career and technical education
Throughout Career and Technical Education Month this February, educators, students and the business community celebrate the value of career and technical education and the achievements of these programs across the country. Cutting-edge, rigorous and relevant curriculum helps youth and adults prepare for a wide range of high-wage, high-skill, high-demand careers.
Unlike old-fashioned vocational education, high school-level career and technical education doesn’t really prepare people for jobs directly after high school. While the stated end goal of K-12 education in America is for students to be “college and career ready,” the reality is the existence of career-ready high school graduates is a myth. The expectation that high school produces career-ready adults in a 21st century economy is unrealistic and counterproductive.
“[W]hen we look at CTE from a STEM perspective,” Gardner explained, “the things we want to see are better integration of STEM and CTE together. So many of the CTE pathways have STEM in them, but there's this very big separation between CTE and STEM in our schools.”
U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Todd Young, R-Indiana, have made it their mission to help students get career and technical education skills. Earlier this year they introduced the “21st Century Strengthening On Programs that Cultivate Learning Approaches for Successful Students Act," which would give federal funding for equipment for career and technical education programs and give teachers more training on how to use the equipment.
Economists have provided abundant evidence that holding a certificate or associate degree in general studies (also called liberal arts or the humanities) has little to no economic value, yet these programs are growing at community colleges at a faster rate than vocational or occupational programs with higher market value. Why is this so?
"We do have a shortage," Miller said. "When we advertise, we're not getting CTE (career and technical education) certified teachers in the application pool." Across Michigan, school administrators say they are facing similar challenges. With CTE enrollment growing statewide, several said they are struggling with a shortage of applicants for open positions, while others worry about finding the right people if they expand programs.
Enthusiasm for career and technical education has been building in recent years as educators and lawmakers moved away from the once-popular notion that every student should try for a college degree. Many districts have added career academies to their high schools, hoping to tap into students' interests.
After years of focusing intensely on college readiness, states are turning their attention to students' futures as workers, enacting a flurry of laws and policies designed to bolster career education and preparation. "What we're seeing is that there's been a shift from focusing purely on college readiness to thinking also about career readiness," said Jennifer Thomsen, who analyzes policy for the Education Commission of the States.
The STEM workforce is rapidly changing, said James Brown, the executive director of the STEM Education Coalition, a STEM education advocacy group. Mechanics and technicians--occupations that aren't always popularly associated with a need for computing skills--now require some programming ability, he said. And the jobs pay well.
Lawmakers in California want to change the way people think about career and technical education. They are making a push to improve and expand CTE programs through the state’s vast community college system.