Career and Technical Education

  • Over the last decade and a half, American education reform has focused on improving traditional academic curricula, with performance measured by standardized exams and related modes of accountability for schools, teachers and students.   That reform model has generated mixed results, and some have criticized the limitations of  what seems to be a “one size fits all” approach to educational excellence. Furthermore, the emergence of the global knowledge economy has placed new and challenging demands on American education. In order to prepare American students for 21st century jobs in this knowledge economy, and to deepen their engagement in the rigorous classwork that is called for, an increasing number of educators argue, the emergence of high-quality Career and Technical Education is an important development.

    This is no easy task. We must overcome the legacy of past vocational education programs, which too often tracked students from working families and students of color into low-wage, unskilled jobs bereft of opportunities for economic and social improvement. In this context, CTE must bring forward and update the most successful aspects of the vocational education tradition.

    The evidence is strong that quality CTE can provide powerful motivation for students to graduate from high school and go on to post-secondary education. Across America, only 3 in every 4 students graduate high school on time, in four years. The numbers are significantly better, however, for students with a concentration in Career and Technical Education: 9 in every 10 graduate on time. Of students who graduate high school with a Career and Technical concentration, 7 in every 10 go on to enroll in post-secondary education. After  two years, 4 in every 5 of these students have either completed their course of study and earned a certificate, or remain  enrolled in a program. [1]CTE can create a tangible connection to a desirable future, with meaningful work and good paying jobs. It transforms the classroom into an arena of accomplishment.  Its focus on real world skills and successes can instill in students a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work that carries over to their studies. For students living in poverty and/or at risk for dropping out, CTE can provide a pathway to finishing one’s education, with all that means for their futures. Educators in all the states recognize the need to place increased emphasis on the sort of contextual education represented by the CTE approach.

     
  • Safely Re-Opening America's Schools

    Event Date
    The question of how schools can be reopened in ways that protect the health and safety of students, teachers and other adult staff is not only a challenging one, but one which is dynamic and changing, as we grapple with new developments such as regional outbreaks and rising incidences of COVID-19 related pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome. This webinar examined those challenges, discussed the current state of our knowledge on best practices and sound policies, and provided guidance to educators and policymakers on how to move forward under harrowing circumstances. Watch the video of the panel.
  • The 2018 Elections: What Do They Mean for American Education?

    Event Date
    What are the implications of the results of the 2018 election for American education, in Washington D.C,. in state capitols and in the nation’s schools and classrooms? From a variety of perspectives ranging from political actor to scholar, our panelists will address this question. Speakers: Domingo Morel assistant professor, political science, Rutgers University; visiting scholar, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University; Michael Petrilli, president, Thomas B. Fordham Institute; research fellow, Stanford University's Hoover Institution; executive editor, Education Next; distinguished senior fellow, Education Commission of the States; Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers and Albert Shanker Institute. Moderator: Michelle Ringuette, assistant to the president for labor, government & political affairs, American Federation of Teachers. Watch the video.
  • Quality Teaching: Individual and Social Approaches

    Event Date

    This two-panel conversation focused on theresults of the annual “PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools,” and their implications for policy and practice, taking on the question of how government, schools of education, school districts and schools can promote, nurture and support quality teaching. Watch the video.

  • Fulfilling The Promise Of a Quality Education for All: 21st Century Career & Technical Education

    Event Date

    This New York City conference (co-sponsored with the UFT) was designed to allow participants to share their expertise in CTE policy, practice, and research, as well as to deepen their understanding of how quality CTE can serve to expand the educational and career horizons of all students. Participants also considered a statement of recommendations on what needs to be done to develop and support quality CTE programs in U.S. education.

  • Experts Debate Role of Career and Technical Education

    Event Date

    Education reform will fail a vast number of U.S. students unless the role of career and technical education (CTE, formerly called vocational education) is reconsidered, recast and placed in the mainstream of K-12 curriculum design. These were some of the conclusions of a small group of top federal and state policymakers, educators, business and labor leaders, practitioners, researchers and other workforce experts who took part in an informal conversation on Feb. 17, hosted by AFT president Randi Weingarten and sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute.

  • "Modernizing Career and Technical Education (CTE), High School's Neglected Resource for Comprehensive Post-Secondary Preparation."

    Event Date

    In this February, 2010 off-the-record Conversation, top federal and state policymakers, educators, business and labor leaders, practitioners, researchers and other experts with an interest in Career and Technical Education (CTE), including Education Secretary Arne Duncan and American Federation of Teachers and Shanker Institute President Randi Weingarten discussed the achievements and challenges facing high quality CTE. Following the Conversation, one of several sponsored by the Institute on key education topics, the Institute published a Compendium of the issues and questions addressed by the group.

  • Let’s Talk Foundations: Oral Language Development I

    Oral language—listening and talking—is the primary means by which young children learn about and interact with the world. This training module for early childhood educators offers simple but powerful ideas to support young children build the skills, knowledge, vocabulary, and attitudes that can help prepare them for future academic learning across the content areas. Here, we offer excerpted materials for a workshop on supporting English language learners.

  • Let’s Talk PD: Early Mathematics Development

    This training module for early childhood educators provides an overview of the research and standards on age-appropriate mathematics development, including practical takeaway materials to help assist in instructional. The most important early childhood mathematical foundations are addressed, including numerical sense and problem solving, building math vocabulary, using math manipulatives, and curriculum integration. The materials may be presented as a very intensive one-day session or broken into separate workshops. This excerpt contains materials for a workshop on curriculum integration.

  • Let’s Talk PD: Early Science Development

    This module for early childhood educators provides research-based information on early science development in the three key areas of physical science, life science, and earth science, along with applied information for improving instruction in each area. These materials can be implemented as an intensive, day-long professional development seminar or broken up into a series of workshops. This excerpt contains materials for a workshop on life science.

  • CTE Models

    Advocates of  the high quality CTE approach argue that it eschews the ‘one size fits all’ approach to education, without sacrificing rigor.

  • Education Must Be Part Of Our Coronavirus Response

    Our guest author today is Stanley Litow, Professor at Duke and Columbia Universities, where he teaches about the role of corporations in society, and the author of The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward. He formerly led Corporate Social Responsibility at IBM, where he was twice selected as CEO of the Year by Corporate Responsibility Magazine.

    Americans are doing their best to cope with coronavirus and the disruption and healthcare emergency it has caused in all of our lives. We are in the midst of a crisis we have not experienced over many generations. The impact on our economy will be cataclysmic, affecting all Americans in all states and territories. Millions of jobs are at risk, along with savings and retirements. But as horrific as this event is (and it is clearly not over), a coordinated response and massive spending from local, state, and federal governments can help to mitigate the disaster and speed recovery. Whether it takes months or years, we will experience a recovery. And while the economic disruption will last for a very long time, the educational disruption is likely to last much longer. A generation of America's children have seen their educations thrown into chaos and we will need a response equal to, and perhaps greater than, what our governments are now doing.

    With little time for preparation or planning, just months before the end of the school year, schools across the nation were abruptly forced to close. While some parents are attempting to continue their children's learning opportunities at home, the vast majority of American children are receiving little to no educational support. School districts across the nation have also started to deliver some hastily produced classes online, but families at the bottom of the economic system often have no access to technology or internet access, making the challenge almost impossible. In addition, most other educational entities have been closed: public libraries, museums, after-school programs, and not-for-profit social services agencies, etc., leaving impoverished families with few viable options, even for public access to online schooling. 

    When our schools reopen, as they ultimately will, and the economic and health crises have begun to improve, our schools will still need a focused, sustained, and elevated national response, and it must have the support of all Americans and every segment of society. The 2020-21 school year will be a test for our nation.

  • Does College Matter? Of Course

    Our guest author today is Stanley Litow, adjunct professor at Duke and Columbia Universities. At Duke, he also serves as Innovator in Residence. He previously served as Deputy Schools Chancellor for New York City and is President Emeritus of the IBM Foundation and a member of the Albert Shanker Institute Board of Directors.

    Over the last 35 years, since the release of A Nation At Risk, the nation has focused on the need for school reform and used high school graduation rates as the single most important benchmark for measuring educational success. This is somewhat ironic, given that high school attendance in the U.S. was not made mandatory until the end of the Second World War. Before that, virtually every state had a requirement for school attendance from grade one through grade eight, but high school attendance, just like college attendance now, was strictly voluntary. Of course, in the first half of the 20th century, significant numbers of  well paying jobs in manufacturing and other areas of work only required an eighth grade education. Beginning in the 1970s and into 1984 and over the following three decades, the number of good jobs with competitive wages that were available to those who had only completed eighth grade began a precipitous decline. For many years, it has been clear that a high school diploma or higher is absolutely essential to achieving a pathway to a middle class life. America's response to the challenge of raising the percentage of high school graduates was far from perfect, but with exceptions, we have seen a steady increase in high school graduation rates in most though not all states. Beginning in the early years of the 21st Century, however, changes in the U.S. economy have made it crystal clear that high school diplomas, while still extremely important, are not enough to enable most Americans to achieve the “middle-class dream.”

    In this light, the recent report, "Building a Grad Nation," is an important read. It documents the progress that the nation has made in higher high school graduation rates—the overall high school graduation rate showed an increase from 79 percent in 2011 to close to 85 percent by 2017. This statistic represents an increase of 3.5 million U.S. students who graduated from high school instead of dropping out over the last 15 years.

  • Perkins And The Benefits Of Collaboration

    Our guest author today is Stan Litow, a professor of Public Policy at both Duke and Columbia University. He is a former deputy chancellor of schools in New York City, former president of the IBM Foundation, a trustee of the State University of New York, and a member of the Albert Shanker Institute’s board of directors. His book, The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward, was published this year.

    This July, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, after a dozen years of inaction, unanimously passed legislation to update the Federal Career and Technical Education law. By doing so, Congress increased funding for Career and Technical Education to nearly $1.3 billion in the coming year. The law is called the Perkins Act, named after a former member of Congress. It can go a long way toward addressing America’s skills crisis and providing many of our young people with real economic opportunity. Given the contentious Washington climate, broad bipartisan support for Perkins—including strong private sector, labor union and education backing—is truly noteworthy. But as we consider how this happened, it brings to mind another action that took place more than 80 years ago involving another Perkins: Frances Perkins.

    On the 25th anniversary of Social Security, Frances Perkins, America's first cabinet member to be a woman, said "It would not have happened without IBM." Many who saw her on film were surprised. President Roosevelt was usually critical of the private sector. What had IBM to do with Social Security? Actually a lot. After the bill to establish Social Security was signed, the Labor Department under Perkins had to implement it. She sought outside help to design an implementation plan, yet everyone she approached said it would take years. When she approached Tom Watson Sr., IBM's CEO, she got a different answer. His team of engineers told him it might be possible to implement it sooner, but it would require the investment of several million dollars (about a hundred million in today’s dollars) to create what they called a "collator."

  • In Memoriam: Eugenia Kemble

    It is with great sorrow that we report the death of Eugenia Kemble, the founding executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, after a long battle with fallopian tube cancer. “Genie” Kemble helped to conceive of and launch the institute in 1998, with the support of the late Sandy Feldman, then president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Endowed by the AFT and named in honor of the AFT’s iconic former president, the Albert Shanker Institute was established as a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research reports and fostering candid exchanges on policy options related to the issues of public education, labor, and democracy.

    A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Manila, Genie entered the teacher union movement as part of a cohort of young Socialist Party activists who were close to Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and deeply involved in the civil rights struggle. She began her career in 1967 as a reporter for the newspaper of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the AFT’s New York City local, and became a top aide to then UFT president Albert Shanker. She was a first-hand witness to the turbulent era during which Shanker served as UFT president, including the UFT strike for More Effective Schools in 1967, the harrowing Ocean Hill Brownsville strike over teachers’ due process rights in 1968, the remarkable UFT election victory to represent paraprofessionals in 1969, and the masterful bailout of a faltering New York City government through the loan of teacher pension funds in the mid-1970s.

  • Innovating To Strengthen Youth Employment

    Our guest author today is Stan Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM, President of the IBM Foundation, and a member of the Shanker Institute’s board of directors. This essay was originally published in innovations, an MIT press journal.

    The financial crisis of 2008 exposed serious weaknesses in the world’s economic infrastructure. As a former aide to a mayor of New York and as deputy chancellor of the New York City Public Schools (the largest public school system in the United States), my chief concern—and a significant concern to IBM and other companies interested in global economic stability—has been the impact of global economic forces on youth employment.

    Across the United States and around the world, youth unemployment is a staggering problem, and one that is difficult to gauge with precision. One factor that makes it difficult to judge accurately is that many members of the youth population have yet to enter the workforce, making it hard to count those who are unable to get jobs. What we do know is that the scope of the problem is overwhelming. Youth unemployment in countries such as Greece and Spain is estimated at over 50 percent, while in the United States the rate may be 20 percent, 30 percent, or higher in some cities and states. Why is this problem so daunting? Why does it persist? And, most important, how can communities, educators, and employers work together to address it?

  • A New Twist On The Skills "Blame Game"

    It is conventional wisdom that the United States is suffering from a severe skills shortage, for which low-performing public schools and inadequate teachers must shoulder part of the blame (see here and here, for example).  Employers complain that they cannot fill open slots because there are no Americans skilled enough to fill them, while pundits and policymakers – President Barack Obama and Bill Gates, among them – respond by pushing for unproven school reform proposals, in a desperate effort to rebuild American economic competitiveness.

    But, what if these assumptions are all wrong?

    What if the deficiencies of our educational system have little to do with our current competitiveness woes? A fascinating new book by Peter Cappelli, Why Good People Can't Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It , builds a strong case that common business practices - failure to invest adequately in on-the-job training, offering noncompetitive wages and benefits, and relying on poorly designed computer algorithms to screen applicants –are to blame, not failed schools or poorly prepared applicants.

  • Are Stereotypes About Career And Technical Education Crumbling?

    The stereotypes, bias, and misunderstanding that have for many decades surrounded and isolated Career and Technical Education (CTE) may slowly be crumbling.  A recent report by the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) argues that traditional CTE typology -- the way in which CTE students are identified and classified -- is obsolete.  The distinctions between “CTE” students and “academic” students are no longer useful. Today, nearly all high school students, including the highest achieving academic-track students, enroll in some CTE courses.

    Moreover, a significant number of students complete “high intensity” CTE courses as well as academic courses, in patterns that cross SES lines. In order to understand the contemporary high school experience, these researchers argue, we need a new typology based on the reality of today’s classroom, students, and curricula.

    The October 2012 study, “A Typology for Understanding the Career and Technical Education Credit-taking Experience of High School Students," proposes a new, more nuanced classification system --  one the authors believe would more accurately capture the high school experience and needs of today’s students. The researchers argue that these long-overdue changes could alter experts’ views of what students actually study in high school, break down the obsolete conceptual barriers that currently divide CTE and academic curricula, and help educators work with students to devise the most appropriate pathways to academic and career success.

  • Literacy For Life: The Role Of Career And Technical Education In Reading Proficiency

    It is well established that a student’s reading proficiency level in elementary school is a good predictor of high school graduation success. The lower the reading level, the more likely it is that the student will not graduate on time. Against this background, it is sobering that many U.S. students reach high school without the reading and comprehension skills they need. According to NAEP data, in 2011, more than a third (33 percent) of 4th-graders were reading at a below basic level; among 8th-grade and 12th grade students, the percentage of students who were stuck at the below basic reading level had dropped, but only to about 25 percent. Many of these students drop out; many go on to earn a diploma, but enter the work world singularly unprepared to earn a living.

    What is to be done? Certainly, intensive remediation is part of the answer, but so are practice and motivation and interest. The challenge for struggling readers at the high school level is hard to overstate; by the time they enter high school, they often display a negative and despairing attitude toward school that has been hardened by years of failure. Furthermore, most high school teachers are not trained in literacy instruction, a specialized skill which is theoretically the purview of early elementary school. Indeed, for many urban teachers, motivating kids just to come to school is the major challenge.

    How do we motivate these kids, who sometimes exhibit stubborn resistance to reading or to any other kind of schoolwork?  One effective strategy is to make the purpose of reading as interesting and obvious as possible. For many youngsters, that means access to high-quality Career and Technical Education (CTE).

  • The ‘Snob’ Debate: Making High School Matter For Non-College-Bound Students

    Our guest author today is James R. Stone, professor and director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education at the University of Louisville.

    The current debate about “college for all” centers on a recent speech made by President Obama in Troy, MI, in which he argued that all young people should get at least some post-high school education or training. Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum, in a misreading of Obama’s remarks, responded with a focus on four-year degrees alone—suggesting, among other things, that four-year college degrees are overrated and that the president’s emphasis on college devalued working people without such degrees. The political chatter around this particular back-and-forth continues, but the issue of “college for all” has rightly raised some serious issues about the content and direction of U.S. education policy both at the high school and post-secondary levels.

    Statistics seem to show that the college-educated  graduates of four-year institutions earn more money and experience less unemployment than their non-college-educated peers. This has fueled the argument is that college is the surest path—perhaps the only path—into the middle class. But the argument confuses correlation with causality. What if every U.S. citizen obtained a community college or university degree? Would that really do anything to alter wage rates at Starbucks, or increase salaries for home healthcare aides (an occupation projected to enjoy the highest demand over the next decade)? Of course not.

  • Apprenticeships: A Rigorous And Tested Training Model For Workers And Management

    Our guest author today is Robert I. Lerman, Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute and Professor of Economics at American University. Professor Lerman conducts research and policy analyses on employment, income support and youth development, especially as they affect low-income populations. He served on the National Academy of Sciences panel examining the U.S. post-secondary education and training system for the workplace.

     

    In a recent Washington Post article, Peter Whoriskey points out the striking paradox of serious worker shortages at a time of high unemployment.  His analysis is one of many indicating the difficulties faced by manufacturing firms in hiring enough workers with adequate occupational skills.  As a result, many firms are having serious problems meeting the demand for their products, putting on long shifts, and turning down orders.

    The article cites a survey of manufacturers indicating that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled.  The skilled jobs going begging include machinists, welders, and machine operators -- jobs that pay good wages.  So what happened?