The "New" Vocationalism - Not Your Grandpa's Vo-Ed

A funny thing happened to me.  Someone wrote that because I believe there should be multiple ways for students to look at work/career after high school, that I was for "tracking" and that meant kids of color and ergo, that's racism.  (I know, quite the leap.) 

But here I see, from conservatives and others, that CTE (Career Technical and Education) is making - thankfully - a big comeback.  Many of these new job start in high school and involve a couple of years of community code including algebra.  Or, they are a stepping stone to a college-based career. It's not your grandpa's voc-ed and one more choice for students.

 From the right-leaning Education Next (bold mine:)
In large part, this is because CTE has been chronically neglected by American education leaders and policymakers. Many CTE advocates suspect that it’s because of the damaged “brand” of vocational education. And it’s damaged for a reason, as there was a time when the “vo-tech” track was a pathway to nowhere. “Tracking,” as practiced in the twentieth century, was pernicious. It sent a lot of kids—especially low-income and minority students—into low-paying, menial jobs, or worse.
Yet America is an anomaly. In most industrialized countries—nearly all of which outperform us on measures of academic achievement, such as PISA and TIMSS—students begin preparing for a career while still in high school. Around the world, CTE is not a track away from a successful adulthood, but rather a path towards it.
American students face a double-whammy: Not only do they lack access to high-quality secondary CTE, but then they are subject to a “bachelor’s degree or bust” mentality. And many do bust, dropping out of college with no degree, no work skills, no work experience, and a fair amount of debt. That’s a terrible way to begin adult life. We owe it to America’s students to prepare them for whatever comes after high school, not just academic programs at four-year universities.
What is today's CTE:
Despite its checkered past, modern CTE—often called “new vocationalism”—is a far cry from vo-tech. No longer isolated “shop” classes for students showing little future promise, CTE coursework is now strategic and sequenced. It entails skill building for careers in fields like information technology, health sciences, and advanced manufacturing. Secondary CTE is meant to be a coherent pathway, started in high school, into authentic technical education options, and credentials, at the postsecondary level.
Students learn skills that will help them prepare for stable careers and success in a modern, global, and competitive economy. A student who wants a future in architecture doesn’t question his first drafting course in high school. One interested in aerospace sees value in her introduction to engineering design class. An aspiring medical professional is enthusiastic, not indifferent, about high school anatomy. 
Here's a new study on this issue:
That’s where Fordham’s new study Career and Technical Education in High School: Does It Improve Student Outcomes? comes in. We wanted to know whether the students who participated in CTE—and especially those “concentrating” by taking a sequence of three or more courses aligned to a career in a specific industry—were achieving better outcomes than their peers. Were they more likely to graduate from high school? Enroll in postsecondary education? And, perhaps most importantly, be employed and earn higher wages?
Arkansas students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to graduate, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and have higher wages. Furthermore, those students are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as their peers. In addition, students who “concentrate” their CTE coursework are more likely to graduate high school by 21 percentage points compared to otherwise similar students—a truly staggering number. Concentration has positive links with the other outcomes as well. Moreover, the results of this study suggest that CTE provides the greatest boost to the kids who may need it most—boys and students from low-income families.
Great story from The Colombian about some high school students getting experience in a trade AND helping their district.
“The welding and fabrication program has a strong focus on community service and learning via real world projects” said David Richards, instructor for the program. “The unique partnership the program has forged with Pearson’s Field Education Center allows students to apply the skills they learned in the classroom to community service that helps the PFEC with their service oriented efforts.”


Po3 said…
I went to school in the 70s and "tracked" to college, while my other two siblings "tracked" to Voc Ed. Today, we are all employed in careers we love, thanks to the opportunities that were available to us all those years ago.

I am glad to see the return of these CTE opportunities, expanding on the college pathway.

Charlie Mas said…
Seattle Public Schools used to have a CTE director named Shepherd Siegel (Shep) who defined "college" as any post-secondary education. That included residential baccalaureate institutions. It also included non-residential baccalaureate institutions, two-year colleges, certification courses, and apprenticeships. Anything and everything that was structured education that came after high school qualified as "college" to him. That's the definition that I've adopted as well.
Yes, I miss Shep.
Outsider said…
Nothing is ever how it seems at first glance. Good jobs in the US have been in steady decline for almost 40 years now. Skilled trade unions prize their role as gate-keepers for what jobs remain, and nepotism is not unknown. In the 80s and 90s, there was a lot of complaint (not necessarily in Seattle, but back east) about minorities being excluded from the skilled trades because they tended not to have fathers or uncles already in the union. School industrial arts programs are not only much more open than union apprenticeship programs, but threatened to over-produce prospective workers and drive wages down. If your memory only spans the last two weeks, you think I am crazy. But if you actually go back and look at the chalk lines traced around the corpse of high school industrial arts, back when they died 30 years ago, you might find some union fingerprints in the vicinity.

If anything, elimination of high school industrial arts programs 30 years ago was driven by racism, not the opposite. Now, the talk is more about training for basic medical and commercial fields and such which are not as strongly unionized or controlled. The reason it's not done much is because Pearson has not developed the relevant products yet, but apparently they are getting there. So just be patient. Meanwhile, if you want an interesting experiment, try proposing a program to prepare high school students to be licensed electricians or plumbers, and see what happens. I bet you will get some indignant push-back about not "tracking" students into such menial work.
Josh Hayes said…
I cannot say enough good things about the CTE teachers at my school. The CTE classes are SWAMPED with students, and hardly any of it is learning to program and suchlike: it's much more aimed at CAD/CAM, robotics, and related ideas. The teacher I largely work with went to industry people and asked them, "what do you want to see kids coming out of high school knowing how to do?", and then started teaching them that. It's been a stunning success, and the robotics teams at my school crush in competitions.

This is one (and ONLY one) of the problems I have with so-called "STEM" schools and programs -- they're not, really. They're pretty much just S&M. (Heh heh heh.) A little bit of "T", and practically no "E", and yet, it's the E that turns a student toward careers. (And for the record, I AM a science teacher. Not dissing science.)

It just seems that we live in an increasingly technological world, yes, but one in which people who can use their brains and their hands equally well have the most options available to them. Why on earth would we cut back on that kind of training?
Eric B said…
I think the big difference between 30 years ago and now is that the blue collar workforce is graying and companies are desperate to fill those jobs. Many of the ones that are left pay pretty well and are not outsourcable (eg tugboat deckhands or electrical line workers). 20 years ago, one of my professors told me that as a newly minted civil engineer, I would be the lowest paid person on the job site at any site big enough for a construction crane. That included the people pushing brooms. The trades can be a great way to earn a living wage. I believe that everyone who wants to go to college should be able to, but for those that don't, we need to help them toward a living wage.

The King County Workforce Development Council has some great tools and resources in this regard. They've given well-received presentations at Ingraham for a few years.
Anonymous said…
"Meanwhile, if you want an interesting experiment, try proposing a program to prepare high school students to be licensed electricians or plumbers, and see what happens. I bet you will get some indignant push-back about not "tracking" students into such menial work."

Yes, the horror of a job that pays well and can't be offshored! These jobs can be a bit cyclical, with booms and busts in construction, but that can be said of most careers (except central administration at SPS; those jobs are forever!)

Scrawny Kayaker

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