Secretary Calls for “Increased Rigor and Relevance” in CTE Pathways

On Wednesday, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a major report on the state of career and technical education (CTE) in America.

The study, titled Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century, calls for a more comprehensive career pathways network that better serves American youth in high school and beyond

Secretary Arne Duncan began his remarks with a challenge for educators:   prepare students for futures of their own making. “I start with the basic premise that it is the responsibility of K-12 educators to prepare all students for both college and a career. This must be ‘both/and,’ not ‘either/or.’ High school graduates themselves – not the educational system – should be choosing the postsecondary and career paths they want to pursue.”

He praised the report for envisioning “a new system of career and technical education that constitutes a radical departure from the vocational education of the past.  The need for the transformation is pressing.  I applaud your report’s frank discussion of the shortcomings of our current CTE system and its call to strengthen the rigor and relevance of career and technical education.”

Secretary Duncan spoke candidly about some of the problems plaguing CTE programs across the country, but argued that too many people “assume that career and technical training is for the last century, not this one.”

Before taking questions from the audience, Secretary Duncan closed out his remarks with a call to action:  “I am admittedly impatient for reform. But patience is not called for in the face of opportunity gaps.  Children get only one chance at an education. They cannot wait on reform. It is time to finish the transformation of the old vocational education system into the new CTE.”

To read Secretary Duncan’s complete remarks, click here.


  1. The career and technical education problem is much greater than most people realize.

    Ask any person who grew up in the Space Race to describe technology or science and he or she will likely discuss subjects like computer tomography, nuclear magnetic-resonance imaging, laser guidance, heliosheaths, microwave devices, satellite telemetry, fission and fusion. Many of these topics are alien to young teachers, administrators and bloggers who move education forward today.

    How can we possibly expect young people to be prepared for the innovation of the future if they have zero training in the innovation of the past? To relegate them to interactives, i-pods, i-pads, i-phones, tweeting or texting devices as “career ready” training shows the limitations with which we are saddling the next generation.

    Those in a position to hire, promote or train who have no expertise in past generation innovative achievement are ill-equipped to offer advice on the sub-millimeter, nanoscientific, robotic visions of the future.

    Too many good, well-informed teachers and teacher applicants are cast aside by well-intentioned, powerful, influential people who know little about science or technology of the past, present or future.

    Relying solely on input from think tanks, education bureaucrats or businesses with conflicting interests is no way to improve or guarantee success for future generations.

  2. The tech gap in my school is a massive chasm. The entire school (if not entire NYC system) bans technology in the classroom. Teachers and admin are afraid kids will tune out of the lesson and tune into their friends. So the next Bill Gates might be texting the next Steve Jobs about changing the world for the better instead of drilling for a standardized test and we are preventing it.

    Granted, most kids just want to have fun, but we are also not teaching how they could be/should be using technology to do great things – we ban it entirely. I’m in my fourth year of teaching in NY and have seen no computer access given to students in my subject area, along with a total ban on personal devices.

    I have met no teachers in any of these schools that had even a rudimentary knowledge of mobile apps, tablets or any of the cutting edge technologies setting the world on fire. I have a hard time blaming kids for tuning out. A lot of their rebelliousness is couched in the reality that they have outpaced their teachers and administrators in technology and teachers/admin are deathly afraid to change.

  3. As a former school principal and now a university professor, I strongly endorse the comments about the need to rethink the role of career and technical education. I strongly urge you to look closely at the International Baccalaureate’s new career certificate, and suggest that this is an opportunity to integrate a strong global perspective and rigor in career and technical education. Kent State University is working with IB World Schools in examining the role of teacher preparation with both rigor and relevance to an increasingly global world. I volunteer to help in any way that I can. Deputy Assistant Secretary Andre Lewis knows of our work. Dr. Linda Robertson, Kent State University.

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