As we advocate for CTE during February, encouraging news comes in a report from the American Enterprise Institute. The report quantifies the recent uptick in attention that CTE has garnered in state policy, on campaign trails, and in the media. The report states that CTE media coverage has increased more than a hundredfold since 1998 and more than double since 2012. The report looked specifically at articles mentioning "career and technical education," noting that the term supplanted the use of "vocational education" 15 years ago. The research also shows the decline in recent “hot” topics in education over the last decade, including teacher evaluation, Common Core, and No Child Left Behind. This is exciting news for those of us working in CTE, although it does seem a bit strange since CTE is not new, but somehow has been “discovered” among the rhetoric of new initiatives designed to improve student learning.
A cautionary note in this “discovery” is that we now collectively have a responsibility to “step up our game.” We must ensure that our CTE programs are of high quality. Increased scrutiny typically brings criticism as well as accolades. The expanded interest and press can uncover weak programs that are out of date or poorly delivered, along with the successful ones. We also realize that no “hot” topic in the press stays hot forever. Soon the press will move to something else, so during this time of attention, CTE leaders need to expand significantly efforts to inform fellow educators, community leaders, parents and students of the benefits and critical elements of high-quality CTE program. CTE educators must expand their professional networks and contacts to support and sustain programs when the spotlight is no longer focused on CTE.
We must do more than just take a bow and note that this attention is long overdue. This is a time to build stronger connections with school leaders, school boards, and political leaders with the message that CTE plays an integral role in contributing to student academic success and life
The most encouraging aspect of this enhanced coverage of CTE is that the press is not only discovering CTE but also finally discovering that the most critical component of K-12 education is the students themselves. CTE has always made sense because it is a superb way to reach and teach students. Students find it engaging to work on relevant hands-on projects. CTE is a great equalizer in creating opportunities for gifted, average, and struggling students to work together in learning projects. There is no tracking or hierarchy in CTE; it is about everyone working together to learn skills, acquire knowledge, and get the work done. CTE is by its nature personalized because students choose programs of interest and discover their strengths and talents. In contrast, “personalization” in academic subjects takes the form of individually leveled and paced learning, but the delivery — drill and practice on a computer screen — hardly involves true personalization.
Previous hot topics such as standards, student testing, and teacher evaluation are all valiant efforts with sound research behind them. However, the initiatives do not consider living, breathing highly individual students involved. These system reforms all operate on the false assumption that all students are the same, ready to be molded into high school graduates. The notion for the last two decades has been that clear standards and high-quality uniform instruction, along with challenging assessments, will result in success for all students. But students have a variety of strengths and interests and will devote passionate energy to a task they find interesting. The recent school reform initiatives may have been “hot” from the adult perspective, however, they were not energizing in the students’ view. CTE works! It works because students are deeply engaged in their learning.
Let’s hope we have turned a corner and do not need another new “fix” to education but rather support and enhance existing CTE programs and expand new programs. It is time education leaders recognize the talented teachers who work with students to explore and develop their talents through career and technical education.