Among the top priorities for public school reform in West Virginia, as stipulated by the Legislature last winter and embraced by the state Board of Education, is vocational training. That is, offering high school students opportunities to learn skills that are in demand and that can be put to use in getting jobs without going to college.
State Board of Education members are preparing a progress report for lawmakers, to show what steps have been taken to implement the school improvement law enacted in February.
Twenty-one "simulated workplaces" providing vocational education opportunities have been implemented in schools throughout West Virginia, state school Superintendent James Phares said. The goal is to have 45 such facilities in operation by the end of the 2014-15 school year.
That is good news for young West Virginians who don't want to go to college, can't afford it or simply want to join the workforce immediately after graduating from high school.
But the new emphasis on vocational training brings to mind the fad-based outlook that has seemed to dominate public schools for decades.
This is not the first time West Virginians have decided to make vocational education a priority. It has been stressed at various times in the past.
Many Mountain State residents remember the agriculture and "shop" classes once available in most high schools. Some also recall a time when special schools focused solely on vocational training were available in or near most counties.
But that philosophy withered away. Many of those high school vocational departments and special training centers were closed during the past couple of decades.
That should never have been allowed to happen. Vocational education should always be part of public schools.
State officials should help guide the process, ensuring public schools provide truly valuable vocational training. Legislators should keep their eyes on the process.
Implemented properly, the vocational education program could be one of the most important aspects of school improvement in West Virginia.