EDITORIAL: All Students Deserve Every Opportunity to Succeed

Article posted on March 7, 2017

When I was appointed chair of the Senate Education Committee, I pledged to be tenacious in my ongoing efforts to provide our kids with every opportunity to succeed. What I have discovered is that my intent to identify programs that work and enhance those programs is being met with organized resistance.

Specifically, my strong support for helping low-income children get out of underperforming schools and my passionate belief that vocational-technical education is a promising, honorable alternative to college has put me in the political crosshairs.

Recently some remarks I made during a town hall meeting were misrepresented by The (Carlisle) Sentinel. The reporter took quotations from me on two separate subjects and combined them to fit into his narrative. I spoke about the need for guidance counseling for college-bound students in failing K-12 schools. Many of the kids coming out of a failing K-12 program don’t have the academic background to initially make it in a high-level, four-year degree university and might benefit from some remedial courses or a semester in community college first. The failure of these schools to meet the needs of these students is evident with college failure rates as high as 90 percent.

Unfortunately, The Sentinel’s story also maligned vocational-technical education. Vocational training is not an offensive term, rather, it’s a path for training and education that leads to higher incomes and family-supporting jobs for many people. In fact, there is a tremendous need for skilled labor right now, and those numbers are growing as baby boomers age out of the work force. Vo-tech training is also used by students for hands-on work before completing Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees.

Options such as vocational training and college should be provided for all students. Right now, the state Department of Education is in the process of enacting the Future Ready PA Index which acknowledges that traditional education measures are changing.

Under Future Ready PA, student achievement would be measured in areas that include career standards and use industry competency assessments. Including career readiness, not just academic achievement, is something that has been discussed with stakeholders across the state including teachers, administrators and parents. With an education system that embraces achievement of all types, we will be able to provide students with the tools they need to be successful.

Every child in Pennsylvania deserves access to the strongest educational options for that child, and it’s the job of the legislature to make sure they get it. We cannot continue to protect a system that is failing students. So, instead of talking about improving a child’s pathway to success, we have outrage. As an alternative to the bending and twisting of words, I want to have an open and honest discussion about giving our students the best chance to thrive. As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I will not shy away from talking about how we improve the education of Pennsylvania’s children regardless of their family’s income, the color of their skin, or where they live.

John H. Eichelberger, Jr.

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