The public charter school model holds tremendous promise to innovate and advance career and technical education (CTE). For a typical charter school, however, preparation for college—not skilled careers—is the goal.
As part of the Global Educational Policy Fellowship Program, I am learning about German and Swiss apprenticeship programs to explore the potential of CTE in the United States charter school sector. The vocational programs in these two countries provide students with the opportunity to learn skills while at the same time (in most, but not all, cases) meeting challenging academic expectations. Germany’s education system is similar to the United States: local control, with responsibilities for many aspects of education devolved to the state and local level.
On Monday, our group had the opportunity to meet with the Ministry of Education of Baden-Württemberg (one of the 16 states of Germany) to learn about their system of education. More specifically, we learned about the “dual track” vocational system that allows students to split their time between the classroom and an apprenticeship. The region is home to major manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, Bosch, and Porsche and has a high demand for engineers.
In the afternoon we heard from apprentices at Trumpf Industries, a family-owned company with 40,000 employees worldwide.
Some observations from the day:
- Even as interest in apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs grows in the U.S., the proportion of German students are choosing to leave the university academic track for vocational and/or apprenticeship training has declined to about 35 percent nationwide, from 40 percent in the 1990s. In Baden-Württemberg, forty-four percent of students in the region participate in the academic track that leads to a credential (the Abitur) that gains them access to university. In addition, these schools are grappling with educating students with a wider range of ability.
- The apprentices at Trumpf were completing post-secondary apprenticeships, and several were apprenticing as part of a degree program in engineering at a university that specializes in vocational trades. Apprenticeships at Trumpf lead to guaranteed employment and are in high demand–2,500 students applied for about 60 slots.
- According to survey data, companies in Baden-Württemberg participate in apprenticeship programs because of their commitment to the long-term health of their economy. Long term costs savings was the least important factor.
We’re off to Konstanz, Germany, where we will learn from the local Industrie-und Handelskammer (IHK – a sort of chamber of commerce) about their quality control of apprenticeship programs and visit some more traditional vocational schools and apprenticeship programs.
Christy Wolfe is a Senior Policy Advisor for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Read her next post in the series recapping her fellowship.
Read more about charter schools embracing CTE and how the renewed Perkins Act could affect charter schools.