Tag Archives: CTE

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.

Rubio and Obama Find Common Ground on the Skills Gap

A statement made by Florida Senator Marco Rubio has received a lot of attention in the days following this week’s GOP primary debate. He said, “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” As multiple fact-checkers have pointed out, the statement on relative income is not true, as both philosophy majors and professors make significantly more than welders. Despite the flawed example, Rubio’s larger point highlights a critical and very real issue for America’s economy – a significant gap between the supply and demand of skilled workers.

For example, a report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute released earlier this year predicts that America’s manufacturing industry will need 3.4 million workers over the next decade. But there is an expected shortage of 2 million workers. Why? The demand created by an “impending onslaught” of baby boomer retirements will greatly outpace the supply of skilled STEM workers.

An overwhelming number of employers also have challenges filling open positions due to a lack of qualified candidates – more than half report having open positions that they cannot fill. And they cite gaps in education related to specific skills and new and shifting technologies as two of the primary drivers of the problem.

There has been some recent action at the federal level to address this issue. For example, the Deloitte report notes that the Obama Administration has awarded nearly $1 billion in grants to community colleges that support creation and expansion of manufacturing education programs, and another $100 million is now available to establish apprenticeship programs.

Additionally, the Administration continues to implement its Experimental Sites Initiative, authorized under the Higher Education Act. It allows the Department of Education to waive certain statutory and regulatory requirements for Title IV federal aid, allowing for experimental federal aid eligibility to partnerships between colleges and alternative education providers, such as job skills boot camps, coding academies, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Congress is also turning an eye towards the skills gap issue, as both chambers’ education committees have indicated in recent weeks that they will work on reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The law, which supports secondary and postsecondary programs that train students for specific careers, has not been revamped since 2006. It’s still too early to tell where these efforts will lead, but maximizing the alignment of career training programs with the needs of employers will be critical.

Post-debate poll results from the Wall Street Journal (one of the debate’s sponsors) indicate a strong showing from Rubio, and he is on a good trajectory to compete for the nomination. He is also the only candidate that has made career and technical education a large part of his platform. But regardless of what happens in the 2016 election, it’s imperative that we continuing building momentum to address our growing skills gap. Otherwise, we’ll have unfilled jobs and unemployed workers that aren’t qualified to fill them.