Tag Archives: career and technical education

Typing in the 1980’s — and the Decline of Women Choosing Career and Technical Education

Before personal computers, IBM Selectric typewriters represented the cutting edge of desktop technology for modern offices. In the early 1980s, my high school had an entire room filled with shiny Selectrics atop sturdy desks. Many of my peers, mostly females, entered this room to take typing, which was a Career and Technical Education (CTE) course (though we called it a business elective at the time).

photo courtesy the author

Because my guidance office and family believed I was “college material,” I was steered away from typing class. But because I am stubborn and like a challenge, I took it anyway. When I entered Drew University in 1984 (my matriculation was delayed by two years), it was the first liberal arts college to issue a computer to students, the bulky Epson QX-10. Unlike most of my classmates, I knew how to type (or “keyboard,” as it would become known).

What does all this have to do with International Women’s Day, whose 2020 theme is “Each for Equal?” In the United States, women have arguably reached equality in college enrollment and degree attainment. In fact, women today enroll and complete college at higher rates than men. But in studying College- and Career-Readiness (CCR) policies for a forthcoming report, I’ve learned that CTE participation is one area where women are still less than equal. Not only is women’s CTE participation less than half the amount of participants since its peak in the early 1980s, but those females who do enroll are often steered away from the higher-paying career tracks.

In 1982, the year I graduated high school, female graduates earned more CTE credits than male graduates in the United States. While CTE participation has declined for all students since the 1980s, the drop for women is sharper. By 2013, average CTE credits earned by females had dropped by a third over three decades, while CTE credits earned by males dropped by a fifth. In part, this can be explained by a decline in courses such as typing and data entry, as well as the structural changes of the modern business environment with fewer secretarial roles, but it also reflects an increased emphasis on “four-year college for all.”

The gender breakdown of students who do pursue CTE coursework is roughly equal, however differences in the type of coursework reflect gender inequality. Courses known as “New Era CTE” tend to divide along gender lines, with females predominately concentrating in health care and communication while males concentrate in computer science and engineering, fields which generally pay higher salaries. A study conducted in Texas suggested “tracking” exists within CTE, aligning students with “historically gendered occupational roles.

While CTE popularity is declining overall, its importance — for women and men — shouldn’t be overlooked. In the 1980s and 1990s, CTE was viewed as a pathway to postsecondary employment, apprenticeships, or trade school. Recent studies suggest today’s CTE vocational concentrators “are more likely than their peers to enroll in college […] and may also be more likely to persist in college.” Furthermore, a strong CTE curriculum prepares students with key competencies such as critical thinking, communication, and teamwork. These are many of the cross-cutting skills rated by employers as “most important” for long-term career success.

If female students desire careers in health care or communication, they should not be steered away, but they should also be given information on the long-term economic prospects of various fields. As women continue to outpace men in college enrollment, persistence, and degree attainment, they also need to receive equal information on career choices and compensation by field. And they should be given equal opportunity to pursue any postsecondary pathway they choose, just like I was given. Every day when I sit down to write and research, my “rash” decision to take typing pays off!

Four Lessons for School Leaders from STEM School Principals

 

By Johannes Rössel [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Career and technical education (CTE) is having something of a moment. An October Brookings report found that media mentions of the term, which commonly refers to programs teaching specific career-oriented and technical skills, have quadrupled in the past four years, and in 2015, 39 states instituted new CTE-related policies, many of which increased program funding.

While researching high-performing CTE programs, I was able to connect with two school leaders: Earl Moore, principal of Highlands, New Jersey’s Marine Academy of Science and Technology (M.A.S.T), and Jeff Brown, principal of Strathmore, California’s Harmony Magnet Academy. Both schools have a STEM focus, and while the institutions have their differences, four shared lessons emerged:

1. Career and technical education isn’t what it used to be — we’ve come a long way

When I think about vocational programs, I immediately visualize my own eighth grade shop class. It was a six week crash course — a literal crash, we hung drywall and then smashed it to patch it — and while I took away some foundational hammering and sanding skills, the background wasn’t connected to my eventual career aspirations.

But that’s not what many of today’s CTE programs look like, and it’s certainly not the case at M.A.S.T. or Harmony. In recent years, Harmony has added a student-run enterprise program, courses in biomedicine, and a summer coding camp targeting young women. Brown spoke to Harmony’s engineering program’s constant innovation cycle: “We’re always pushing the envelope to develop new opportunities for students; we’re constantly working to find a new way to make it more real.” Moore credited his school’s success to its ability to reinvent itself: “M.A.S.T. today is not what it was in 1981…the key to a successful CTE program is the ability to change with the times.”

2. Get you a program that does both — combining an academic core with STEM-centered courses prepares students for high-value jobs after college graduation

Both M.A.S.T. and Harmony pair traditional academic core classes with CTE-specific coursework. Both leaders found integrating a technical curriculum with a college prep foundation to be especially powerful. “Teaching academic subjects through a technical lens provides immediate opportunities for application, and students really learn at a higher level. We can’t be just a school,” says Brown. M.A.S.T. also combines CTE-specific experiences with traditional academies. All students take four years of Math, English, Social Studies, and Naval Science, but they also have the opportunity to learn on a 65-foot research vessel called the “Blue Sea.” In addition, all M.A.S.T. students participate in the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

3. Teacher preparation and professional development matter more than ever

Just as CTE has changed over time, how we teach it has changed, too. It’s critical for teacher preparation and development to evolve with the field. Moore links his staff’s ability to prepare M.A.S.T. students appropriately to an increase in ongoing professional development offered at the school and an awareness of the constantly changing skills and knowledge industry leaders are prioritizing, which are reinforced through partnerships with local businesses. “It’s an investment in money and resources,” he says, “but you need to give educators the professional development they need to achieve the goals of the program.”

4. It takes a village — and also local businesses — to get it right

No school is an island — not even a marine sciences academy. Both Brown and Moore underscored the support of local industry and community partners, from college professors to government officials, in developing their curriculum to align with workforce needs. Says Moore, “Vocational schools really need to be in tune with their local businesses.”

Region-specific programs can foster mutually beneficial relationships. Student interns are both learning and contributing to their community.

Researchers found high school CTE participants are more likely to graduate on time and less likely to drop out than students who do not take CTE courses. At the same time, some policy makers voice concerns around equity and access, as well as wide variation in CTE program quality. There’s a lot to unpack, but programs like M.A.S.T. and Harmony show positive student outcomes using hybrid vocational and academic curriculum are possible.