Advocates discuss opportunities and challenges in career and technical education

Career and technical education programs in high schools today offer training in careers ranging from STEM fields to marketing, sales, and service. Their  continued improvement and expansion is important to the Latino community.

Career and Technical Education

On January 10, UnidosUS and the National Urban League brought together researchers, policymakers, advocates, and practitioners whose common goal is to ensure that state education plans equally prepare all students with 21st-century skills.

One of those areas of focus is in career and technical education, or CTE.

But we’re not talking about the vocational education of years past that channeled certain populations of students into skilled trades and prevented them from working toward academic degrees. CTE today provides students with academic and technical skills, along with training for a range of industry certifications, and postsecondary certificates and degrees. CTE offers 16 career clusters ranging from STEM fields to marketing, sales, and service.

More than 90% of students participate in at least one CTE course during their time in high school, as do more than eight million others seeking postsecondary credentials. For most high school students, CTE courses allow them to explore career options while fulfilling the academic requirements for graduation.

The Challenges to Ensuring Equal Access

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the law governing K–12 education, requires each state to create a plan setting ambitious goals for all groups of students. It also outlines ways states should be held accountable for reaching those goals. All states except for one have included at least one strategy to expand career readiness.

Career and technical education

Many in the January meeting highlighted the CTE equity challenges in schools. There are “islands of excellence” where high-quality, rigorous programs exist. But far too many other programs fail to provide their students with transferable skills.

Those high-quality programs have limited capacity, and students of color and English learners are often excluded. The potential for increased capacity and access to CTE is severely limited by a lack of teachers, a common problem in many school subjects.

However, ESSA supports recruiting and training CTE teachers by allowing for alternative routes to teacher certification, opening the field to experienced and skilled people to become teachers. It also advocates for specialized professional development that supports CTE teachers to advance into curriculum and instruction development.

There’s limited data and accountability determining the quality and equity of CTE programs. The Perkins Act that allocated CTE funding only considers equity when it comes to gender.

ESSA allows states to use up to 3% of their funding toward direct services, such as CTE, for disadvantaged students. Under ESSA, states should be held accountable for ensuring that all students have access to high-quality CTE coursework.

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Career and Technical Education

Is High School CTE Enough?

Still, CTE coursework in high school isn’t enough to land a career. The average high school student spends 2.4 of 27 course hours in a CTE class.

Instead, the courses should equip them with the knowledge and training to begin a postsecondary apprenticeship, certification, or degree program for their chosen career.

CTE Would Benefit Latino Families

It’s in the country’s best interest to advance career-readiness programs. A recent study by Georgetown University found that there are 30 million “good” jobs that pay without a bachelor’s degree (good defined as paying more than $35,000 per year). Of those jobs, the median income is $55,000 annually. For Latino families, whose median household income was $43,300 in 2014, CTE can improve their financial stability and growth.

In 2016, 19% of Latinos had a nondegree CTE credential and 12% completed a work experience program such as an apprenticeship. For nearly one-third of Latino adults, not including those who earned CTE degrees, CTE plays a central role in their career prospects. Undoubtedly, CTE and its continued improvement and expansion is important to the Latino community.

Takeaways from the Meeting

  • CTE in high school is not enough to prepare students to immediately enter a career after graduation. Instead, it gives them a foundation on which to continue honing the skills and abilities necessary to work in their chosen field. Therefore, support for CTE should extend past high school.
  • CTE needs more skills-based teachers. By allowing a broader base of qualified people to enter the teaching field based on their career experience, more students can participate in quality CTE programs and courses. Special care should be given to including bilingual teachers as we expand the number of CTE instructors in our schools.
  • CTE needs to serve all interested students. Most of the limited CTE data is not disaggregated to ensure that students of color and English learners are provided access to high-quality programs, thus gaining the benefits of CTE.
  • Research and policy must catch up to growing demands. Continued research into best practices for CTE is necessary to expand the islands of excellence so that all CTE programs deliver high-quality instruction and experiences for their students. Policymakers should support CTE by providing additional funding, tied to accountability and equity, to expand these programs.

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