academic expectations of regular high schools.

“It’s been treated as an alternative high school system, instead of a technical high school or technical-training system,” said Lauren Weisberg Kaufman, the vice president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, based in Hartford.

Renaissance Seen

Vocational-technical high schools throughout the country are feeling similar pressure to revamp their programs. In addition to winning adoption of the 2½-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush administration has proposed revising the main federal program for vocational-technical schools to require greater academic rigor. ( “Vocational Students Lag in Achievement, Report Says,” July 14, 2004.)

Making the transition to a more rigorous system presents significant challenges. In Connecticut, Ms. Hughes must convince the parents and guidance counselors of academically skilled middle school students that her system represents a viable alternative to the high schools in their local districts.

Aaron Silvia, the president of Connecticut’s State Vocational Federation of Teachers, said many teachers in the system worry about losing their schools’ identity as trade-oriented institutions.

“If that becomes watered down, if we become much like the schools in the sending towns, then there’s no reason for students to come,” said Mr. Silvia, whose union is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

Others are confident that by raising standards, the technical schools will attract more students. Richard Cavallaro, the principal at Wilcox Technical High School in Meriden, Conn., remembers when, more than a decade ago, students had to pass a demanding entrance exam to get into the vocational schools.

Back then, he said, the schools were bursting at the seams, and large numbers of their graduates went on to college.

“I see it coming back now,” said Mr. Cavallaro. “We used to have some really competitive kids in our schools. There were a lot of medical doctors who came from here.”


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says Dual-Enrollment Programs Are Expanding. But Do They Reach the Students Who Need Them Most?
The programs may be failing to reach low-income and other underserved students.
5 min read
Image of two student desks.
College & Workforce Readiness Teenager Balances Family Care, Work, and Credit Recovery on a Path to Graduation
Remote learning didn't start Gerilyn Rodriguez's academic problems, but it accelerated them.
3 min read
Gerilyn Rodriguez, 18, poses at Miami Carol City Park in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Aug. 19, 2022. After struggling with remote learning during the pandemic and dropping out of school, Rodriguez is now a student at Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies.
Gerilyn Rodriguez, 18, struggled with remote learning during the pandemic and dropped out of high school. A "graduation advocate" persuaded her to enroll in Miami-Dade Acceleration Academies in Miami, Fla.
Josh Ritchie for Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness What It Took to Get This Teenager Back on Track to Graduate
Nakaya Domina had been disengaging from school for years before she left Cimarron-Memorial High School in Las Vegas in 2019.
3 min read
Nakaya Domina pictured at her home in Las Vegas, Nev., on Aug. 12, 2022. After dropping out of school during the pandemic, she returned to a credit recovery program, where her "graduation candidate advocate" has helped her stay engaged. She expects to graduate this summer, and will then enter a postsecondary program in digital marketing.
Nakaya Domina dropped out of her public high school in Las Vegas in 2019 but managed to graduate this year with the help of a "graduation advocate" and a dropout recovery program.
Bridget Bennett for Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness Anxiety and Isolation Kept Him Out of School. How an Alternative Program Helped
After years of worsening anxiety that kept him from school, Blaine Franzel’s prospects for high school graduation are looking up.
3 min read
Blaine Franzel, 17, and his mother, Angel Franzel, pictured at their home in Stuart, Fla., on Aug. 15, 2022. After struggling during remote learning and dropping out of public school, Franzel is now thriving at an alternative school where he is learning about aviation.
Blaine Franzel, 17, and his mother, Angel Franzel, live in Stuart, Fla. After struggling during remote learning and dropping out of public school, Franzel is now thriving at an alternative school where he is learning about aviation.
Josh Ritchie for Education Week