Educational Opportunity Gap

Our lack of provision of career technical education in American high schools amounts to the creation of an opportunity gap for average and low achieving students. By provision, I mean a program of study where students take a sequence of career technical education course that prepare youth for employment. It is necessary for students to take several career technical education courses in sequence in order to develop sufficient skills to be deemed employable. Without substantial job skills and soft employment skills, kids who aren’t talented enough to go to college get lost in America’s economy.

Many Americans view our country as the best place in the world to use the opportunity of living here to make something of themselves. Some talk about our young people in terms of “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” Without serious technical job skills and soft skills, the reality is they cannot find meaningful employment. Thus, they have no opportunity to obtain work. This lack of opportunity it is undemocratic and is an American failure. Once we understand that the bootstraps idea is spurious, this becomes an issue for mayors, governors, and presidents. I can see our politicians pointing fingers at each other to blame someone else for the problem.

Instead of refusing to work with school boards, I can imagine our politicians fighting to address the issue. I can see governors, mayors, and presidents campaigning on creating new opportunities for our young people through career technical education. Newspapers and TV newscasters could aid in this process by reporting on the complexity of work today in the necessity for high schools to provide occupational education for average and low achieving students.

All of Western Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia already require on college-bound kids take a sequence of career technical education courses. This is the path to saving our young people from lives of crime and imprisonment, as well as creating a highly skilled workforce in America. A four-year sequence of high school career technical education provides 900 hours of occupational education. This is more than sufficient time to provide technical skills for today’s work world.

Some educators worry about the students who are in margin, where with a lot of effort, they might be able to get through a college prep high school curriculum. Well, we know 70 percent of the students will not graduate from college in America. Therefore, let’s not worry about a few kids in the margin. Let’s worry about the supermajority of high school students. The essential concern about the American educational system is the issue of opportunity. We must realize the by not providing our low and average achieving students with technical employment skills and soft skills, that they’re left to fend for themselves. It’s clear to anyone who looks that the “fending for themselves” process doesn’t work. It’s time to step back and accept that our high schools are failing our young. This lack of opportunity to learn job skills severely disadvantages our youth when they leave high school. Then we use the police system to put them in prison. And then we blame the youngsters and their parents.

This is absurd when the reality is that these young people haven’t been given the opportunity to learn job skills and go to work. Our society has denied them the opportunity to make something of themselves. The failure is not one of our young people, but one of our society and specifically our high schools. The leadership our society has caused our young people to respond the only way that they can. The response of far too many of our youth is the school prison pipeline.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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