Developing Trade School Pathways for Students Is Essential

Developing Trade School Pathways for Students Is Essential

By Kurt Rohrs |

Not all students in our schools are destined for college, but this does not mean that they are lesser in their social standing. Every student is different, and each one deserves the opportunity to explore alternative pathways with equal standing in their career development.

Take trade craftsmen, for example. These people work with their hands to create the things that stand all around us, and their respected professions have long histories of easily identifiable accomplishments—like the buildings we live in and the roads we drive on.

But to acquire these skills, students need trade school education, which often involves apprenticeship programs typically offered by trade union associations and sponsored by the business contractors that need these skilled employees. They usually start at age 18 and require a high school diploma or GED along with a willingness to work. Most of the time, the training is free to the student, except perhaps to purchase tools, and can involve a job placement during the apprenticeship so the student “earns while they learn.”

Here’s one example from North America’s Building Trades Unions:

“North America’s Building Trades Unions’ (NABTU) world-class registered apprenticeship programs train workers to become highly-skilled, six-figure earning construction workers through a debt-free, technologically-advanced education. These earn-as-you-learn programs pay family-sustaining wages and provide health care coverage and retirement benefits from day one.”

At the end of the apprenticeship program, which is usually three to four years in length, the student can be certified as a journeyman and be free to apply for employment in the general workforce or even start his or her own business.

Why Do I Have to Go to School?

Inevitably, just about every student wants to know why they have to go to school, but how do you explain to them the importance of learning the things that schools are required to teach?

Perhaps one way is to start presenting various career pathways to students as early as fifth and sixth grade, and then develop their interest in these pathways through middle school. This would prepare them to specialize their education in high school and help them to understand that they need to learn basic education skills in reading and math so they can progress to the more practical applications of developing a career pathway.

What Is My Exit Strategy?

Presenting career pathways to students earlier in their education is an important first step, but it’s not enough. It is critical to prepare students for the next step in their lives once they graduate. Unfortunately, many of them have no idea what they will do after high school, and that demonstrates a disappointing failure of the school system.

I often hear from trade union recruiters that they cannot get any serious attention from guidance counselors and that they do not get much opportunity to talk to students in the way that college recruiters often do. The education system appears to favor college enrollment at the exclusion of other viable alternatives. This does a disservice to our students and to the community which needs more skilled workers.

A working wage through school with no debt, job placement after completion, and in-demand skills are very attractive features that should appeal to students trying to decide their future after they graduate from high school. Schools and career counselors should take these trade career pathways more seriously and include them as options they promote.

How Do We Do This?

One way we can begin to implement this is by looking at what is working well in other areas. The NABTU has already developed a curriculum in use by several high schools around the country. It introduces students to the apprenticeships and career opportunities available in the building trades. They call it “The Other Four-Year Degree.”

In addition, we should start taking an honest look at our communities and the skills that are needed to make it function effectively. Below is one arbitrary list of skills, but there are plenty more.

  • The “Big Three” – professions where we often heat about critical shortages: teachers, police, and nurses
  • Trade Craftsmen – electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, HVAC, steelworkers, brick and tile workers, plasterers, boilermakers, and more
  • Health Care – doctors, nurses, medical technicians, therapists, medical assistants, medical records
  • Engineering and Technology – hardware and software research and development, design, manufacturing
  • Business (Public and Private) – general management, legal and accounting, human resources, sales and marketing, project management, entrepreneurs

Who Provides the Training?

One of the primary objectives of public education should be to fulfill the needs of the community. Below is a list of the educational organizations that can address that objective. But the key is they need to work together cooperatively and seamlessly to be effective and show value for the funding that is invested in them.

  • K-12 Schools (District, Charter, Private) – general education, career pathway development, and introduction to job skills training
  • Trade Schools (West-MEC and EVIT) – trade union apprenticeships
  • Community Colleges – technical certificates, professional degree programs
  • Universities – research and development, professional degrees
  • Military – probably the largest and most sophisticated job skills training organization available
  • Local Businesses – job specific skills

Why Should We Spend So Much on Education?

In Arizona, we spend more than half of the state budget on education. There should be a very clear and convincing reason to justify this massive expenditure. If this funding is regarded as an investment, where is the demonstrable economic benefit that shows a return on that investment?

The practical answer to both questions may lie in the concept of economic development at both the personal and community level.

The student attends school so they can develop into a productive adult capable of supporting themselves through employment.

The community benefits by having skilled employees available to move forward on growing business enterprises that provide goods and services to the community.

That’s why we should focus on providing all viable career opportunities for our students, By doing so, we can make this investment pay off for their futures—and for ours.

Kurt Rohrs is a Chandler resident and incoming member of the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board.

Schools Need to Define Clear Boundaries for Presenting Social and Political Ideologies in Classrooms

Schools Need to Define Clear Boundaries for Presenting Social and Political Ideologies in Classrooms

By Kurt Rohrs |

Recently, Chandler Unified School District (CUSD) released an initiative entitled “Portrait of a Learner.” Not only does it seem to be focused primarily on social values that the district wants to promote to its students, but it’s similar to ones adopted by several other local school districts.

Through “Portrait of a Learner,” CUSD appears to be moving beyond the more traditional and universally accepted “Character Counts,”  which emphasized the social values of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. While this new initiative contains some overlap with what has been promoted in the past, it seeks to advance more progressive values of adaptability, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, empathy, and global citizenship.

Clearly these are social values, but did you notice something? There is little reference to academic achievement or job skills training. In addition, there is no significant emphasis on practical hard skills for students to obtain, which would be far more useful for them in their careers after they leave school.

Most of all, “Portrait of a Learner” does not appear to recognize or acknowledge that the upbringing of children is reserved to parents in the home and is protected by Arizona state law (ARS 1-601 and ARS 1-602). Let’s look at one of the values from this new initiative as an example.

Globalism as a Political Ideology

The concept of “Global Citizenship” or “Globalism” has more far-reaching implications than what has been advanced in the CUSD initiative. It typically stands opposed to “American Idealism,” “American Exceptionalism,” or similar more nation-centered ideologies.

American Idealism is the belief that American ideals are inherently superior to those of other societies and states. It is sometimes referred to as “America First” policy in response to challenges from other global competitors in their efforts to dominate the world.

Globalism denies this and fosters an “open borders” policy that allows people, information, and goods to cross national borders unrestricted. It also promotes international organizations such as the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be the primary ruling bodies for policy instead of our own government.

Is this really what we should be teaching in American schools?

Controversial political issues like this should not be presented in classrooms as established doctrine, especially without clearly defined boundaries. But CUSD moved forward with it anyway.

When “Education” Becomes “Dogma”

Dogma is a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true and not to be denied or disputed. When schools teach ideas like “Globalism” as dogma, it very easily leads to “indoctrination” where students are taught to accept a set of beliefs uncritically. This should be of great concern to parents and the rest of the community.

That’s why several questions about “Portrait of a Learner” and similar programs need to be examined more closely.

  • If controversial ideologies are being presented in schools, is it done so in a fair and balanced way that examines multiple sides of a particular issue? Is equal weight given to differing positions?
  • How does the “critical thinking” part of the “Portrait of a Learner” initiative get applied?
  • Are any dissenting or opposing positions encouraged or even allowed?
  • What is age appropriate for younger students?
  • Do parents get to review and approve the social and political lessons presented to their children?
  • What happens when parents object to controversial social and political positions being advanced in classrooms?

District policy needs to be more cognizant of the ideological controversies being presented in curriculum and seek to avoid taking positions on particular issues. There also needs to well-defined boundaries as to what is presented and how it is presented in classrooms. Finally, all lessons should be objective and unbiased. That’s the only way to ensure that students get a proper education founded on critical analysis and a better understanding of the sources, factual history, and future implications of certain social and political ideologies.

Kurt Rohrs is currently the leading the race for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.

Who Is Influencing Your Kids?

Who Is Influencing Your Kids?

By Kurt Rohrs |

Do you know who is talking to your kids and what they are saying to them?

The mental health of children is one of the current hot topics in education. This is prompting a call for an army of social counselors, social workers, and child psychologists to be hired by school district administrations to address the issue.

Kids definitely appear to be more stressed now than they have been in the past. Some recent suicides by some of our students highlight the shocking and tragic consequences of this.

While hiring more mental health professionals in order to address the symptoms of student stress is one effort that is being pursued, the key question that still needs to be addressed is: what is the primary cause of this excessive stress?

At a recent conference on student mental health, I was able to ask several professionals this very question. All of them responded with the same answer: the influence of social media.

The Influence of Social Media

“Social Media Influencer” is now a lucrative profession. Professional influencers promote trends or products and can be highly compensated for their efforts. It is essentially a new advertising medium targeted at a young audience—including your kids.

But there is a darker side to social media influencing, particularly with cyberbullying or the promotion of lifestyle choices that run counter to parenting efforts. This can have a very harmful effect on impressionable young minds, sometimes with devastating consequences.

Many of these social media posts come with an overt or implied warning, “Don’t let your parents know,” which strips children of their primary protection against undesirable influences.

Some Social Media Channels

Tik Tok is a very popular social media site with wide public distribution that consists mostly of short videos, often recorded on a cell phone, that can entertain and amuse young minds. The intent is for a popular post to “go viral” and be shared by many people across the platform leading to an increase in the poster’s credibility as an influencer. But there are other postings that parents may find to be undesirable to have their children exposed to including drug and alcohol use, sexuality and sexual activity, and political extremism.

SnapChat is an app that is often used for small group text and video conversations between kids. The primary feature of this site is that messages are automatically deleted by the host server after a short period of time and can no longer be seen. This is supposed to protect someone from exposure of their malicious posts. The posts can only be preserved if someone takes a picture of the message, known as a “screenshot,” which can be saved on their phone or personal computer.

Many social media applications also have a feature that allows users to take conversations offline into private one-on-one exchanges through direct messages or texts. This is where a lot of cyberbullying occurs since it is generally out of the public spotlight.

Who Shouldn’t Be Talking to Your Kids?

Adolescents, who are often the instigators of malicious social media attacks that harm other kids, are not adults and have not yet developed the self-control necessary to avoid such transgressions. They are not fully aware of the consequences of their actions and often lash out without thinking. They need adult supervision.

Ill-intentioned adults, even some that could be considered as “predators,” find social media a useful way to communicate and mislead children into accepting narratives that normalize, enable, and encourage questionable behaviors. This process is also known as “grooming.”

There have also been reports of some educators using these social media channels to communicate directly to their students about their personal political and social opinions in order to circumvent restrictions that are imposed in the classrooms. Several of these educators have been exposed and removed from their positions.

Parents Need to Start Fighting Back

When it comes to social media, parental involvement is crucial. Parents need to be aware of who is talking to their kids and what they are saying.

The first step is to get on these social media platforms and monitor the conversations. Parents need to know what is being said to their kids and who is saying it.

The second step is to actively respond to objectionable content and discourage it. The argument that this somehow stifles “free speech” ignores the obvious fact that objecting to a public expressed opinion, particularly if it considered harmful to children, is also just as much of a free speech right. An army of concerned parents commenting on questionable posts should slow this down considerably.

Canceling the “Cancel Culture”

It can be said that “political correctness” has proceeded almost unchallenged in social media and in our classrooms. Any objection to the prevailing social narrative is often met with vigorous, and sometimes vicious, personal attacks on any courageous individuals who dares to speak up. The intent is to silence dissent and intimidate any reasonable opinions to the contrary.

This is where parents need to step up and brave the storm. They need to become active and support each other by pushing back on undesirable ideologies that are presented in social media. There are far more concerned parents out there than there are bullies and groomers. It’s time to go on offense. There should be no “safe space” for people that want to mislead your kids.

Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.

CUSD Board Trashes Parents’ Concerns in Recent Meeting

CUSD Board Trashes Parents’ Concerns in Recent Meeting

By Kurt Rohrs |

Several statutes that were passed by the Arizona legislature to reinforce parental rights in schools recently went into effect. The Chandler Unified School District Board (CUSD) was asked to vote on updates to their policies to conform to these state law changes.

Here are some of the new state laws that needed to be incorporated in district policies:

    • HB 2498 – Prohibits vaccination requirements for staff in order to work
    • HB 2453 – Prohibits masking requirements for staff in order to work
    • HB 2371 – Prohibits vaccination requirements for students in order to attend school
    • HB 2616 – Prohibits masking requirements for students in order to attend school
    • HB 2439 – Provides for parent’s access to a list of school library materials and a list of materials borrowed by their children. However, this law exempts libraries that are run jointly by school and municipal entities.
    • HB 2495 – Prohibits the referral of sexually explicit materials to students
    • HB 2161 –Provides for parent access to records that relate to their child and gives parents the right to file suit if the fundamental rights to raise their children are usurped
    • SB 1165 – Requires participation in school sports to be based on biological sex of the student and gives parents the right to file suit for injunctive relief
    • HB 2632 – Raises the passing grade requirement on the required civics exam from 60% to 70%, making it similar to the citizenship exam given to naturalized citizens.
    • HB 2325 – Provides for school time for remembrance of the September 11 terrorist attacks on or around that anniversary.

What happened during the board member comments section of the meeting was a stunning display of contempt for parents’ rights and for these legislative actions.

Board member Lindsay Love, who is unmarried and has no children, voted against complying with these state laws as a “conscientious objector.” This is an apparent contradiction to her oath of office to  “… support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and Laws of the State of Arizona.” She then went on to imply that some recent student suicides are the fault of parents and that the district must somehow step in and save students from their parents’ cruel behavior. Ms. Love is not running for re-election.

Board member Lara Bruner, who is running for re-election, stated that “It is truly disheartening that some of the representatives in our legislature have decided to increase their control from the top,” seemingly oblivious to the fact that these legislative actions were made to address the concerns of parents.

Board member Joel Wirth expressed that he was “very disappointed in the legislature in its efforts to micromanage school districts and force their political beliefs on the district,” apparently dismissing parental concerns as irrelevant.

Board Member Jason Olive concurred and called the recent legislation “garbage” in evident contempt of the Arizona legislature that provides the funding for his school district.

Board President Barbara Mozdzen refrained from comment.

Whose Children Are they?

Does the CUSD Board really support parents’ rights as protected by state law?

Not one board member stepped forward to defend the stated policy that “parents ultimately direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children.” This is the long-standing policy of the State of Arizona as codified into law in A.R.S. 1-601 and A.R.S. 1-602.

It is unclear why CUSD Board members are so dismissive of parents and their concerns, and of the direction from the Arizona legislature. This appears to be the attitude of several school districts around the valley where a parent’s rights to raise their own children are routinely suppressed in violation of several statutes described in the Arizona Department of Education’s Parental Rights Handbook.

New School Board Leadership Needed

That’s why it is time for new, more responsive, leadership on school boards throughout the state. Please vote on November 8 for new school board members that truly respect parents and their rights to raise their own children.

Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.

Breaking Down Barriers in Education to Better Benefit Students

Breaking Down Barriers in Education to Better Benefit Students

By Kurt Rohrs |

Public education funding accounts for nearly $11 billion of Arizona’s $18 billion state budget. Considering this cost, taxpayers should have a clear perception about the return on this massive investment.

We can define the purpose of public education as the process of producing capable adults who can effectively participate in the economic activity of the community. This puts the focus on developing students who can be productive after they leave our public education system and identifies the return on investment for substantial state spending.

The economic benefit of Career and Technical Education (CTE) should then become the primary objective of each public education institution that is funded by the taxpayers of the state. The goal of CTE should be the attainment of professional degrees and technical certificates that demonstrate proficiency in various career-related specialties that allow students to attain beneficial employment.

There are several public education institutions that share the responsibility for preparing our students to be productive adults.

1. Pre-K-12 District and Charter Public Schools

Some Examples:

    • District Schools: Mesa Unified, Chandler Unified, and Tucson Unified are the largest in the state.
    • Charter Schools: American Leadership Academy, Legacy Traditional, Archway (Great Hearts)
    • Online Schools: Sequoia, Portable Practical Educational Preparation (PPEP), Arizona Connections Academy

2. Community Colleges 

    • Maricopa Community Colleges and Pima Community Colleges are the largest.

3. Technical Schools

    • East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT), West Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC), and Pima County Joint Technical Education District (Pima-JTED) are the largest.

4. Colleges and Universities

    • Arizona State University, University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University are the three public universities.

Coordination and Collaboration

Students often use several of these institutions in their educational journey but many of the programs overlap in their requirements. However, many students have also found that their credits earned by completing courses in one institution are not readily transferable to another institution, resulting in a student having to repeat classes they have already passed. This unnecessarily delays their attainment of educational goals and adds additional costs.

There does not appear to be any good reason for this uncoordinated approach to public education. It also serves to harm students and discourage their educational progress.

While some institutions do attempt to collaborate for the better benefit of students, the effort is spotty and uncoordinated. In a recent presentation to the EVIT Board of Directors, Chief Academic Officer Ronda Doolen demonstrated the chaotic approach to the transfer of credits from one institution to another. There is clearly no consistency and no universal process for doing so leaving students, as the clients of the system, to be served poorly.

Universal Portability, Student-Centric Education

One solution is to have state level certifications for certain classes that can be applied to each student’s education transcript and universally accepted by any public education institution in the state. This makes a student’s academic achievements “portable” and shifts the focus from “institution-centric” to “student–centric” in order to better benefit students.

One current model is the Dual-Credit platforms that are now in place between some high schools and local community colleges. However, the programs are usually governed by specific Inter-Governmental Agreements (IGAs) at the school or district level. But the programs are typically difficult to navigate and there is no guarantee of universal acceptance of credits that can be applied at any Arizona public school.

An example would be a basic college level English course (“English 101”) that can be universally accredited as fulfilling any higher education requirement. However, this basic course typically has different course titles depending on the institution and may or may not be accepted at a community college or one of the Arizona universities—depending on the whims of that particular institution. This basic course should have one course title, one course number, and one course description in use by every public education institution in the state of Arizona and be fully portable between them.

Other courses that should have universal accreditation would be Basic History, Civics, Basic Math and Science Courses, Basic Arts and Humanities courses, and Foreign Languages. It would be far more efficient and far less costly to have these courses taken at accredited high school or community college institutions instead of at the university level.

Follow the Money, Institutional Self-Interest, and Territorialism

Many of the roadblocks to a more efficient and service-oriented approach to public education revolve around funding. However, we must first recognize that most education funding is ultimately derived from taxpayers. These taxpayers do not typically have much of an interest as to which institution receives their tax dollars as compared to their more beneficial interest that their funds are spent efficiently and not wasted on ineffective or duplicative efforts.

Unfortunately, there is an institutional self-interest in how funds are allocated to them by the state. No one wants to have their budget cut. This can lead to a bias in how universal course credits are supported that can run counter to the best interests of students, for whom these institutions were originally created to serve.

An example would be that there is little practical justification for our universities to offer general education courses that are also taught at community colleges, and some high schools, at a fraction of the cost to students and taxpayers. Wouldn’t it far more useful to have highly paid university professors spending their time teaching advanced courses that could only be offered at the university?

There does not seem to be any evidence that an English 101 course better serves a student if it is taken at a university as compared to a community college or even a good high school. This one single reform should significantly reduce the cost of education for students and their parents, who help pay their tuition, even though it may threaten the territory of certain institutional “empires” that have built up at taxpayer expense.

Re-thinking Public Education, Some Conclusions

    • The goal of public education should be to develop productive adults.
    • Public education should then be more focused on Career and Technical Education in order to have real value for students and the community.
    • Public education must be re-oriented to be “student-centric” and less institution-centric” to be more efficient and cost effective.
    • Course credits in higher education should be “portable” and universally accepted by all taxpayer-funded public education institutions.

Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.