Posted by: Tom Ross | July 21, 2011

In the News: A Bridge Too Far

Recently I settled  into a comfortable chair, propped up my feet, and tried to catch up on the papers that have piled up in the last few weeks.

The Sunday papers are often useful, even when you’re looking for something as specific as career technical education, but most Americans these days say that they 1) don’t have the time to read them or 2) get their news from other sources – tv, the internet, etc. I find that when I’m reading through one, I tend to spot articles that I might completely miss when looking for news online. So, it occurred to me that I might be able to introduce a recurring feature here, called “In the News,” where I post items of interest and summaries of articles (along with links) culled directly from the papers.

The articles I found this time began with the announcement of a broad nationwide new plan by President Obama to “bring together industry, universities, and the federal government to invest in the emerging technologies that will create high quality manufacturing jobs.” The next focused on proposed budget cuts by Congress for CTE despite apparent success stories like a featured student for whom this program was a life-changer. And the last revealed a business decision in San Francisco that, though not surprising, is still disappointing:

President Announces an Initiative in Technology, New York Times, June 24, 2011

At the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University the President announced a new plan designed to stimulate manufacturing jobs in this country. It is called theAdvanced Manufacturing Partnership(AMP). The plan will provide $500 million overall and $70 million for next-generation robotics.  Hence the visit to the facility in this article. With a little research, I found the announcement for the AMP on the White House. website.

The AMP will fund these four key areas:

  • building domestic manufacturing capabilities in critical national security industries;
  • reducing the time needed to make advanced materials used in manufacturing products;
  • establishing U.S. leadership in next-generation robotics;
  • increasing the energy efficiency of manufacturing processes; and
  • developing new technologies that will dramatically reduce the time required to design, build, and test manufactured goods

“Today, I’m calling for all of us to come together- private sector industry, universities, and the government- to spark a renaissance in American manufacturing and help our manufacturers develop the cutting-edge tools they need to compete with anyone in the world,” said President Obama. “With these key investments, we can ensure that the United States remains a nation that ‘invents it here and manufactures it here’ and creates high-quality, good paying jobs for American workers.”

You can watch the President’s speech at CMU here.

I remembered Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s speech in April urging CTE advocates to make a compelling case for continued CTE funding.

“…it is the responsibility of K-12 educators to prepare all students for both college and a career. This must be ‘both/and’, not ‘either/or.’  High school graduates themselves – and not the educational system – should be choosing the postsecondary and career paths they want to pursue. Students pursuing non-degree postsecondary credentials still need college-ready academic skills. Airplane mechanics and X-ray technicians may not need a four-year degree. But they do need advanced math skills, including Algebra 2. Yet a career-ready student must also have the knowledge and skills that employers need from day one. That means having critical thinking and problem-solving skills, an ability to synthesize information, solid communication skills, and the ability to work well on a team,” Secretary Duncan said.

So while the President is working on industry, the Secretary of Education is working on educators.

The next article to catch my attention was this: Tough Calculus as Technical Schools Face Deep Cuts, New York Times, 7/10/11

 This fascinating article by Motoko Rich of the New York Times chronicles the story of one student , Mathew Kelly, who was ready to drop out of high school—due to poor grades and lack of motivation, coupled with family hard times—in his junior year until a counselor made him aware of a vocational academy. He not only excelled there, he earned a scholarship to a community college and now plans to pursue a degree in engineering.

A compelling case.

Meanwhile, Rich points out, Congress proposes to cut funding for CTE next year by 20 percent (see the Department of Education proposed budget summary).

Two steps forward, one step back.

And finally, this:  Bridge Comes to San Francisco with a Made-in-China Label, New York Times, 7/10/11

Like I said, not surprising. Isn’t everything made in China? I know labor can be cheaper in other countries. I know it’s all about who offers the lowest bid. It’s business and the economic times we live in. But still.

(Photo courtesy of  Wikipedia.)

I read that San Francisco saved $400 million on the $7 billion Bay Bridge project. I wonder if they could have matched that savings if they had the industry resources and the trained workers. I wondered if the Governor of California had called the Governor of Pennsylvania and said, we can give you this job if you can match or at least come near to the Chinese bid. Then for your money, you’ll be putting hundreds back to work in the steel industry in your state. It’s easy to make the connections from the perspective of this comfy chair.

Maybe one day we will build our own bridges. I’m optimistic.

That’s it for this time. You can be sure I’ll be keeping my eye out for more. If you come across articles of interest, related to CTE that you want to share with our other readers, please post them in the comments. And as always, thanks for reading!


  1. One thing about politicians, they have speech writers with even less on they ball than the speaker. Here we have wonderful things said about CTE and the need for career pathways for all students…nothing about the cancelation of Tech Prep. On a recent Webinar with Jill Biden and officials from the Department of Education, they praised their efforts to promote CTE even mentioning Tech Prep as a model program…three days after the program was killed. Sadly the press is only too happy to “reporting the news” they seem to have no interest or skill at analysis or even looking at current political speech with a jaundiced eye…unless it is a pol with whom they disagree. Perhaps we should suggest that critical thinking and information synthsis would be useful skills for our leaders and their minions too.

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