The Equivalent of War for High School Career Academies

The truth is that the United States has a mass of millions of unskilled people who are not worth a decent salary or benefits. This reality is this lack of job skills is due to a lack of leadership from school boards and their superintendents. Our school districts, cities, states, and businesses have just accepted an enormous high school drop out rate as part of our culture. A million kids drop out of high school every year. No one has cares enough to do anything about it. Yes, we now know 70 percent of the 2.5 million people in prison are high school dropouts, as are 70 percent of the additional 4.5 million on probation and parole. And yes, the recidivism rate is also 70 percent.

The solution to fix this deskilling of America is high school career academies. The time is now for every level of government in America today to become leaders in support of high school career academies. Our economy depends on skilled labor. The future of America depends on taking action now to prepare our youth with skills to enable them to work. We need more from our leaders than whining about our unskilled population. We need our unskilled population to stop whining about poor jobs and pay and benefits. We must all face the reality that our unskilled people aren’t worth much pay or benefits. This is why we must address high school career academies at the equivalent level of a war. It is time to use our high schools as the vehicle to prepare our youth for high skilled jobs.

We can no longer leave this extremely important issue to school boards and chance. Our high schools have decimated the once proud vocational education program. Again, we must stop whining about that reality and move on to the next structure that can be better than what we had in the past. The new structure for high schools must be the career academy. It must replace high schools for the 70 percent of students who will never graduate from college. The leadership to create this alternate future must come from every level of political office. We must have a succession of presidents, congress, governors, state legislators, mayors, and school boards commit themselves and their resources to high school career academies. This is not some future need–we need action now and into the foreseeable future.

This deskilling of the American population didn’t just happen. It was the result of purposeful educational policy. The exclusive college prep academic school reform movement took hold in the 1980s and continues unabated today. Ignorant, well-meaning people took over education in America. They accepted the absurd concept that everyone can be a high achieving student and go to college. I know it makes no sense, but that’s what happened. Once academicians could use computers to disaggregate data and they saw the differences in test scores, the reform movement based on this single criterion as the exclusive measure of educational success was born. The reliance on test scores as the exclusive measure of success of the high school is the gigantic mistake that continues today.

The high schools in America must be restructured to value career technical education as the equal to college prep education. The measure of success of high schools must be altered to focus on job preparation. It is time to honor the four-year sequence of career technical education found in career academies. We must give a primary value to putting high school graduates to work. Unfortunately, the only way to make this revolutionary change is to declare a war for high school career academies. This means taking power away from school boards. Governors and mayors must take control of education. The reality is that school boards can no longer be trusted. No one pays attention, but school boards adopted an exclusive academic policy for high schools that has pushed millions of kids out of high school into prison. This academic only policy has caused the “school to prison” phenomenon. The war for high school career academies must have funding from the feds, states, and local school districts. Mayors must become involved by bringing businesses to the table to help high school career academies and to hire their graduates. This must become a national war-level movement to save the supermajority of high school students.

The American economic place in the world demands a highly skilled workforce. Our society should never have put up with the crime from kids pushed out of high school. African-Americans, Hispanic, and Native American populations are overrepresented in high school dropouts, crime, and prison. These realities of today can no longer be tolerated and can be prevented through high school career academies. Jobs, good jobs, are the solution and they require high skill levels developed through career academies. This urgent need for highly skilled workers requires the equivalent of a war to re-create our high schools into high-quality career academies. We must remake the American population into a highly skilled group of workers worth high pay and good benefits. This process of remaking our high schools into organizations that value career technical education is a war worth fighting.

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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