April 24, 2012
The Obama administration has released its plan for a major overhaul of the federal program that provides secondary and postsecondary school students with access to job-related courses and training. The blueprint aims to align training programs with real-world business needs, and increase collaboration, accountability and innovation. The administration is also proposing additional investments in career and technical education (CTE), including $2 billion in Trade Adjustment Assistance grants to strengthen community college programs and workforce partnerships.
Last reauthorized in 2006, the Carl D. Perkins Act, which included a notable shift in terminology from "vocational" to "career and technical" education, aimed to raise the academic rigor of the nation's programs. The new blueprint released by Secretary Duncan on April 19 seeks to transform the law into a vehicle for college and career readiness that prepares students for success in the 21st century job market.
In an earlier speech foreshadowing the Education Department's revisions of the current CTE system, Secretary Duncan drew a parallel between "college-ready" and "career-ready," making it clear that the reason to strengthen career and technical education is to emphasize employability skills, like critical thinking and problem-solving, and prepare students for careers that require continuous learning in a global economy.
The Education Department describes the new blueprint (PDF) as a continuation of the administration's investments in aligning classroom learning with today's business needs and outlines its goals for the reauthorization of the Perkins Act under four core principles—alignment, collaboration, accountability, and innovation. These principles provide the basis for
- Giving states better guidance on establishing high-quality CTE programs while letting the states identify the areas on which to focus their programs.
- Improving CTE program quality by fostering collaborative relationships among secondary and postsecondary institutions, employers, and industry partners.
- Establishing common definitions for understanding data and providing clear measures of program performance so that states can have the autonomy to award funding to programs that effectively meet state goals.
- Supporting the reform of state policies and practices to ensure the implementation of effective programs at the local level, including the development of a completive fund to spur continued innovation.
A chart illustrating the major differences between the current law and the proposed changes in light of these principles is available on page 3 of the blueprint (PDF).
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Senate Education Committee Examines Accelerated Learning
The Senate Education Committee examined effective strategies for accelerated learning, including the College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) Program, dual-credit programs, and early college schools at a hearing last week. Accelerated learning, which enables high school students to earn credit for college classes, is credited with increasing the rigor of STEM classes, increasing teacher quality for all courses taught by AP–trained educators, increasing college acceptance and completion, and reducing remediation and college tuition costs.
However, panel members also underscored the disparity in access to higher-level learning opportunities that persists for low income and minority students. To address the question of how to increase access and scale effective programs nationally, panel members urged continued federal funding for AP course and exam access for low-income students as well as for teacher training, mentoring, and retention in the accelerated programs. They also noted the importance of identifying weaknesses in current state- and district-level systems through collaboration between K–12 and college educators, including gathering more data on accountability in accelerated learning coursework, to reduce the need for remediation and promote greater rates of secondary and postsecondary success.
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GAO Reports on State and Local Governments' Fiscal Outlook
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) points to improvements in the fiscal situation of state and local governments, with an 11 percent increase in tax receipts. However, the revenue totals are still at 2007 prerecession levels and property tax funding is flat as real estate values "remain depressed." Moreover, state and local governments face longer-term financial pressures from the runout of 2009 Recovery Act funding and "rising health-related costs of state and local expenditures on Medicaid and the cost of health care compensation for state and local government employees and retirees."
Of more immediate concern is the looming "sequestration" in January 2013, which will entail across-the-board cuts to federal education funding unless Congress is able to compromise on a budget plan. Stay tuned to upcoming issues of Capitol Connection for more information on what you can do to help prevent what could be the biggest cuts to education in recent history.
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White House Rural Council Brings Education and Agriculture Together
Secretaries Duncan and Vilsack hosted town hall meetings in Iowa and Wisconsin to promote a partnership between the Departments of Education and Agriculture. The joint effort aims to improve opportunities for students to pursue careers in agriculture, food, and natural resources and will result in the departments working together to promote pathways and programs of study related to careers in the industry. More information about the interagency partnership and a video of the town hall in Wisconsin are available from the Education Department.
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