Let’s Commit to Giving CTE Students the Opportunity They Demand and Deserve

Cross-posted from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education blog.

Career and technical education (CTE) has changed a lot from the “old vocational education” that many of us know from our school days. For the better part of this century, States and local communities have worked steadily to build high-quality CTE programs that are academically rigorous and aligned with labor market demands. The whole idea of the artificial separation between academic and technical pathways is passé. Most professions and careers in the 2016 and future economies require strong academic foundation skills, considerable technical knowledge and skills, and well-developed employability skills and attributes. There is nothing about CTE today that is not rigorous, relevant, and worth it.

And, CTE programs work. Recent research shows that secondary CTE students are more likely to graduate from high school compared to non-CTE students. CTE graduates land great jobs that pay well for both men and women in all kinds of careers, including emerging fields like cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing. Perhaps most importantly, CTE puts students on a direct path to the middle class by giving them the academic, technical, and employability skills they need to enter and advance in the world of work.

In a sure sign that CTE has become a rigorous, viable pathway, students and employers have begun to demand it. All across the country, there are reports of too few CTE slots for the number of students who want to enroll. Just last month, an article ran in the Philadelphia Tribune indicating that Philadelphia had received 11,000 applications from its 35,000 high school students, but only had room and resources for 2,500. In spring 2014, Massachusetts released the finding of a wait list survey and found that about 4,600 youth wanted to get into CTE but couldn’t. And, that number underreported the problem, as only half of all schools responded to the survey. Clearly, students and employers understand the college and career potential of high-quality CTE programs. And, one only has to do a quick Google search to find dozens of examples of States—from New Jersey to Oregon—whose employers are experiencing shortages of qualified workers and are seeking the skills that CTE offers. As one reporter put it: “[These] schools’ wait lists are a drag on the economy.”

It is not just a problem that so many students are waiting for an opportunity that may or may not be there before they leave high school but who these students are. Massachusetts found that schools receiving the least funding had longer waiting lists. Those schools served communities with large most at-risk populations. The take away is that in communities where the need is greatest, access to good programs is a real problem. No access, no skills, no good jobs. These wait lists are constraining opportunity.

It is obvious that the demand for this “new CTE” is growing across the country. What is unfortunate is that there isn’t comparable supply to match that demand. Underfunding of schools preventing them from adding space is mentioned as the primary cause. This represents a lot of “missed opportunities” to put students on a path to college and careers.

Our country can—and must—do better to prepare all students for success. The first step is to create equal access to good programs. As Acting Secretary of Education John King says: “We must make 2016 the year that we recommit to ensuring that every child in America—regardless of background or circumstance—has access to a high-quality education.”

Certainly, no one entity can tackle this alone and we are beginning to see some great examples at all levels of government and in both the public and private sectors of resources and collaborations directed toward building more high-quality CTE programs. At the Federal level, we are stepping up our efforts to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which provides just over one billion dollars annually to improve CTE. And, just this week, the Administration released its FY 2017 budget proposal that includes a seventy-five million dollar innovation fund, the American Technical Training Fund.

States are responding, as well. There are some great examples in both the public and the private sectors that are beginning to address this CTE opportunity gap. The California Legislature recently authorized an additional $250 million in a California Career Pathways Trust to competitively fund partnerships among schools, community colleges, and employers to create career pathways aligned to high-need and high-growth sectors. Maryland just announced a $10 million initiative to launch a local version of a national program for students blending high school curriculum, college courses and work experience in four high schools in the state, including two in Baltimore. The Governor of Massachusetts proposed an additional $83.5 million for CTE, including a $75 million five-year capital program in a jobs bill set and an additional $8.5 million in his proposed annual budget for 2017.

National associations and the private sector are also stepping up to the plate. The AFT launched a $500,000 multi-city CTE initiative called Promising Pathways that will bring together local AFT affiliates, educators, school districts, community colleges, city governments and business partners in 4 cities—Peoria, Ill, ; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; and Miami—to expand CTE opportunities in line with employer demand. The Lilly Endowment, an Indiana foundation, pledged a $50 million gift to the United Negro College Fund to strengthen career pathways for students at historically black colleges and universities and others with large African American enrollment. And, JP Morgan Chase just launched a $75 million New Skills for Youth initiative to encourage states to develop more demand-driven CTE programs.

We need more of these efforts. As we enter CTE Month, let’s declare 2016 the year where we step up our efforts in working together at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels and across public and private sectors to ensure that students who seek access to high-quality CTE get just what they want and need.

Johan E. Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary (delegated the authority of the Assistant Secretary) in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.

Lul Tesfai is the Director of Policy in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.

Sharon Miller is the Director of the Division of Academic and Technical Education in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.

Celebrating CTE Month


Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (left), and Secretary Arne Duncan visit with Aviation High School students during a visit to the CTE-focused school in 2013. February is CTE Month.

In his fifth State of the Union address, President Obama called on the nation to make 2014 a year of action. He laid out a clear vision for promoting equality of opportunity and challenged everyone to go all-in on the innovations that will help this country maintain its edge in the global economy. “Here in America,” said the president, “our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.  That’s what drew our forebears here.  … Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.” The president also put heavy emphasis on career and technical education and training that prepares young people for work. “We’re working to redesign high schools,” he said, “and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.”

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month—a great opportunity to acknowledge the important contribution CTE is making to individual citizens, our economy, and our nation. Every year, during this month, we recognize the efforts and accomplishments of the many students who are pursuing their ambitions through CTE pathways. We also thank all those working tirelessly so that more students can find their life’s passion and reach their full potential. Each day, thousands of teachers, school and district administrators, state education officials, career and technical student organization leaders, business and labor leaders, parents, and others are helping to equip students with the academic knowledge—as well as the technical and employability skills—they need to find productive careers and lead fulfilling lives.

Today’s CTE students and educators face a more difficult challenge than those of earlier generations, when a high school diploma and the skills it represented were enough to secure a place in the middle class. Those low-skilled, well-paid jobs are gone, and they won’t return. By working together, those at the local, state, and national levels are making significant progress in improving the rigor and relevance of CTE programs all across America.

In the 21st century, we need to prepare all students to succeed in a competitive global economy, a knowledge-based society, and a hyper-connected digital world. All students must be lifelong learners, able to re-skill frequently over the course of their careers, in order to meet the changing demands of the workplace and the marketplace. They’ll need the flexibility and ingenuity to thrive in jobs that haven’t even been invented yet! Teaching and learning must change, in part, because the very nature of work has changed. President Obama’s North Star goal in education is for every student to graduate from high school and obtain some form of postsecondary training or degree.

High-quality CTE is absolutely critical to meeting this challenge. Inspiring CTE teachers and effective curricula are essential to ensuring that students can master the new realities and seize the amazing new opportunities that await them.

The president and I believe that high-quality CTE programs are a vital strategy for helping our diverse students complete their secondary and postsecondary studies. In fact, by implementing dual enrollment and early college models, a growing number of CTE pathways are helping students to fast-track their college degrees.

CTE programs provide instruction that is hands-on and engaging, as well as rigorous and relevant. Many of them are helping to connect students with the high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields – where so many good jobs are waiting.

In visiting CTE programs across the country, I’ve seen many excellent examples of partnerships that are providing great skills and bright futures for students. Our challenge is to replicate these successful programs so they become the norm—especially in communities that serve our most disadvantaged students. This administration’s goal is to prepare students to excel in college, in long-term occupational skills training, in registered apprenticeships, and in employment.

The president’s 2014 budget proposal includes both continuing and new funding to support this agenda. In addition to refunding the Perkins Act at roughly $1 billion, the Department of Labor will complete providing approximately $2 billion in Trade Adjustment Act funds over four years for CTE partnerships led by the nation’s community colleges. And, in November, the president announced a new $100 million initiative between the departments of Labor and Education to fund Youth CareerConnect grants.

Youth CareerConnect will encourage school districts, higher education institutions, the workforce investment system, and other partners to scale up evidence-based models that transform the U.S. high school experience. Best of all, with this grant program, we can plan on making awards early this year.

In celebrating CTE month, we celebrate all the partners—students, parents, business, union and community leaders, educators all through the pipeline, and many more—who are helping to transform CTE and achieve our shared vision of educational excellence and opportunity for all students. At the Department of Education, we’re proud to be your partner.

Together, we can make the year ahead a time of bold, smart, far-reaching action.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education

HealthIT is an Opportunity for Job Creation in Rural Communities

“Who else can provide healthcare in rural Mississippi besides these small rural hospitals? With so much responsibility and so few resources, they need all the help they can get,” said Jim Rice, RN, MBA, Health IT and Electronic Health Record Consultant at the Mississippi Health IT Regional Extension Center.

Mississippi WorkshopWe traveled to Mississippi recently to launch a pilot project between White House Rural Council partners from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Education to expand access to information and federal funding to support health information technology (HealthIT) infrastructure and workforce needs for Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) and other small rural hospitals The Mississippi pilot is part of a larger pilot initiative across five states.

Critical access and small, rural hospitals are often the foundations of their communities’ health care systems. They extend local access to care where it would not otherwise be available. Rural community hospitals also are typically the largest or second-largest employers in the community and often stand alone in their ability to offer highly skilled jobs.

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Maine CTE: It’s Not Your Parents’ Vocational Education

Students at the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology in Biddeford, Maine are excited about learning — and they’re eager to tell you why.  They can also show you some pretty impressive proof that they’ve mastered the concepts they’ve studied.

Take, for example, the house they built as the capstone of one project.

Programs at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology

A selection of CTE programs offered at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology

“It’s not just about wiring a house, it’s about the theory and science [of] what is actually happening in the wires. In my other classes, you don’t really get hands-on, you just do what’s in the book,” a senior at the Center recently explained to visitors from the U.S. Department of Education.

Part of my role as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF) is to help teachers and other educators around the country learn about the Department’s efforts to support world-class teaching and learning. But, it’s just as important for us to bring teacher, principal, and student perspectives back to policymakers in Washington. For both those reasons, I traveled to Biddeford.

Right now, there’s an important shift taking place in schools and districts across the United States: a shift away from vocational education, and toward career and technical education, or CTE. The narrow vocational training of our parents’ and grandparents’ day was often separated from the college preparatory curriculum, and geared to the needs of the industrial age. Today’s CTE programs are designed to meet the needs and opportunities of the global economy and the digital age, and prepare students for equal success in college and careers.

When change is this ambitious, it can take a while for old perceptions to catch up to new realities. CTE teachers and students in CTE courses often find themselves having to correct the belief that CTE courses are less rigorous than traditional “college prep” classes. The experiences of the students and teachers at Biddeford certainly debunked this myth.

Biddeford offers professionally certified programs in career fields like legal studies, architecture, early childhood education, and health sciences. The students told us they feel good about learning a combination of academic, technical and employability skills that will equip them for success in college and in the 21st century’s technology-rich, team-based, results-oriented professions.

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College and Career-Ready Conversations in South Seattle

“Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge: to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.”  

– President Barack Obama, February 12. 2013

State Superintendent for Washington

State Superintendent for Washington, Randy Dorn speaks with teachers and staff members from the Department of Education

When President Obama spoke those words in this year’s State of the Union address, I felt like cheering.  As a science teacher, it’s my job to help students fall in love with learning and explore important questions about how the world works.  I also know the principles and problem-solving skills they’re mastering will help them succeed in today’s competitive global economy, where science, technology, engineering and math (or “STEM”) careers are on the rise.  And, through fellowships with the U.S. Department of Education, I’ve been paying even closer attention to how the Obama Administration’s proposals affect my work.

The President’s High School Redesign plan would invest in programs that re-invigorate the American high school experience for the 21st century.  Strengthening Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and collaborating more closely with postsecondary, business and community partners are two ways that high schools can re-think their current model. I recently had an opportunity to visit a school that’s using both of these strategies when I accompanied Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education, on a trip to Cleveland High School in Seattle, Wash.

As teachers and school leaders across the country think about implementing the President’s plan, there’s a lot we can learn from schools that have already started down this path.  Cleveland High School was restructured as a STEM-themed school four years ago, and according to the principal, Princess Shareef, “There was no template set for us.” Instead, school leaders and staff had the freedom to innovate, meeting every week and including parents, employers and other partners in designing a new approach. The result?  A high school in South Seattle that provides a college-and-career-ready curriculum through project-based learning, and connects students with mentors from the surrounding community.

TAF post 2

Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education speaks with State Superintendent of Washington, Randy Dorn

During classroom walk-throughs, we spent time in a computer engineering class and talked with students engaged in a reverse-engineering assignment.  In this hands-on design project, students choose an everyday object like a toy car or a mechanical pencil, measure the object using calibration tools, design and draw blueprints, transform the blueprints into multi-view drawings, and create a mock assembly. The students we met clearly understand and excel in their subject.  They’re also confident that what they’re learning will empower them in the future.

One student said, “It’s really nice to have experience with the computer-aided design, and this will help with job preparedness. Most [engineering] jobs are looking for experience in graphic design.” Another added, “I’m learning how to solve problems and to communicate with my team every day. This is important for my career in the future.”

These students realize that, in today’s marketplace, they need even more technical skills and experience. The days of working in isolation are over: problem-solving and teamwork skills are essential for success in the 21st century.  At Cleveland High School, students learn to be effective collaborators through project-based learning.

As one student explained, “We get graded on work as a team. Communication is important and there are instances when the group doesn’t function and so you have to learn how to communicate in a better way. You also learn how to speak for yourself and develop a voice.”  A business leader at the table drew an appreciative laugh from the group by noting, “Yes, just like in the real world.”

Equipped with a full range of academic, technical and employability skills, students at Cleveland High School will be ready for the demands of the world that awaits them after graduation.  That’s good news for them and for the employers in their region.  It’s also great news for the country.

As Dean of Students Catherine Brown told the assembled students, employers and civic leaders that, by coming together to re-engineer Cleveland High School, “You’re not just thinking of your industry—you’re thinking about the common good of society.”  By focusing on relevant, real-world skills; by making STEM-themed learning, wrap-around services and broad-based partnerships a vital part of each school day; and by graduating college-and-career-ready students, this re-engineered high school is preparing the next generation of U.S. leaders in some of tomorrow’s most exciting professions.

Dr. Kareen Borders is a Regional Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

A Student’s Voice on Career and Technical Education

Flameworking. Robot building. Custom painting. High school.

These seemingly disparate ideas fit together seamlessly for 18-year-old Taylor Clow, a thriving senior I met recently at New Jersey’s Gloucester County Institute of Technology (GCIT). The Teaching Ambassador Fellows— teachers working for a year to bring educators’ perspectives to the U.S. Department of Education— have been traveling the country to meet with teachers, students, and other stakeholders to hear more about what’s working in their schools and what’s challenging them.

Taylor Clow and Dan Brown

Dan Brown and Taylor Clow. Photo courtesy of Judy Savage.

Taylor’s passion for the opportunities generated through the GCIT community was inspired, and it underscored the dramatic need for more high-functioning career and technical education (CTE) schools throughout the country. His hands-on successes are examples of what President Obama called for in his recent State of the Union address when he announced a challenge: “to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy… schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.”

After my visit to GCIT, Taylor emailed me with more about why his experience at GCIT was so valuable. Here is his student perspective on CTE:

My experiences here at GCIT have been such an adventure, full of opportunities that I embraced. Freshman year, I began it all in the Collision Repair Technology program, a part of the School of Transportation Technology. I also joined the “FIRST Robotics” team, and that was the best decision I have ever made. With the primary guidance and support of my science teacher, Rowan University, and the parents serving as mentors to the Robotics Club, we had an amazing, inspiring rookie year, full of busy nights and weekend build sessions. I learned mechanical design, construction, CAD and fabrication of parts in the Rowan machine shop. I LOVED this!

I was the captain of the robotics team for three years; what started out as a club has provided me with the goal and direction for my future to study at Rochester Institute of Technology as a mechanical engineer. I have been offered a summer job with one of our mentors.

As a result of my passion and enthusiasm for STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics], my science teacher and my guidance counselor nominated me for the High School Scholars Program at Rowan University Engineering Clinic, and I was selected to participate.  The workshops and lectures were so exciting to be a part of, and I was paid. The networking with Science Teachers, Engineers and students from all over the region all interested in promoting STEM was actually a building block for me to get involved in many other interests.

Through my study, I became very interested in doing custom painting with airbrush on vehicles. During my sophomore and junior years I became involved with GCIT’s fabulous SkillsUSA program, which provided opportunities for me to compete in the State of New Jersey’s Custom Painting competition. Both years I competed, I won a gold medal and received tools, a large toolbox, and an experience of a lifetime. I also won two $20,000 scholarships. During my senior year, I served as a mentor to younger students.

Because of the accelerated academic program at GCIT, I had earned enough credits to graduate early second semester. I used this opening to apply for a flameworking class at Salem Community College, and I was thrilled when I was accepted. Because of the GCIT administration’s help with this arrangement, I have had an incredible opportunity studying flameworking with glass guru Paul Stankard, one of the most renowned glass artists in the country.

When senior year came along I applied to three colleges: Michigan Technological Institute, Ferris State University, and Rochester Institute of Technology. I was accepted into the mechanical engineering department of all three schools. I have also been accepted into the Scientific Glass Technology program at Salem Community College.

I attribute my success to the guidance and leadership of my teachers, and to my guidance department for their support. My SAT scores were not that exceptional, but I impressed my teachers enough to believe in my hands-on abilities and skills to write amazing letters of recommendations for me.


Taylor Clow

Here’s a blog post about the school visit by Judy Savage, Executive Director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. Also check out Taylor’s website featuring some of his work at taylorclow.yolasite.com

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-2013 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

CTE Can Fill The Gap, Open Doors to America’s Future

CTE panel at ED

An educator asks a question during “How Career and Technical Education is Addressing the Nation’s Skills Gap,” a recent ED Policy Briefing. Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover.

Brian Will was inspired to investigate careers in family and consumer sciences in seventh grade. Today the Deep Run High School student is a consultant to the FCCLA Virginia state association and on track to pursue college and the career path of his choice.

Alvon Brown found inspiration in the mechanical processes of working with his hands in an HVAC career and technical education program, and is now eager to pursue engineering after graduating from The Edison Academy at Edison High School.

Brian and Alvon’s stories are just two of many that illustrate the impact of early career and technical education awareness. Many similar stories were told about how career and technical education is addressing the nation’s skills gap at a recent ED Policy Briefing to celebration National CTE Month at the U.S. Department of Education.

“The students were spectacular,” Assistant Secretary of Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier said of the panelists at the briefing. “They were poised, articulate, self-confident and spoke eloquently about their CTE experiences and how well prepared they are for college and to pursue the career of their choice.” Also joining Brown and Will on the panel were Natalie Tran, the Future Business Leaders of America chapter president at River Hill High School, and David Kelly, the national president of the Health Occupations Students Association (HOSA) and an undergraduate at New York University. CTE Panel

Dann-Messier and Senior Advisor on College Access Greg Darnieder hosted a pair of conversations – one with educators and business leaders, and a second with Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) participants. Both conversations focused attention on the need for better alignment between high-quality CTE programs and the labor market, more collaboration among industry, secondary and postsecondary education partners, accountability for improving academic outcomes, and the need to support innovation.

Employers are seeking people with the skills to fill more than three million job vacancies each month. Whether you believe there is a skills gap or a training gap, early career awareness is an important part of the solution. Marie Zwickert, a business development manager for Cisco, emphasized the need to address the lack of technical and workforce readiness skills by raising standards and increasing participation in secondary and postsecondary CTE programs.

Last year, the Obama Administration proposed a blueprint for raising standards and transforming CTE nationally. High-quality CTE programs and Career Academies, like the Cisco Networking Academy, and CTSOs, teach employability skills that include working in effective teams, communications and problem solving, and help to increase students’ technical content knowledge and understanding.

Where rigor and expectations are high, CTE students display a sense of pride that attracts other students to the programs.  Students are earning industry-recognized credentials in a wide array of sectors, gaps between college and career readiness are closing, and doors are opening for students to pursue today’s in-demand jobs and the careers of the future.

 John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Students at New York’s Harbor School Chart Their Course for College and Careers

Arne Duncan - Visit to Governors Island, NY

Secretary Arne Duncan visited New York City's Harbor School last Friday. The school has a robust CTE program that is preparing its students for college and career. Photo by Andy Kropa for the U.S. Department of Education.

A little more than a week after the State of the Union address where President Obama spoke about redesigning high schools to equip graduates with the skills that employers demand, Secretary Duncan and several Department of Education staff (myself included) visited a school in New York City that meets this challenge head on.  Located on Governors Island and accessible only by boat, Urban Assembly New York Harbor School was established back in 2003 with one goal in mind: preparing students for success in college and careers through restoration of the local marine environment.

All Harbor School students enroll in the New York State Regents-based academic courses and then select one of six career and technical education (CTE) programs–Aquaculture, Marine Biology Research, Marine Service Technology, Ocean Engineering, Scientific Diving or Vessel Operations. Through a combination of school-based, harbor-based and community-based activities, students build and operate boats, spawn and harvest millions of oysters, design submersible remotely operated vehicles and conduct real-life research. The school boasts a professional advisory committee of more than 60 businesses, industry groups, postsecondary partners and foundations.

Arne Duncan - Visit to Governors Island, NY

Harbor School students work on experiments. Photo by Andy Kropa for the U.S. Department of Education.

Through their courses of study, students earn industry-recognized certifications and licenses, as well as postsecondary credits that will give them a leg up regardless of their immediate plans after high school. Some students clearly had aspirations of on-water careers. (The captain of our ferry over to the island was a Harbor School graduate.) Other students were interested in engineering, architecture or construction. Still others were interested in a completely unrelated field. For each student, what seemed to matter most was the hands-on, real-life application of learning. They indicated that school was exciting, challenging and relevant. Harbor School’s 430 students come from all five of New York’s boroughs, some beginning their trek to Governors Island as early as 5:30 in the morning—first by bus, then subway and, finally, by boat. Now that’s commitment!

At the end of our tour on Feb. 22, one student asked Secretary Duncan what he had learned. With National CTE Month coming to a close, Arne responded by saying that now, more than ever, he is convinced that this country’s debate about whether to prepare students for college or careers is artificial. He indicated that the conversation really needs to shift toward how to prepare all students for college and careers, and that Harbor School was a phenomenal example of just how to do that.

“This school is on to something really, really special,” Arne said. “This is a very different vision of what a high school can be. What if we had more of these?” Graduation rates would go up, he predicted, and dropout rates would go down.

Harbor School matches closely the President’s vision for the future of American high schools. Stay tuned for more details on his plan.

Sharon Miller is director of ED’s Division of Academic and Technical Education in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

National CTE Month Marks Pivotal Moment

This month, students, educators, stakeholder groups, and even regulators will highlight what works in career and technical education (CTE).

Welding ClassThe U.S. Department of Education has joined the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) to celebrate February as National CTE Month. Each organization has assembled a month-long schedule of activities that focus on outstanding programs. ED also will draw attention to the need to transform secondary and postsecondary programs that are no longer relevant in today’s marketplace.

The 2013 celebration marks a pivotal moment for CTE. This year, we all have a chance to work together to promote an increase in rigor and relevance and to support replication of programs that work. As a nation, we cannot continue to allow some youth and adults to be stuck in outdated vocational courses that do not prepare students for in-demand careers.

Which path the nation takes will be determined during the Fiscal Year 2013 budget process and whether Congress takes up reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Act, which provides federal support for secondary and 2-year postsecondary programs.

Last spring, the Obama Administration released a blueprint for transforming CTE. Through a $1 billion investment in CTE and an additional $1 billion career academies initiative, the Obama Administration’s 2013 budget proposes to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Act and support CTE in four key areas:

    • Alignment: Ensuring that the skills taught in CTE programs reflect the actual needs of the labor market so that CTE students acquire the 21st century skills necessary for in-demand occupations within high-growth industry sectors.
    • Collaboration: Incentivizing secondary schools, institutions of higher education, employers, and industry partners to work together to ensure that all CTE programs offer students high-quality learning opportunities.
    • Accountability: Requiring CTE programs to show, through common definitions and related performance measures, that they are improving academic outcomes and enabling students to build technical and job skills.
    • Innovation: Promoting systemic reform of state-level policies to support effective CTE implementation and innovation at the local level.

This month, we will join ACTE and several of their “CTE Works” events, as well as initiate additional conversations about the need for more high quality career training programs that lead to industry recognized credentials, and prepare students for postsecondary education and careers. We encourage you to check back often for upcoming events and activities.

Follow the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #CTEMonth, and share photos of students and teachers in action to illustrate great CTE programs on Twitter and Instagram.

John White is deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Back on Track after Being Behind Bars

Student Voices

Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier listen to previously incarcerated youth during a recent Student Voices Series. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Returning to society after being incarcerated isn’t easy. Yet a group of formerly incarcerated youth that recently met with Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier are refusing to let their past lives determine their future. They’re overcoming challenges– and building better lives for themselves through grit and resilience.

Secretary Duncan praised the youth for their perseverance and willingness to challenge the system. “Obviously there are a lot of young men and women coming up beneath you who have your talent and potential,” he said. “But they may not have your toughness to get through.”

Michael Kemp of the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) explained how his slide toward the juvenile and criminal justice system started with school suspension. Kemp said that such punishments might not be beneficial for students or society.

Brandon McMillan told Duncan and Dann-Messier that he has learned from his experience of being incarcerated and is now hoping to inspire others. He recommended that ED increase Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. “Some people don’t want to go to college,” he said. “So automotive, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and other vocational career program should be put back in high schools.”

Secretary Duncan agreed with McMillan’s point and said that young people should be both college and career ready and allowed to follow their career passion.

The Department of Education recently hosted a Correctional Education Summit and released a Reentry Education Model guidance document to support individuals leaving prison to successfully transition back into society through education and career advancement.

“The prison industry has job skills training programs for careers that no longer exist,” Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier said. “So we are trying to modernize that and make sure there are funds available for those incarcerated to help them be successful.”

Reverend Jesse Jackson

Reverend Jesse Jackson briefly stopped by the Student Voices discussion. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

The Department also recently announced a $1 million grant program called Promoting Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities that will invest in innovative programs to help incarcerated individuals become productive members of society.

After hearing the youth’s seven recommendations to improve the quality of educational services for detained and incarcerated youth, Duncan welcomed Reverend Jesse Jackson—who was at ED for other meetings—to offer his encouragement to the youth.

Additional educational resources for incarcerated individuals reintegrating into society is available through the Department’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s Take Charge of Your Future.

De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

This discussion is part of the ongoing Student Voices Series, where students engage with the Secretary of Education and senior staff to solicit and help develop recommendations on current programs and future policies. 

Celebrating CTE in Nevada

Brenda Dann-Messier at Veterans

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier talks with students at Veterans' dispatch training lab. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Traditionally, education has led many students into a career. However, at some schools, careers are leading students to an education.

Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier recently met with the students, staff, and business partners of the Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy in Las Vegas to discuss career and technical education (CTE) and how it benefits students and the community.

Dann-Messier’s visit was part of ED’s Education Drives America back-to-school bus tour, and one of many stops she made during the tour to discuss the blueprint for transforming career and technical education and ways the Department of Education can support CTE education.

Student Marcus Montano explained during the visit that he chose to attend Veterans because he wanted a “real-world education and not just standard curriculum.” The school has two program areas, Law Enforcement Services and Emergency Medical Services, with multiple labs that allow hands-on learning experiences.

The type of CTE taught at Veterans increases motivation for students in all areas of study, as they realize the direct connection between the core curriculum and a career. Student Leah Bories said she felt “limited by not having the right teacher or the right material. I wanted this so bad. I want to learn. I want to succeed.”

Dann-Messier at Desert Rose

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier talks to a students in the Environmental Horticulture Science program at Desert Rose Adult High School. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Veterans’ partnership with local employers is the type of community collaboration promoted in ED’s CTE blueprint. The community and business partners are also benefiting from Veteran’s unique career training. Students from Veteran’s are turning internships at local businesses into careers upon graduation. Some students have even used their training at Veteran’s to become dispatchers for emergency services, which is helping them pay for college. Sgt. Dan Lake of the North Las Vegas Police Department believes the program is future-focused, because “students can begin to build a future as juniors in high school.”

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier also held a roundtable at Desert Rose Adult High School and Career Center, in North Las Vegas, to hear how CTE is being used to help students find success. Desert Rose serves a diverse population of students, many of whom have previously dropped out or become credit-deficient.

At Desert Rose, students can learn multiple trades while obtaining high school credit at their own learning pace. This combination of CTE and personalized learning has led to many students achieving success.

Senior Elizabeth Gomez said that this personalized focus is helping her succeed in school and getting her ready for a job. “I have a really good resume now” she said. The blueprint for transforming CTE calls for accountability for improving outcomes and building technical and employable skills. Desert Rose students are already realizing the benefits of obtaining such skills at a young age.

Some students have already obtained a job through the CTE offered at Desert Rose. After winning numerous awards, including a gold medal from the Skills USA competition, and obtaining multiple certifications from Desert Rose high school, student Keith Griffin was able to find a job in Hawaii and is preparing to move his family “from the desert to the tropics,” he says.

Aaron Bredenkamp is a 2012 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches at Westside Career Center, an Alternative High School in Omaha, NE. He joined Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier during her visit to Las Vegas.

Wyoming Is Ready to Work: Bus Tour Day Three

Town Hall at Laramie County Community College

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier, Under Secretary Kanter and Chief of Staff Weiss joined Laramie County Community College President Joe Schaffer for a community town hall. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Rock Springs: Celebrating career academies

A four-year college education isn’t for everyone. Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan often note the importance of community colleges, technical and career programs to the future of our country’s economic health. Earlier this year, the Administration proposed a new blueprint for transforming career and technical education (CTE) that would dedicate $1 billion to provide high-quality job-training opportunities that reduce skill shortages and spur business growth.

The CTE blueprint would also expand career academies by 3,000, which brings us to Friday’s first back-to-school bus tour event at Rock Springs High School in Rock Springs, Wyo. Rock Springs High has two career academies, one focused on energy the other on health care. Career academies combine college-prep work and career and technical curricula, and help prepare students to continue their education at the postsecondary level and for successful careers.

Under Secretary Martha Kanter, Chief of Staff Joanne Weiss and Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier toured Rock Springs’ academies and held a roundtable with school officials, teachers and students.

After hearing from former Rock Springs’ students how the academies prepared them for careers after high school, Kanter noted that Rock Springs is an “island of excellence,” and also praised the students and school for having so many girls in the energy program and interested in engineering. (Young women are commonly under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math programs.) After boarding the bus for our next stop, we all commented how inspired we were by Rock Springs, and how important it is that these model programs not remain islands, but rather expand throughout the country.

Read more about this visit from Chief of Staff Joanne Weiss.

Rawlins: Positive developments in distance learning

Following our visit to Rock Springs, the Education Drives America bus rolled on to the Carbon County Higher Education Center in Rawlins, Wyo. In this rural area, the Center is improving education opportunities through the use of distance learning.  Kanter and Weiss joined Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach John White for a roundtable discussion with school officials, teachers, parents, students and business leaders.

Kanter asked the group what they viewed as their biggest challenges. One teacher noted that there is a great need for technological infrastructure and support, and a local energy business leader explained that students aren’t coming out of high school with the necessary skills to work for his company.

ED leadership tour a wind turbine

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier and Under Secretary Kanter climbed inside a wind turbine after the town hall. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

We could see that bringing business and school leaders together was an important step in this bus tour stop, and we look forward to seeing exciting new public-private partnerships in this area of Wyoming.

Cheyenne: Linking education and jobs

The Education Drives America bus made its final stop of the week at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne. Surrounded by massive wind turbines, Kanter, Weiss and Dann-Messier held a town hall to discuss the important link between education and jobs. The trio fielded a variety of questions, and Kanter spoke to the importance of community colleges while Dann-Messier noted that Laramie was an example of how public-private partnerships are helping students and the local economy.

See what people were saying on Twitter during day three, and watch this video summary of our day in Wyoming:

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

The bus parked over the weekend and will be back on the road Monday when Secretary Duncan rejoins the tour in Denver. Get email updates about the tour by signing up here.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement and is blogging and tweeting his way from coast to coast during ED’s annual back-to-school bus tour.