WASHINGTON — High school dropout rates now reaching 80 percent in some cities could be cut significantly if federal and state education officials do more to develop public schools that teach skills like construction, the president of the Associated General Contractors of America said. Noting that construction-focused schools are already delivering better results than comparable public schools in communities across the country, the construction official said students nationwide would benefit if those schools were more widespread.
“For too long, we’ve told students that the only path to success lies in mastering a standardized test, instead of acquiring practical skills,” said Ted Aadland, the association’s president of Portland, Ore.-based Aadland Evans Constructors. “By giving students an opportunity to master skills like construction that will win them good pay and earn them rewarding careers, we’re giving them another reason to work hard and another way to succeed.”
Aadland made the call for greater support of skills-based education during the launch of a new construction-focused charter school in Albuquerque, N.M. He said student performance is higher at similar construction-focused high schools across the county that the association supports than at nearby public schools.
In St. Louis, for example, 92 percent of students graduate from the Construction Careers Center Charter High School, while only 72 percent graduate from the local city schools. Meanwhile students learning construction skills at Washington, D.C.’s Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School and the construction academy in San Diego County, Calif., score significantly higher on their high school exit exams than their fellow school district peers.
The association president added that these construction schools are providing students with a better education experience and preparing them for successful careers for significantly less than comparable public school programs. In Oregon, St. Louis, Reno and Washington, D.C., construction-focused schools are graduating students for as little as 60 percent of the cost of other public schools, Aadland noted.
“Our education system and our graduation rates would be significantly better if schools like the one we are opening today were the rule, instead of the exception,” Aadland said. Education departments need to do more to encourage, support, and finance schools like this, he added. Noting that nationwide the high school dropout rate is now 30 percent, Aadland added that “having a 30 percent failure rate is no way to run a business and it should be no way to run an education system.”