Ensuring College AND Career Readiness

Ilene Kantrov leads secondary education initiatives targeted at building a highly skilled and educated workforce. For over a decade, she has directed innovative programs—including Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies, Ford Next Generation Learning, Law and Justice, and Digital Media Arts—that use project- and inquiry-based approaches to develop academic and 21st-century knowledge and skills. Recently, Ilene headed up a survey of 850 career and technical education (CTE) teachers nationwide to identify current challenges and opportunities in the field. In this post, she discusses her new white paper that presents survey results, provides findings from interviews with state-level CTE leaders, and shares insights drawn from EDC’s experience creating new pathways to college and careers. 

As the U.S. workforce grays, are we preparing younger generations for the challenges they will face? Recent research suggests otherwise. In 2014, far too few youth will graduate from high school ready to continue their educations and secure satisfying careers. Too many youth continue to drop out of high school, and too many lack essential skills and knowledge—especially in areas key to STEM careers—that they need to excel in the workforce. There is a pressing need for strategies to inspire and motivate students, support them, and engage them in rigorous and relevant learning experiences with clear connections to their futures.

By blending rigorous academic learning with hands-on work experience, secondary CTE cultivates key skills—problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity—that students need to thrive in the workplace, as well as in college. Traditionally, however, the U.S. has underestimated and overlooked the value of CTE. Those of us who grew up when people referred to CTE as “voc-tech”—often in a rather dismissive manner—know that the educational model has not received the respect it deserves.

Recently, the public perception of secondary CTE has begun to change. Policymakers, education reform specialists, and researchers are pointing to CTE’s potential to promote students’ college and career readiness and contribute to a highly skilled workforce, particularly in key science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries. For the first time in a very long time, the spotlight is on CTE.

Based on our experience as researchers, professional developers, and instructional designers, my team at EDC believes the CTE field is at a turning point. In the fall of 2013, we identified the need to capture a panoramic view of the field—its strengths, needs, and possibilities—at this moment in its history. To create a clear and accurate “big picture” of CTE, we knew it was essential to incorporate the perspectives of state CTE leaders and CTE educators.

In my new white paper, Opportunities and Challenges in Secondary Career and Technical Education,  I share our findings from a survey of 850 CTE educators and a series of interviews with state leaders. The white paper also draws upon EDC’s knowledge of the field, relevant literature, and the surrounding policy context.  

A few key findings from the paper follow:

  • Interest and enrollment in CTE is on the rise. Workforce experts view the range of careers for which CTE prepares students as both important to the U.S. economy and financially beneficial to students.
  • Investments in supporting and expanding CTE programs remain low. Fully 73% of our survey respondents reported flat or declining budgets over the past five years.
  • The Common Core State Standards underscore the importance of career, as well as college, readiness. Yet CTE leaders feel that non-CTE educators may interpret the Common Core State Standards as simply requiring more rigorous academic content and overlook the value of “real-world” work experience that is the hallmark of CTE.
  • Fewer than 18% of survey respondents reported that their students take academic courses where CTE is an integral part of instruction, in comparison with nearly 60% of CTE courses that integrate academics.

It is our hope that this paper, the first in a series, will help inform current discussions and policy-making relevant to CTE.