Core Talk: CTE Standards- Bridging the Secondary to Post-Secondary Gap

As we wrap up winter, we say goodbye to February’s National CTE Month (and hopefully the cold!).  To celebrate, we thought we’d spend some time reflecting on the political and educational environment of Career and Technical Education (CTE).  If you aren’t familiar with CTE, never fear: we’re going to bring you up to speed on this growing component of our educational landscape.

Career and Technical Education encompasses the programs of study that prepare students directly for vocations such as construction, business management, cosmetology, informational technology, and other hands-on and high-demand fields.  In the past, most CTE programs involved high-school courses that would prepare a student directly for the job market without attending college.  However, with the Obama Administration’s emphasis on occupational post-secondary education, there is a new focus on bridging students’ high-school and college CTE journey.

Recent federal legislation pushes for quality CTE, ideally across secondary, post-secondary, and workforce implementation.  Here are a few of the policies geared toward smoothing the transition between high school, college, and career for students embarking on the CTE-track:

  • First signed in 1984 under a different name, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act aims to strengthen Career and Technical through federal funding. Under the Perkins Act, consortia form within states apply for federal funds; a consortium must include a Local Education Agency or “LEA” (e.g. Board of Ed) and a higher ed institution offering (at minimum) 2-year degrees/certificationsBy requiring secondary and post-secondary participation in each consortium, Perkins emphasizes a strong link between secondary and post-secondary CTE.
  • America’s College Promise, a proposal put forth in January of 2015, reduces the cost of two-year, post-secondary education to zero.  This proposals specifically addresses community colleges, which teach toward several CTE-track credentials. Students must maintain at least a 3.5 GPA to maintain funding.
  • The American Technical Training Fund, a grant program in place to strengthen the quality of Career and Technical Education, will reward programs that partner with real-world workplaces to facilitate hands-on training for CTE students.

As the line between a CTE “high-school senior” and “college freshman” becomes more fluid with increasing vocational training, the need to standardize CTE course content becomes more pressing.   The National Association of Directors of Career and Technical Education (NASDCTE) took the initiative and commissioned a 2013 study comparing each state’s secondary and post-secondary CTE standards, not only to each other, but against NASDCTE’s own common set of benchmarks, the Common Career Technical Core (CCTC).  According to the study, “only two states…have CTE standards that are fully aligned between secondary and postsecondary systems,” meaning most states’ secondary CTE programs lack rapport with post-secondary CTE training.

The CCTC sprung from a collaboration between 42 states, Washington D.C., and Palau, and directly addresses CTE educational needs from the secondary through post-secondary levels. Within the CCTC, there are “Career Cluster” content standards and “Career Pathway” content standards that guide an entire “program of study rather than a single course.  For this reason, NASDCTE recommends the CCTC as a tool for states to align secondary and post-secondary vocational education: they will guide a student’s curriculum across high-school and college, and even into practical application studies like apprenticeships and internships.  The CCTC’s holistic “program of study” approach therefore addresses students’ entire educational journey in their field.

The CCTC is by no means mandatory. States choose whether or not, and to what degree to align to the CCTC. However, with the availability of Perkins funding and the recent policy emphasis on cohesive secondary-to-post-secondary transitions, the Core Talk Team will stay tuned to individual states’ efforts to align their CTE programs and standardize the college and career readiness process. It will be interesting to see which standards states choose. Keep an eye out, and…

… stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!

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