College & Workforce Readiness

Duncan Laments ‘False Dichotomy’ of College vs. Career

By Dakarai I. Aarons — October 15, 2009 1 min read
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Arkansas Senate Majority Leader Joyce Elliott has a problem.

When she hears people say “not every child is going to college,” it really bothers her, she told U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last night, because “It’s always someone else’s child we are talking about.”

College-prep curriculum is often viewed as being only for kids dubbed smart, while vocational and career-preparation programs are for those who aren’t so brainy but are good with their hands, she said. What are the secretary’s thoughts on rigor and readiness in career and technical education, she asked?

Duncan said he knew just what Elliott meant. When his friend John was younger, he was told he would be a good TV repairman. John Rogers went on to graduate from Princeton University, founded Ariel Investments, and became a multimillionaire.

“I think college versus career is a false dichotomy,” the education secretary told the audience at a conference of the Wallace Foundation in Washington. “I think far too many of our students have been denied a college-ready core curriculum.”

Career and vocational high school programs were great in the 1960s, Duncan said, but since then, “we have lost our way.”

“The college-readiness skills are also career and technical skills,” he said. “I think we have to get dramatically better in both of those.”

Duncan, who said the nation’s dropout problem is the result of “poverty and social failure,” said more effort must be made to give more children opportunities to connect with higher education, including through dual-enrollment and early college high school programs.

And states, he said, need better standards. In his native Illinois, Duncan said, the standards leave students “barely prepared” to graduate from high school and lead to high remediation rates when students enter college.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.