Whatever is old, could be new again. In the days before we got the notion that all God's children had identical skill sets, we recognized that different children had differing talents. Such a odd notion! In those days school systems offered several types of high school diplomas. There was a strictly academic diploma for those students who were going on to college and a career that required a college education. Those kids took foreign language courses, advanced math classes and English classes that taught writing for college research papers. Literature classes emphasized the skills needed for literary analysis. Then there was a program called commercial classes. Unfortunately too many girls were channeled into these classes where they learned to basically perform secretarial skills for office work. Girls (and the students were almost entirely girls) learned to type, take shorthand from dictation and write basic business letters. Some of those skills seem quaint today but they led to employability. Finally, there was a vocational high school diploma for students whose skill set was mechanical. Those kids might take auto repair, woodshop, or metal working. Again they could expect to go right from high school to a good job.
In today's system, everyone is going to college and everyone will need to be in a college trained career. That is like thinking everyone needs to learn to be an engineer to build bridges but we give little thought to who will be repairing the cars to drive over those bridges. We seem to think cows need to learn to climb trees and monkeys need to learn to give milk. Why can't we respect the individual skills of our children and teach them how to enrich those skills. Our economy does not need everyone to be college educated. Blasphemy I know. Our economy is complex and we need people with the skills to repair the equipment that others may design or manufacture.
Was the old system perfect? Not by a long shot. It was assumed that girls would not go to college. They would work in offices as assistants to men until they married, had kids and left the workforce or didn't get married and would live out their work lives being assistants to men. It was also assumed that lower socio-economic kids would go into the trades and upper-middle class and upper class socio-economic kids would go to college. There were enough students breaking through those assumptions to create a central tendency of upward mobility.
Today's system sets way too many kids up for failure. Sure we can push everyone into a college program. And when they drop out for lack of interest or skill, what are they prepared to do? We are requiring far too many students to take courses that are only useful if they go on to more advanced academic work. We have students struggling with algebra 2. We have a significant minority of our citizenry who have not a clue how a democratic government functions. Is this really what we want?
We can do better by all the children in the system. We can recognize and RESPECT individual skill sets. Could we for once look at the curriculum our children need and not the testing schedule our national ego needs.