month, Washington, D.C., opened a new kind of trade school of which it is
immensely proud. This is not one of the
old-fashioned vocational schools that taught literal nuts-and-bolts repair work
or hands-on career training in fields like auto repair and cosmetology. This is a sophisticated, technically amazing
place with a long, fancy name – the Phelps Architecture, Construction, and
Engineering High School. Local
companies largely financed a $63 million renovation of an old schoolhouse to
create the first high school in America devoted to those three career fields.
and many more new training schools across the country, are highly specialized
and demanding. Phelps focuses on
professions like architecture simply because that's where the jobs are in
Washington. You see a whole lot more
new office buildings than steel mills or airplane plants in the nation's
computers now generate almost every formula and blueprint, today's architects
and engineering firms need computer-savvy thinkers, not just draftsmen. They also want young people with so-called
"soft skills" who can work in teams, solve problems, and behave
ethically – not just follow orders from a supervisor. Some Phelps graduates will go to college and learn to become
managers, but they'll know every technical task they ask others to do.
"vocational schools" have given way to what's now called "career
and technical education" in high schools, two-year community colleges, and
intensive training programs sponsored by management and labor unions.
seem to like this blend of hands-on and cerebral learning. The dropout rate is way down in high schools
that offer it. And if students do well
applying abstract concepts to things they design and make, college or well-paying