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Bill Orton
Independence.
Integrity.


The Democratic nominee
for California's 67th Assembly District



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August 18, 2002

The commentary from the Orange County Register

Orton breaks with Governor over school testing

      (ORANGE COUNTY, CA.) -- Distancing himself from the hallmark policies of an "education Governor," state Assembly candidate Bill Orton (D-Seal Beach) is calling on school officials to redirect millions spent on California's "testing obsession" to instead pay for universal computer access and a rebirth of the state's vanishing vocational education program.

      "The big question is how to reform our schools so we are preparing kids for the true challenges that await them," said Orton in a 750-word critique of the state's testing system that appeared in Sunday's "Commentary" section of the Orange County Register.

      Orton, who says he is proud to carry the endorsement of the Governor, nonetheless criticizes Administration and education officials for abandoning vocational education and on lackluster action to put computers in the classroom.

      The Assembly candidate wants to shift money spent on the Stanford 9 test to pay for a computer on every child's desk starting in third grade and to revive "voc ed."

      Orton's commentary -- which appeared alongside a defense of the Academic Performance Index (API), written by state Secretary of Education Kerry Mazzoni -- follows articles in the Register that show how the main index of performance by students routinely excludes hundreds of thousands of kids from testing. As a result, thousands of children are denied a chance at the lucrative financial bonuses that are meant to be an incentive for outstanding performance.

      Orton is among a small-but-growing group that seeks an end to the state's testing mania. Politicians from ultraliberal Jackie Goldberg to archconservative Ray Haynes have called for an end to the statewide testing regime.

      "No amount of bubble-in testing techniques will replace the technology skills and computer instincts that every adult will need to reach their fullest potential," said Orton.

      What schoolchildren should get, says Orton, is an education grounded in the fast changing needs of a high-tech society.

      Others agree.

      "As California's appetite for new housing, infrastructure and schools continues to grow at unprecedented levels, our skilled work force is declining," said Doug McCauley, executive vice president of the California Coalition for Construction in the Classroom, a statewide advocacy organization for the construction industry. "One of the main reasons for this is the lack of vocational training in our schools."

      Case in point: today's cars have computers on them than the first rockets sent into space.

      But despite high pay for jobs such as auto mechanic, carpenter and sheet metal worker, school officials spend more and more money to aim kids exclusively towards college, despite statistics showing that only one in five will go to a university.

      Vocational education supporters say that the social stigma of traditional blue collar jobs is the single greatest roadblock to steering young people into the trades.

      "We tell kids they're second-class citizens unless they go to college," said nationally renown educator Dr. Marty Nemko. "There is nothing dishonorable about being a robotics repair person or a computer assembler or a carpenter or a car mechanic."

      Orton's brother, Gary, went from high school shop classes into a career as a wallpaper hanger, and eventually earned a state contractor's license.

      "I'm sure my brother has made more money than I have these past 20 years," said Orton. "At the end of the day, what matters most is that he's done a fine job taking care of his family."

SHUTTING THE DOOR TO SHOP CLASS

      Unfortunately, California's schools are shutting the door to the same shop classes that prepared Orton's brother with the work ethic and skills needed for a career.

      "Voc ed classes are disappearing like crazy," said Brad Walker, executive director of the Automotive Service Center of California. "A huge part of it is the social stigma, and I don't believe the Department of Education in California is helping the situation."

      According to education officials, roughly three-quarters of automotive, construction and manufacturing programs in public schools have been canceled in the last two decades.

      The closure of industrial technology education credentialing programs is partly to blame, as the flow of voc ed teachers has slowed to a trickle. Only 40 people were enrolled in ITE credential programs in 2000, despite findings by the Industrial Technical Education Task Force that showed demand for more than 300 new teachers.

      "We're spending more on skills training for prisoners than we are spending per student in our public schools," said Orton.

      In 1999, the state spent about less than one-half of one percent of the education budget, or about $118 per student, on vocational education. At the same time, the prison system spent $462 per inmate to give work skills to prisoners.

CURRENT SYSTEM A DISSERVICE TO NON-COLLEGE BOUND KIDS

      Orton says that school boards, teachers, counselors and parents are doing a disservice to kids who won't be going to college.

      "Not every child is going to college. A lot of kids are going to stop after high school. Some won't even graduate," Orton wrote in the Register. "But absolutely every child in California can use technology skills and the problem solving to help get ahead in life."

      But thousands of high school graduates go into the world with a piece of paper and few of the skills needed for a high-wage career.

      According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20 percent of jobs in the U.S. require a bachelor's degree. By 2010, what will be needed in 62% of all jobs will be technical skills.

      In California, the Employment Development Department projects 25 percent growth in new construction jobs from 1996 to 2006.

      Nationally, the construction industry needs 240,000 new workers a year to keep pace with the demand for service, according to a report by the Hudson Institute.

      "We have to open up more routes for kids," said Orton. "Tight budgets and an obsession with the college track are sending a message to thousands of kids that they really don't matter."

      Orton cites as an example the veto of a bill that would have allowed students to substitute voc ed for fine arts and foreign language classes. In his veto message, the governor said the bill "is inconsistent with the state's effort to encourage pupils to take rigorous academic courses needed for pursuing higher education."

      "Let's be honest," said construction industry spokesperson McCauley, "not every student is perfectly suited for the college track. But all students should graduate from high school with plans for their future. Vocational education prepares students to be competitive in today's dynamic marketplace."

      Anyone wishing to read Orton's commentary in the Orange County Register can click here for the text.

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