The old image of vocational classes is fading as modern career and technical education courses prepare students for college and working life thereafter. But outdated stereotypes still remain.
With National Career and Technical Education Month in February, organizers want to change the public mindset about this type of education.
"CTE is a really integral way to deliver very technical, complicated coursework in a way that makes sense to students because they can see it; it's an applied subject by nature," said Sean Lynch, spokesman at the Association for Career and Technical Education. After all, he added, it's much easier to understand how math works in the real world by seeing how it affects the slope of a roof.
Career and technical education isn't competing against college education. Rather, leaders in CTE set out to prepare students for college and careers, said Katie Fitzgerald, spokeswoman for Advance CTE, which supports state CTE directors.
In programs of study, students learn basic academic skills in math and English, along with employability skills including time management. As they progress through the program, they go through training for a specific industry, but not just one job. This holistic approach gives students a more well-rounded education program that will serve them well no matter what career they enter, Fitzgerald said.
"CTE today really provides students with flexible and adaptable skills that they can use in any workplace," said Fitzgerald.
At the federal level, support for CTE continues to grow. The Every Student Succeeds Act that passed last year included CTE in part of the definition of a well-rounded education and emphasized the need for professional development and additional resources for teachers in K-12 education. This year, legislators and advocates are working to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, which is the primary bill governing CTE in the country.
Along with federal support, the private sector is stepping up efforts to advance CTE. More education leaders are working with businesses to create curriculum that will match up with industry needs. That way, students can enter the workforce after school with a credential or degree that means something and aligns with the jobs that are available. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. also plans to invest $75 million in college and career readiness globally, $35 million of which will go toward a U.S. state competition to beef up college and career programs.