Eduporium Weekly | Career and Technical Education Shows Promise
We can try to force it all we want, but traditional education is not for everyone. There will always be students who simply have no interest in paying attention in a classroom or feel like the work they are doing is meaningless. Even with the addition of STEM tools and more active learning, these students oftentimes fail to feel fulfilled. With career and technical education, however, they’re able to increase this active learnxing even more and gain skills in areas that can truly help them. CTE, while it may not be for everyone, certainly is for some students and it can give them the head start on the future that they want and need.
CTE’s Place and Value in a High School
When CTE does become an option to replace typical classroom instruction, it usually happens for students who are in their high school years rather than for younger kids. It allows students with specific skills and interests to begin refining and pursuing them while they learn the tricks of the trade during the school day. Instead of wasting their time in a classroom learning about formulas or inorganic compounds, students with specific goals can start chasing them. CTE encompasses a huge array of career opportunities, including some of the most popular over time, like plumbing, electronics, and architecture. As STEM careers, like computer science, continue to dominate the modern economy, however, students are able to focus all of their attention on preparing for the future thanks to the creation of CTE programs at their schools.
The basic draw of a CTE program is that it includes the practical experiences that go beyond the classroom. Students are still taking classes at their high school, but they’re generally able to gain the hands-on experience as well in the form of internships or apprenticeships. In a good CTE program, these experiences would be geared towards helping students develop specific, career-oriented skills for the field they are interested in pursuing while preaching the importance of work readiness. CTE programs can also accommodate students whether they plan on attending college or not. For those who do not want to commit to college, they can receive enough training to enter the workforce directly after graduation and for those who would like to pursue a degree, CTE programs can help kids learn the soft skills that will help complement their labor skills in the real world.
The real benefits of career and technical education are seen when students are able to integrate academic skills into a real world context. When they have something to look forward to and motivate them, students will often show improvement in other academic areas as well. Although CTE had declined in schools over the last 30 or so years, with the rise of the STEM economy, it’s bouncing back and becoming just as relevant as ever. This correlation has also lead to many states allocating funding specifically for the CTE programs that will prepare their students for the future. While it doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, students who have the opportunity to partake in a CTE program in high school generally find a sustainable career option more quickly. It’s not for everyone, but it could definitely help students who think they might need a change.
CTE Has a lot of Positive Effects on Education
Consistently and across many different audiences, there are regular discussions about how American education is lagging behind the rest of the world. There are accusations of school materials being out of date, teaching methods being those of the past, and a number of other shortcomings. Among those is the fact that students continue leaving schools without having received quite enough real-world preparation. Even if they are going on to college before entering the workforce, many feel that these students are not adequately prepared for the next step in their education. And, if college is that next step, they’re often not prepared for that. One of the best potential solutions to combat these shortcomings has been the introduction of career and technical education. Following the traditional model of vocational education, CTE programs in schools are now preparing students for the jobs of the future with a dedicated focus on skills development.
Today’s world, however, demands that all students receive high-level learning and as little finite education as possible. This education should also provide them with observable connections to potential career paths, which, these days, are likely going to involve STEM. By incorporating CTE into their classrooms, teachers are able to prepare their students for these potential careers by employing different instructional methods, such as project-based learning, design thinking, and technology integration. Makerspaces have also proved effective in preparing children for a next step that includes a large amount of technical challenges. CTE combines classroom learning with hands-on experiences, guided instruction, relative electives, and more, making it a contemporary solution for students seeking real-world readiness.
Most importantly, CTE programs effectively incorporate required teaching standards, making them able to become a regular part of the curriculum. School leaders have responded to the global economy and created programs that allow students to learn CTE skills while connecting them directly to that learning, creating meaningful ways to learn content, and getting them thinking about their long-term career goals. The foundation of CTE in general is solid and its intentions are obviously to allow students to get set up to enter a career in stride. Some of its other benefits include more student choice, partnerships with local companies that offer authentic experiences, and skills-focused instruction. There are only so many things students can learn from being in a classroom all day and CTE is one of the best ways to get them active and truly prepared to take that next step.
How Today’s CTE Does More to Incorporate Academics
In the past, vocational education meant that students strictly focused on learning a trade and did almost nothing else. This was all well and good, but, in today’s economy, they are going to need to know more than just one specific skill. Students pursuing dentistry, for example, are going to need to be fairly proficient in working with computers due to the high amount of work contemporary dentists use these machines for every day. And, with computers comes the necessity of coding. Not every viable profession will require that today’s students master all angles of coding, but believe us when we say that a lot of them will. Coding is just one example of how CTE has evolved to include a broader spectrum of skills than it did even just five or 10 years ago. Courses that were once only part of vocational programs are finding their way into the core academic subjects.
Previously, vocational education was considered by most to be low-tech and non-academic. With the shift to CTE, however, has come a significantly more prominent focus on incorporating academic skills while teaching the specific labor skills. Fixing a car, for example, is no longer as simple as looking under the hood. As we touched on in the previous paragraph, mechanics, like dentists, are now using any number of various computer programs to run diagnostic tests and must understand how these programs work. Even if a student was enrolled in a CTE program preparing them for working in a factory, they would have to get comfortable with technology. Why is this? You may have heard something about the increasing presence of robotics in factory settings. If high schools were to simply focus on ‘vocational’ in their CTE programs, they would not be providing their students with the skills they need to thrive in these new professions.
Clearly, academic skills have a place in CTE classes, but this notion works the other way around, too. CTE skills have a place in a lot of academic classes and this is starting to become preached by teachers, in many cases, long before students reach high school. More elementary schools are starting to expose children to CTE elements in their regular classes or even creating courses wholly dedicated to a CTE disciplines, like construction, engineering, or health. This helps teachers gauge their students’ aptitude for a certain potential profession as well as their interest in that area. If they don’t go on to develop a legitimate interest in that CTE possibility, then no problem. They’ve still learned some skills they can use in other areas. As the economy continues to reward those who make a commitment to mastering one CTE-related skill, it’s important for teachers to remember that these skills can be taught in other subjects and serve as a foundation for all students no matter what their interests might be.
Must-haves for CTE Success
Creating CTE programs in schools isn’t always quite enough. We want career and technical education to fulfill everything that the students taking the courses expect from it. With so much potentially riding on these experiences, educators should not be leaving the success of their programs up to fate. Obviously, proper planning and research can help them create the best CTE experiences possible and meet the expectations their students have. Whether teachers are tasked with starting from the bottom or revitalizing a school’s existing CTE efforts, it can sometimes be tough to know exactly where to begin, though. They should be considering the courses offered, what should be included in the curriculum, what should not be, and the resources they have to work with. It can be tough, but the more in-depth school leaders get with their planning, the more successful CTE programs will be.
The first things school leaders should do is assess their resources and find out in detail what they’re up against. This usually means obtaining a copy of the school or district’s financial reports. States allot a certain amount of money to fund CTE programs and knowing how to access and maximize these dollars for supplies, equipment, transportation, and space is key. Knowing what the district should not be charging you for (electricity, water, etc.) is also important. Teachers also need to be sure that their programs are lining up with what their states require for graduation. Even if students are learning valuable skills, they could be forced to graduate late if not all requirements are met. It might also be helpful to decide as a team what some of the most important skills are. Not everyone will agree, but having a general idea will help ensure that students are learning a lot to help them in the real world.
A lot of the time, the most helpful resources for CTE leaders are other educators. School leaders should take advantage of this and look into the programs being run at other schools nearby, picking the brains of the teachers most deeply involved to see what works and what doesn’t. Curriculum providers can also help with this by offering suggestions on how to refresh the current curriculum with CTE-related endeavors. After this is done and you get closer to officially launching programs, it’s a good idea to compile information on all teachers in the school to lay out who can teach what and which CTE classes can also fulfill core credits. School leaders also need to be sure each teacher is certified to teach each of their classes. Allowing enough time to make sure these things all get done without a lot of stress should ensure greater CTE success.
More Schools are Transitioning to CTE Centers
The CTE fad (if we can even still call it a fad) has led to a number of high schools across the country rethinking their offerings for students. Clearly, CTE opportunities hold a number of real-world benefits for students and the things they learn from hands-on training are irreplaceable. It’s not just STEM careers they’re training for, though, or at least the jobs we tend to think of as being STEM careers, like engineers and computer coders. CTE programs allow students to train for just about anything -- from being EMT’s to architects. For schools struggling to engage students and even keep enrollment up, the CTE route is becoming more and more appealing, so much so that a number of schools are receiving complete makeovers. This would save students and teachers from having to travel to other locations for on-the-job training if they had access to the equipment and facilities needed to prepare students right at the school.
As these transitions occur, school leaders are also keeping the option available in case parents want their children to remain in a traditional school environment. Especially if school systems are getting a new building, this has proven to be an effective approach. They would then move all CTE-related business to a building that is being vacated. Having a space that’s solely used for CTE endeavors could have more benefits than just the obvious for students. Along with more regular CTE experiences, their class sizes could become smaller if not all students are participating. This, in turn, would allow for more direct instruction from their teachers. It would also allow educators the opportunity to be certain all students have mastered what they need to know before moving on to something new.
If this is not a possibility, however, schools may be forced to look to offsite locations to accommodate the growing number of students pursuing CTE. Like adding a new computer lab or a makerspace, school leaders would simply have to make preparations for adding an additional classroom or converting an existing one. It would help if it was a large space that could fit at least some equipment, but, if not, perhaps that could be added at a later time. The expanded classroom space could lead to the CTE program expanding and offer more students the chance to find something they enjoy. With CTE instruction, they could be on their way to earning certificates for certain fields at the same time they’re earning credits toward a diploma. Having the space to facilitate this multi-faceted approach to education could prove to be very helpful for students both now and in the future as career and technical education opportunities continue to impact 21st century learning.
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Image: © High Desert Education Service District