Associate Commissioner Dale Winkler and Vice President of the Southern Regional Education Board Gene Bottoms present "From Two Systems to One World-Class System of Technical Centers" to the interim joint committee on education. Photo by Amy Wallot, June 9, 2014

Associate Commissioner Dale Winkler and Vice President of the Southern Regional Education Board Gene Bottoms present “From Two Systems to One World-Class System of Technical Centers” to the interim joint committee on education.
Photo by Amy Wallot, June 9, 2014

By Brenna R. Kelly

If Kentucky wants a world-class system of career and technical centers producing students who are ready for college and careers, the state is on the right track but has a lot of work to do, according to a report by the Southern Regional Education Board.

The board studied the state’s current system of state-operated technical centers and centers operated by the school district and made several recommendations on how Kentucky can move career and technical education into the 21st Century.

In 2012, the 53 state-operated centers and 42 locally-operated centers came under the guidance of the newly-created Office of Career and Technical Education within the Kentucky Department of Education. However, there are still differences in funding, teacher professional learning and how the centers operate, the report stated.

The two systems also had separate standards for their curriculum so the departments developed a uniform curriculum framework, said Dale Winkler, associate commissioner for the Office of Career and Technical Education.

“Aligning of the standards was the first thing we did after the office was created, the second was getting this report done, then we’ll look at governance, funding and enhancement of our programs,” Winkler said.

This summer Gene Bottoms, senior vice president of SREB, and Winkler presented the report to the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Education. The report was presented to the state’s Community and Technical Education Advisory Committee in April.

“There are great variances among the 95 centers about the quality of the work,” Bottoms told the committee. “But by building joint policies and connecting to the community and technical colleges you can greatly increase the percentage of young people who acquire the advance level of certification, associate degrees and higher.”

The SREB report made four recommendations:

  • Study the funding of the centers and figure out how to create an equitable and adequate funding system.
  • Establish an accountability system that measures outcomes and looks at the implementation of best practices.
  • Create a single system of world-class technical centers.
  • Establish stronger, more formal ties between the state’s secondary and postsecondary educational institutions and business and industry by creating regional and local advisory committees.

“To have a world-class system of technical centers, there has to be a much clearer connection between those centers and your community colleges and employers,” Bottoms said. “There are some things you cannot learn at school, you can only learn at the worksite.”

The report also included a teacher survey which showed that CTE teachers do not feel they have had enough professional learning and support, Winkler said in an interview.

“We were really good about providing them technical update training, but training centered on academic integration, true project-based learning, classroom management – we haven’t done a very good job of providing teachers that type of professional learning,” he said.

This school year 18 of the 95 centers will participate in a pilot professional learning program that will pair the highest performing centers with some of the lower performing centers. The idea is to have teachers learning from one another, Winkler said.

The Department of Education is also connecting all of the state-operated centers to the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System and Infinite Campus. Also, all teachers at area technical centers will being participating in the new Professional Growth and Development System in 2015-16, then in 2016-17 it will be part of teacher’s accountability.

The state was doing a better job at preparing the students academically than it was technically, the report showed. In 2012-13, 63 percent of students at the 95 centers met the academic career-ready benchmark, while only 49 percent met the technical career ready benchmark, and 40 percent met both.

The state’s goal should be to have 90 percent of students who complete at least three career and technical courses meeting both the academic and technical career ready benchmarks, the report states. And the state should make it easier for students to receive dual credit – taking college classes while still in high school.

The report also surveyed manufacturers who told SREB that the state has too many single-skill programs. The companies said they want to see programs that teach a broad range of skills and produce workers who can do research, think critically and are very flexible and nimble.

“They need to be able to think, to design a product or program and then be able to trouble shoot when it doesn’t work and be able to communicate throughout the process,” Winkler said.

Many CTE teachers area used to following drill sheets or teaching one specific skill but they need to be able to show students how reading, math and science relate to the technical skills students are learning, he said.

“What I tell teachers is that CTE is applied academics, you have to be able to read technical manuals, you have to be able to apply math and physics,” Winkler said. “It’s not that you’re teaching math so much as you’ve helped them recognize the connections between literacy, math, science and the technical standards or skills you are teaching.”

The report also urged the state to develop new programs for different areas of the state based on the needs of employers in that area. The state was lacking in manufacturing, transportation, distribution, logistics and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs, the report stated.

“We could not find one logistics program in high school or community college and yet you have in Louisville one of the preeminent movers of materials,” Bottoms told the joint committee.

The report recommended that each center have an advisory committee made up of business people, college representatives, teachers, administrators and parents to help decide on programs.

And students should be learning about those programs and the careers that can come from career and technical education at a much younger age, the report stated. Counselors should start having students explore career opportunities in middle school and schools should advertise the programs, it stated.

“You can’t see yourself in a career field if you don’t know about it,” Bottoms told the committee. “Through technology field trips, getting to know people in different areas, you can help middle grade students begin to fill their heads with the potential dreams and opportunities.”

Dale Winkler,
Kentucky Report: From Two systems to One World-Class System of Technical Centers