EDITORIAL: Career campus calls for creating new kind of high school diploma

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Cherry Creek schools has built an important monument to the fact that, when it comes to public education, one size does not fit all.

One of the largest and most lauded school districts in the state took the wraps off of the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus this week, illustrating that public schools still holds power and promise that no other education philosophy can match.

The sprawling campus near Centennial Airport is much more than a traditional high-school vocational training program.

The project, which has been years in the making, does focus on careers, and a wide variety of them. Programs include computer programming and all kinds of digital technology programs, helicopter and airplane mechanics, auto mechanics, health care, the hospitality industry and much more.

Student Seth Harling best described the state-of-the-art training facility in a story by Sentinel Colorado reporter Grant Stringer.

“It doesn’t feel like a school,” he said. “It’s like an actual workplace.”

There could not be better words to illustrate where school district’s like Cherry Creek have migrated to, and, more importantly, where they need to go.

Harling underscores how school districts have gone wrong in the past. For decades, Cherry Creek, and just about every other Colorado school district, pushed by state and federal lawmakers, have said their mission is to have every student in the community “college ready” upon graduation.

It never happened. It never will. It never should.

Somehow, Colorado and the rest of the country tied the noble notion of “no child left behind” with the reality that no child is like any other. Europeans have realized this unequivocal truth for generations.

Most European school systems differentiate in secondary school, preparing some students for college and preparing others for careers.

That idea is often wrongly seen as elitist, as if creating such systems unfairly impose a life-sentence of being a second-class citizen.

Thousands of Aurora students do not want to go to college, and we waste student time and public resources forcing everyone through a system that is structured to impose college readiness on everyone.

Not only does such a system do no good for students who want a variety of careers after high school instead of more school, the system does real harm. Forcing students into college-track math, science, language and social studies program they don’t like, don’t want and don’t need discourages learning and even getting a high-school diploma.

It’s an easy problem to fix. State officials and local school districts need to create two diploma programs that require two different regimens. A career diploma would reduce requirements for more scholarly classes and focus more on arts, culture, applicable academics, job training and practical life skills.

No one would be forced to take either path. No one would be precluded from changing paths. Community colleges could be, and really already are, structured to move non-academic students on to a traditional college program.

Cherry Creek schools and other districts have already dabbled in a dual-diploma regimen. However, it will take the Legislature to design requirements that reflect the reality of what each kind of program needs to require, and revise state standardized testing to accommodate the change.

The new Cherry Creek Innovation Campus has set a much-needed philosophy and program in motion. Now it’s time to re-create the education system that complements this lofty achievement.