The Promise of Career Tech
As long as there have been trades, careers, and working professionals, there have been programs specifically designed for grooming apprentices in these fields. Vocational education, shop class, and career education have had, at best, an inconsistent place in the curriculum of U.S. high schools." At worst, career and technical education (CTE) has been disrespected and underfunded. With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government has sidelined CTE programs in favor of college-prep courses in English, math, and science.
CTE has been easily sidelined because so many people believe that CTE does not prepare students for college, that it forces students into a lower academic track, and that it is primarily a refuge for students with behavior problems who might otherwise drop out. Research challenges these assumptions and reveals that CTE can play a strong part in the larger secondary school reform effort.
Research shows that some students, especially those with visual-spatial strengths, often underachieve in the traditional academic areas because their abilities do not match the way traditional high school courses are taught. When these students move to CTE courses with a hands-on, applied focus, they excel.
Other research shows that 81 percent of dropouts reported that they may have stayed in school if there had been more real-world learning. CTE offers opportunities for choice and real-world applications that can motivate many students to stay in school.
The hallmarks of successful CTE programs include the following:
- A real-world link to the field of study (e.g., an instructor with experience in that field who may still practice there);
- Flexibility for students to choose what aspect of the field to focus on and when to study it within the curriculum;
- Opportunities for independent study and mentorships for students to pursue their interests in a field more deeply; and
- Awareness of student interests and industry trends, to develop courses that are relevant and that students want to take.
When CTE is given a consistent place in the curriculum, it has the potential to help all students prepare for life after high school—whether or not it includes college. The opportunity to explore a topic of interest, experience hands-on learning, and see connections to the world of work can motivate students to stay in school and show them how to think like professionals in their chosen fields.
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ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 14. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.