warcraft-mmorpgby Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist

The Truth About Career & Technical Education 

“What do we do with this stuff we’re learning?”

Career & Technical Education answers that question. At many schools students learn higher-level subjects, but they might not learn where to apply the lessons. At a CTE school, applying the knowledge is the whole point. Students study a technical area in addition to academic courses, giving them a leg up not only when it comes to “college and career readiness” but in life.

Because they have chosen their field, students become intrinsic learners, which speaks volumes about the real mission of school. They are poised for success having translated their skills to the marketplace through internships and co-op experiences often before graduation.

Career & Technical Education, formerly known as “vocational education,” used to be seen as a placement  for students who couldn’t hack it in “traditional school.” I teach in a CTE high school. Although we’ve been consistently at the top of our game, recognized for our academics, our technical education, and the awards students win in the annual Skills USA Competition held in Kansas City, it’s difficult to overcome that ancient stereotype.

The idea that some students are academic and some are vocational is still at the core of the way many schools track students. This thinking should be revised. In his TEDxYouth talk “What’s School For?” Seth Godin discusses success, motivation, and the need to move away from old-style educational thinking into teaching that motivates students.

CTE does that.

Discovery Network’s Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe recently testified in front of Congress about the value of a career and technical education. As we move toward STEM and trades, CTE may be one of the solutions we’ve been seeking.

I’m a convert. I never thought about CTE until I discovered what would become my school at a job fair. I stopped at a table with a CTE tri-fold. I picked it up and was impressed. When I was in high school, vocational schools were where we traveled to win basketball games–they didn’t have an excess of girls for a girl’s team.

Looking at the flier in front of me, I saw something very different–advanced technology, video games, corporate and industrial partnerships, and cutting-edge learning which attracts students with vision. I sat for an impromptu interview.

I was sold. I got the job.

Years later, I still have to explain myself out in the public, “Oh, you work at the tech school.” I have been told my students aren’t smart, and that they can’t hack it in “real” schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, here’s some some surprising facts to help you consider CTE:

1. The national graduation rate for CTE students is higher than that of traditional high schools.

2. Many CTE students graduate with job-related proficiencies that give them a leg up in their careers.

3. Articulation agreements that allow CTE students to attend courses at technical and academic colleges get many CTE students ahead.

4. 70% of CTE students continue to postsecondary education or transfer into 4-year colleges. (National Association of State Directors of Career & Technical Education Consortium)

Programs at my CTE school include some you might be familiar with if you have visited a CTE school–programs such as Hospitality and Cosmetology and Automotive Careers. You might also be surprised to see programs like Electronics (including Robotics), Biotech, and Building Tech which emphasizing sustainability. These are cutting-edge programs that not only align with national push toward STE, but they motivate students to do their best.

This is why CTE is such a win-win. Students are motivated and employers are pleased with the level of job skills in CTE graduates. Bringing those sides together as early as possible virtually guarantees an excellent educational experience and an influx of graduates that promise to drive the economic engine toward a bright future.

The Truth About Career And Technical Education; Image attribution flickr user warcrafterblast