Dwayne Peaslee believes the three R's of reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic should still be a big part of a high school education.
In fact, Peasley, business manager and training coordinator for Lawrence's Plumbers and Pipefitters Local No. 763, believes that everyone who enters his plumbing and pipe-fitting apprenticeship program should master those basics before graduating from high school.
Unfortunately, he said, not everybody does.
"In our training, we start out by teaching basic math and trying to improve writing skills," he said.
Peaslee is among many businessmen and educators concerned that today's high school vocational programs are not providing young people the skills they need to survive in the workforce. However, Peaslee said he's encouraged by new programs in local schools and by recent federal legislation designed to restructure vocational education.
WHEN THE Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act was amended by Congress in September, lawmakers created as one new priority the "integration of academic and vocational education." Lawrence school officials say the Principles of Technology course offered at Lawrence High School accomplishes just that.
Steve Sublett, who teaches the course, said his students do a lot of hands-on work with equipment as might be expected in a traditional vocational class. However, he said, the course also requires students to put to use mathematical equations and laws of physics.
Sublett said knowing principles in math and science is just as important as learning to use a particular machine, especially because today's changing technology quickly makes equipment obsolete.
"If you know why it works and how it works, it won't make any difference when they change the machinery," he said.
LAWRENCE Mayor Shirley Martin-Smith, owner of Martin-Smith Personnel Services, agrees.
"What kids really need today is not to know how to run the latest piece of equipment but the ability to read and spell and do basic math," Martin-Smith said. "It sounds really strange to say, but they're not all coming out of school with the basics."
Sublett said changing technology also is making a lot of jobs more complicated.
"It used to be you could walk out of LHS with the skill of twisting wrenches and get a job," Sublett said. "Today, you see the same type of equipment whether you walk into an auto body shop or into a hospital. A doctor and mechanic are both technicians to whom we entrust our lives, and I want the mechanic who's working on my car to be as well trained as the doctor."
WHILE FUNDING for the LHS course comes from a Perkins vocational grant, students can earn science credit by taking the course. And although a science teacher conducts the class at LHS, the course in other school districts is team-taught by a vocational instructor and a science instructor.
Peaslee said he likes that concept.
"I think the shop teacher and the math teacher should be working together," he said.
Another major component of the Perkins amendments is the creation of federal funding for technical preparation or "tech prep" programs, in which a high school works with a community college or technical school to ease student transition from the secondary to the postsecondary level.
Commonly known as "two plus two," students in the program take two years of a sequence of studies at the high school and then complete their studies at the vocational school. After two years at the postsecondary level, students have earned an associate in applied science degree.
CHARLES KRIDER, director of business research at Kansas University's Institute for Public Policy and Business Research, said the tech prep program makes sense.
"It's misleading to say we're going to give you a training in high school to give you a career. It's not going to happen. It's not going to prepare that person for the rapid changes they'll be seeing in the workplace," said Krider, who in 1989 helped produce a report called "Work Force Training: The Challenge for Kansas."
"At the high school level, students should not be focusing upon narrow skills related to their first employment," Krider said. "The better approach is to provide them with the academic skills they need to be successful at the postsecondary training level."
Tech prep funding won't be available until the 1991-92 school year. However, the state of Kansas is financing a tech prep pilot project involving the Garden City school district and Garden City Community College.
JUDY CRYMBLE, tech prep coordinator in Garden City, said the program was first presented to students this year. She said the school district and community college worked closely in determining which high school courses students should take to be prepared for community college.
"It's a plan of action for students so they don't just wander through the curriculum. As they progress through high school, they know where they're heading in the community college program," Crymble said. "Kids feel like they have a purpose, that they have a payoff and that they're building a very positive record."
In some cases in which a high school course is very similar to a college course, students can earn college credit while in high school and pay the college just a small fee for bookkeeping.
"It's training in transition," Crymble said. "They say that by the year 2000, a high school diploma will not get you work in any kind of competitive job market, so we have to start building in the training and transition right now."
GARDEN CITY'S high school and community college are within two miles of each other, making travel between the two fairly easy for staff and students. While Johnson County Community College is somewhat further away from LHS, some feel a tech prep agreement between the two should not be ruled out.
Gary Toebben, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said Topeka's Kaw Area Vocational Technical School is another possible partner.
"I think it behooves us to look at the Kansas City-Lawrence-Topeka corridor as one area," Toebben said. "I'm all for pooling resources as much as we can."
What's more, Toebben said, "I think there are a lot of employers in Lawrence who are looking for people with vocational and technical training. The need for such training is made evident by the fact that Johnson County Community College is the second biggest institution of higher education in the state, next to KU."
OTHER WAYS to better prepare high school students for the job market were explored by the Lawrence school district's Blue Ribbon Vocational Education Committee in 1989. Robert Eales, the district's director of vocational education, said one suggestion was to develop a formal program that would make students aware of career opportunities.
"You will have kids set their direction early in life. They would see that light at the end of the tunnel," Eales said.
Martin-Smith said such a program was an excellent idea.
"If there's anything we can do at the secondary level, it is to give students more information on career options," she said. "Sometimes I think they don't look in the right places for work."
Although Martin-Smith feels vocational education could use some changes, she said the LHS vocational program does a good job of preparing students for entry-level jobs "that give you opportunities to move up."
She cited LHS's Office Education as an excellent class, and she said any course involving word processing is helpful.
APPROXIMATELY 1,832 LHS students pre-enrolled for more than 1,930 spots in vocational edcucation classes this year. That's the school's highest vocational education enrollment in the last five years.
Next school year, LHS will offer a total of 24 business education classes. Seven courses will be offered in agricultural science, and 31 courses will be offered in the area of technology and applied sciences.
In one course, Cooperative Occupational Training, seniors attend classes in the morning and are employed in an entry-level job in the afternoon. Students receive instruction in word processing, reasoning and problem solving, blueprint reading and math.
Krider said businesses also could get involved with education by "communicating more effectively to educators and students what type of skills they require from certain positions." He said businesses perhaps could even help determine course requirements for some classes.
WHILE MANY see a need for greater cooperation between business and education, others are concerned that the private sector might come to play too big a role in schools. Lawrence School Supt. Dan Neuenswander, however, does not see things that way.
"I don't see a desire on the part of business to take over. I do see a concern regarding the school product," Neuenswander said.