Dick Jones, Center Specialist
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is known as a place of hands-on instruction, interesting to students, and helping some students prepare for a career. However, a rigorous CTE program can be a valuable resource for school improvement. Most schools have an agenda to ensure that school; positively changes student lives, yields student learning results, is a successful transition to college, and develops strong community support. By placing emphasis on CTE school leaders can better achieve this overall improvement agenda.
Positively Changing Student Lives
A diverse set of CTE learning experiences gives students a chance to define their talents and interests. Students become more engaged in learning when they're excited about their experiences, achieve competence and have some choice about activities that they pursue. The hands-on, career-focused learning of CTE provides numerous opportunities where students discover talents and set positive goals to achieve those dreams. Students are more likely to be successful when they can see their future projected into successful employment or entrepreneurship. While academics are important, most successful students must acquire the personal skills and work habits which enable them to be successful contributing members of the community. In contrast to sitting passively in many academic classrooms, active CTE experiences and projects provide significant opportunities for students to develop, demonstrate and receive feedback on the acquiring personal skills and positive work habits.
Student Learning Results
Low levels of student achievement is often traced back to low student effort. Students are more likely to exert a maximum effort when they see relevance in what they're learning. Instruction in Career and Technical Education is highly engaging because students see the relevance of what they are learning. High-quality CTE has a strong emphasis on applying academic skills, which deepens student learning to acquire and retain academic foundation skills in communication, mathematics, and science. By students learning academic skills in context, students are not only more interested but will retain the learning beyond the next assessment. Research has shown that students taking a high-quality CTE program and experiencing integrated academics are some of the highest performing in standardized academic tests. Statistics from ACTE and the US Department of Education show that high school students involved in CTE are more engaged, perform better and graduate at higher rates.
Successful Transition to College
For better or worse, the primary goal of many parents when looking at a high school experience is to make sure that students make a successful transition to college. They expect a high school to provide the foundation academic requirements which will meet college entrance requirements; help students make choices about inappropriate colleges to pursue and to have an academic transcript which is perceived to be high quality by college admissions. It may seem to some that Career and Technical Education is in conflict with this desire for students to pursue postsecondary education. Quite the contrary, an ever increasing number of CTE students are pursuing postsecondary education. High-quality CTE programs should have articulation agreements with colleges and often provides an automatic admission to postsecondary programs in the same field of study. Further, most provide advanced standing through college credits earned while still in high school. CTE students are better able to make informed choices about a college degree they wish to pursue. What you major in is important in college in contributing to future economic and employment success. Research shows 4 out of 5 secondary CTE graduates who pursued postsecondary education after high school had earned a credential or were still enrolled two years later.
One of the challenges for school leaders is to maintain strong community support. Maintaining a strong positive perception in the minds of parents and students is critical to a school success. Community support helps to attract the best teachers, and it also instills a sense of pride in teachers performing at the best of their ability within their profession. It is often difficult to showcase the learning that occurs in academic programs such as English language arts and mathematics. However, the student work in Career and Technical Education is frequently very visual and an opportunity to showcase students and the quality of student work which demonstrates the success of the schools. Also, high-quality CTE programs should actively involve employers and business owners in the related career field to support and advise the instructional program. This provides a direct connection to community leaders who will have a better understanding of the entire school program and can be active supporters within the community regarding a particular school.