What Do School Leaders Want?
Today’s school superintendents are faced with a plethora of challenges, including school accountability, balancing budgets, school safety and retaining talented school leaders/teachers. As CTE teachers go about their daily work in helping students develop career technical skills and behaviors, it is essential to keep school leader priorities in mind. Too often CTE teachers quietly go about their work, isolated from the rest of the school population. The CTE program might be on a different campus or at the end of one wing of the school seemingly invisible. Indeed, the students enrolled realize the value of CTE as they focus on developing skills through the many hands-on projects and experiences. If CTE is to continue to grow in importance and impact, it is critical for CTE teachers to reduce isolation and pay closer attention to the priorities and needs of the whole school community including the desires of school leaders.
Each school community has unique aspects and effective CTE teachers must develop strong relationships with school and community leaders to build support for CTE programs. However, a useful glimpse of national school leader priorities is revealed in Gallup’s 2018 Survey of K-12 School District Superintendents <>
Gallup has conducted this survey over several years. The 2018 survey shows several interesting challenges that have significantly changed from previous years. These trends are essential with which CTE teachers need to keep pace. The report listed three challenges that were much higher than previous years; preparing students for engaged citizenship, better preparing students for success in higher education and strengthening academic rigor. Each of these is challenges for which CTE is part of the solution.
CTE students work with local employers and consumers, plus through student leadership organizations are often actively involved in the community. Those experiences combined with leadership training better prepares CTE students to be engaged citizens through real-world experiences compared to many generic courses in civics.
Better Preparing Students for College
This challenge reflects the growing recognition that the appropriate goal for high school students is not college acceptance but developing the focus and perseverance to complete a college degree. Many educators do not think about the connection between CTE and college. However, research shows that CTE students persist in completing a college degree at a higher rate than non-CTE peers. This positive impact of CTE is likely a result of the fact that CTE students have a career goal in mind when committing to college and often enter with college credits already earned in that major.
Strengthening Academic Rigor
Educators agree that rigor is good, but disagree on how to challenge students to effectively develop rigor in student thinking. Schools embrace expanding more difficult courses such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate in efforts to make a more rigorous curriculum. These do place higher hurdles for students, but often result in many students discouraged because they are sorted out of these elite courses. Advanced courses are not the only way to achieve rigor. Rigor comes from having students tackle any challenging complex problems. CTE teachers create real-world technical problems that are equally rigorous. However, in CTE, student are more likely to persevere in solving these problems and developing more rigorous thinking because they see the relevance of the problem. Effectively integrating academics in CTE and partnering with academic teachers is an excellent way to develop rigorous thinking. Getting more students to high rigor often means having more students experience relevant CTE courses.
Another interesting observation in the Gallup poll is the two highest rated measures of “effectiveness of the public school.” It is interesting to note that achievement in standardized tests was the lowest of the seven categories. Highest rated were engaged in school, and hopeful about their future. CTE is a valuable school service which engages students and gives students hope. The most optimistic, confident and engaged students are those who have found their way to one of the many CTE programs which align with their passion.
Most school leaders 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. CTE contributes to that agenda in many ways. It is crucial for CTE teachers to maintain high-quality instructional programs, develop strong work-based learning placements and build strong student leadership organizations and then communicate how valuable CTE programs are to the things that school leaders want to achieve.