All Articles Education Career-Technical Education You can't spell "college and career" without CTE

You can’t spell “college and career” without CTE

6 min read

Career-Technical Education

Okay, so maybe you don’t need the “T” in “CTE” to spell “college and career,” but I gather that you get my point even without reading any further.

But, humor me, and read on.

With so much of the national edu-talk being about making sure that learners of all ages are “college and career ready,” you might think that this form of readiness is easy to define. But that isn’t the case. I conducted a quick, informal Google search  and found that each of the five links I clicked on related to college and career readiness all had different definitions. Even the similarities were problematic. Despite having similar wording tied to ensuring that learners have the knowledge and skills necessary to hold successful careers, the broadness of such an idea prevents any of us from interpreting deep meaning.

That being said, there is something that is crystal clear when it comes to being ready for what comes after 12th grade, and it is something that I have only learned since working in my current agency.

We’ll never be able to reach “college and career readiness” — whatever that truly is — without first understanding the importance of career and technical education — CTE — for all.

Unfortunately, for me, I didn’t realize this until my career had already begun, and boy, what a shame this is. Growing up, my exposure to CTE courses was minimal. Sure, I had to take “tech” in middle school, but beyond that, my credit requirements for graduation were more or less decided, and my pathway never took me beyond a long-distance view of what CTE was, and could be.

And yet, had I taken some of the CTE courses that were out there, including auto mechanics, electrical, plumbing, horticulture and cosmetology, I would have been a more prepared professional for work in my field, and more importantly, life in general.

In fact, in my current role, I see how powerful CTE exposure really is for students. My agency rests on four pillars, all of which revolve around providing service for our regional districts. We assist with special education, curriculum development, management services and CTE. Since arriving here, I’m constantly awestruck with the work our CTE students do, both during their time here and after.

Whether it is trimming branches to promote tree health or repairing student — and employee — vehicles, there is much that these students know that I only wish I did. And it doesn’t stop there. Last year, I had the chance to talk with a recent student whose CTE experience at our agency led her to open a successful restaurant in lower Manhattan.

Whether these learners attend college or go straight into a trade, their career preparation upon leaving high school will be much more developed than mine ever was, and even if they don’t use their CTE expertise as a career, who wouldn’t want to be able to create a tasty risotto or provide health services to those in need?

Career and college success isn’t just about what we accomplish in the classroom or boardroom. Instead, our success at life is also based on how well we can address the myriad of situations we encounter, both from an efficiency standpoint and an effectiveness one.

Judging by the four hours it took me to figure out how to change out a light fixture and replace it with another, having a deeper understanding of electrical work would have helped me to make the switch quicker, have the end result look a little bit “nicer,” and would have given me the chance to put the time saved to other use. And by the way, my focus in college was on science; while I understand the science of why the fixture worked, I never experienced the how of making it work.

All this has got me thinking: What if all students were required to take a CTE strand as part of graduation? What if one of the required science or math, ELA or social studies courses was a CTE course that focused on the intricacies of that area; say for instance, the physical science of electricity or the history of the automobile, tied to the actual “doing” of the content?

Students would be required to take a subject-based CTE experience for graduation, and while it might not provide the full gamut of world information required — only true experience can do this– , it would do wonders in helping learners see how the content they experience can be related to a career or technical experience.

Recently, New York State took a small step in this direction. Through the Pathways model that went into effect just last month, students will be able to trade out one of their Regents exams — currently a social studies one — for a measure in another area. So, a student could build in an additional accepted CTE assessment. While this is a move in the right direction, it isn’t enough. My daughters still won’t be required to explore a CTE avenue, and that is a shame. Until we place CTE on the same pedestal as other “academic” subjects, many students will see it as a “could have” rather than a “must have.”

Here’s the thing: Cultivating a group of well-rounded leaders and learners is the only way we’ll ever reach college and career readiness as a nation. If we aren’t ready for all that life can throw at us, then why would we assume we’re ready for college and career success?

The way to marry these ideas? By making sure that students don’t graduate until they’ve truly experienced education that is tied to careers and technical subjects.

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the director of SCIENCE 21 and currently serves as Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES. Fred is an ASCD Emerging Leader and along with writing here, he also blogs at ASCD EDge.

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