By Tim Thornberry
For decades there has been a misconception that Career and Technical Education (CTE) and mainstream academics were separate educational entities leading students in separate directions.
But, as the need for more students with real-world work skills has grown, so has the realization that an academic core has existed in CTE programs. The problem has been a matter of speaking two different education languages, one from CTE teachers and the other from their academic counterparts.
A recent report by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) regarding CTE in Kentucky found that CTE teachers across the state felt they needed professional learning opportunities and a focus on the academics to bridge this gap.
The task at hand now is to make that happen, ensuring college- and career-readiness goals are met and students are ready to transition from high school to the next level, be it college, career, apprenticeship, certification training or the military.
Laura Arnold, director of the Division of Technical Schools and Federal Programs in the Office of Career and Technical Education (OCTE), said 16 schools have been identified to participate in Technology Centers that Work, a network of teams that include CTE and academic teachers along with school administrators and guidance counselors from each of those school districts.
“We have found that when a dialogue is opened between all parties involved, we are standing on more common ground than we think,” she said.
That was evident during a series of workshops OCTE held to create action plans related to their districts’ continuous improvement plans and to bring these two similar educational entities closer together.
The first step in doing so was for each team to do an institutional review of the school, where suggestions for improvement were made and strengths were identified, Arnold said.
“Next was a two-day workshop where schools created a continuous improvement plan based on feedback,” she said.
After that came leadership training for principals and a teacher-leader, along with training on how to create regional advisory boards.
Dave Leavitt, a consultant for Technology Centers That Work and High Schools That Work, two SREB programs, led the beginning workshops and said Kentucky is helping to change the face of CTE.
“As we have moved from old-school vocational tech-type mentality to true CTE, requiring in-depth exploration, the recognition that really it’s just quality education with a CTE theme, that’s what we’re looking at,” he said. “By recognizing and celebrating the academics in technical education, and identifying the standards with our academic teachers, we’re able to move forward in that arena of CTE.”
Leavitt noted that students have long achieved more when involved with some type of project-based learning.
“It’s been a well-kept secret that only about 40 percent of our students learn well from direct instruction,” he said. “The other 60 percent, nationwide, learn much better from applied instruction like we do in career and tech-ed.”
Leavitt said that now the important thing is make sure the quality standards within career and tech-ed are met. He added that Kentucky has become a national leader in moving CTE forward.
Ultimately, however, it is what business and industry needs by way of qualified employees that should help guide educational endeavors.
Leavitt said education and training has not matched labor needs in the past, and recognizing CTE is a strong effort to match the needs of the country with the workforce we have.
Bringing the academic and CTE worlds together
As the new year begins, two teachers from each participating school, one a beginning teacher and the other a volunteer, will participate in another two-day workshop on basic instructional strategies.
In addition, there will be a second professional learning experience focused around project-based learning where teachers will select a unit of study. During that three-day workshop participants will begin to plan a true project-based learning experience.
Follow up coaching visits will be made to see what progress those teachers have made and make suggestions.
There will be one more workshop to put the finishing touches on the project before another round begins in June.
Arnold said she would like to see this type of activity expand to more Career and Tech centers throughout the state. She emphasized that often academic teachers observe their CTE counterparts and see that academic component being taught, just not with the same language.
“It’s a matter of setting aside time to plan the lesson to ensure the same language is being used so a student can make that connection and it will become relevant,” she said.
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