Massachusetts has long been recognized as a K-12 education leader. (In the most recent Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card unveiled in 2017, it ranked in the top five in all the most significant education categories at the K-12 and postsecondary levels). It is now receiving high praise for its work in the career and technical education (CTE) area.
Laws and policies are certainly a starting point. The Alliance for Vocational Technical Education (AVTE) offers the following guidance for states seeking similar results:
Access and equity
It’s important that all students, regardless of their background or needs, have the opportunity to enroll in high-quality CTE programs. A necessary condition of that is providing students and parents with quality information about their options. And in terms of equity, states should make sure that admission policies and procedures aren’t biased in favor of certain students or certain populations.
Without the proper infrastructure in place, CTE programs can’t serve students well, let alone contribute to closing achievement gaps. AVTE points to a few key aspects of good infrastructure, namely employing effective teachers and staff, updated facilities and access to appropriate equipment. Perhaps the most important lesson is that high-quality CTE sectors need reliable and adequate funding. Modernized buildings, proper equipment, and highly qualified staff cost money, and states that want the benefits of excellent career and technical education must be ready to fund them.
Curriculum, instruction and assessment
In the past, CTE has been labeled as “blue-collar stuff” best left for kids who aren’t on a college path. Many of today’s programs, however, are just the opposite. Students earn industry-recognized credentials that will place them in good-paying jobs, but they also earn associate and bachelor’s degrees. This transformation has a lot to do with the curriculum, instruction and assessments used by the programs.
For starters, high expectations must be non-negotiable. CTE students should never be held to lower standards than their peers in traditional academic programs. And curricula should be aligned to state academic standards, as well as national benchmarks and local employer needs. States should also carefully consider how to license and train their CTE teachers; AVTE recommends using nationally validated teacher competency testing. As for assessments, AVTE recommends utilizing pre- and post-technical tests to measure exactly what students know and are able to do.
The primary goal of CTE programs is to prepare students for careers. To this end, AVTE recommends collaborating with recognized industry credential providers like NOCTI to develop state-customized credentials that accurately measure readiness. Similar to the way a good ACT or SAT score demonstrates college readiness, earning an externally validated credential can give CTE students solid proof of their readiness and skills. AVTE also emphasizes the importance of meaningful partnerships between CTE programs, businesses and community members.
Data and outcomes
There’s no way to determine whether programs are effective without measurable outcomes, such as rates of graduation, dropout, job placement, and college-going and persistence. States should make these data easily accessible to the public so that students and their families can make well-informed choices.