New law creates two diploma tracks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SALISBURY — High school students in North Carolina will soon be offered two different paths to earning a diploma.
A new law requires the State Board of Education develop by the fall of 2014 new diplomas that make clear whether a high school graduate is ready for college, ready a vocational career, or both. Certain classes would carry one or both of these endorsements.
The bill received final approval from the N.C. General Assembly last week, and it was the first that Republican Pat McCrory signed into law as governor Monday.
The bill also tells the board to look at ways to make it easier to license vocational and technical teachers.
Judy Grissom, superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System, said the plan fits well with the local system’s own career preparation programs.
“This new law confirms the proactive vision that RSS has been following in reaching out to the diversity of students that are in our school system,” Grissom said. “We are excited about the implementation of the high school academies several years ago to offer students across the district the opportunity to focus their studies in the field they are most interested in pursuing, as well as the curriculum that has been in place for many years through our CTE (Career and Technical Education) courses.”
Richard Miller, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, added that students also have the chance to graduate from the early college program with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.
“We as a system have been doing a number of things to have different levels of education,” Miller said.
But he said he isn’t sure what he thinks of the new diploma endorsements just yet.
“I don’t want it to seem like a step backwards where we’re tracking people, locking them into things and limiting their options,” Miller said.
N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican, is listed as a sponsor of the bill. He said it’s designed to provide more options, not fewer.
Students also will have the choice to take a third path and seek both endorsements.
He said when he was in school, students were told to choose either a college track or a career technical education track, and they were discouraged from taking classes in the other track. Some students simply dropped out of high school, he said, because they weren’t being offered classes that would help them prepare for a skilled trade.
More recently, he said, students have been encouraged to go to college regardless of their career path. But that has hurt both the state’s workforce and its workers, Brock said.
“I think there was a time when the educational establishment missed the importance of career and technical education,” he said. “We see that now what employers are looking for in our classrooms, and basic career classes needed for a lot of jobs.”
He said the “career ready” endorsement could be attached to certain courses that already exist, like mechanics or agriculture classes. New courses also could be created based on demand for a particular field or topic, like computer repair.
The “college ready” endorsement would apply to more traditional courses that prepare students for higher education.
“We’re trying to give local school systems flexibility in setting up programs that would hopefully help the local workforce,” Brock said. “It will hopefully help the education process and help younger students find jobs.”
N.C. Sen. Gene McLaurin, a Democrat, said he voted for the bill because he thinks it will help keep young people in school if they are considering dropping out.
“They’re saying, ‘Maybe I can find a better job somewhere else. Maybe I don’t need a high school education,’” McLaurin said. “I think this will enable them to step back and think about the value of getting that high school degree.”
He said students won’t be locked into a particular track, and those who receive the career endorsement can still apply to a four-year school.
Josh Wagner, a member of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, has been looking into the idea of vocational schooling in Rowan County.
He said a dedicated school for career skills would probably still offer more opportunities, because each traditional high school might only offer a few classes that don’t fall within a student’s interests.
“I think it’s good that he and the legislature are pushing technical and vocational education. I think that’s a great start, and it’s long overdue,” Wagner said. “I hope we can find the funding to make it a reality.”
McCrory said he was proud that this will be the first law with his signature on it.
“We must ensure our education system provides opportunities and pathways for our students to get the necessary knowledge and skills to fulfill their post-graduation goals, whether that be entering the workforce or continuing on to getting a higher degree,” the governor said in a press release.
The bill was signed in Asheboro at Randolph Community College’s industrial center. The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jerry Tillman, is a Republican from Randolph County.