President Trump today signed into law a bipartisan bill to improve the quality of career and technical education (CTE) programs for high school students, and the scope of their success now depends on the states.
JFF welcomes the new law, known as the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, and its bipartisan support. The long-awaited update of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act increases the nation’s expectations of CTE programs at a critical time. We believe the law can play a pivotal role in closing our nation’s skills gap and filling many of the 6 million job openings that require some form of postsecondary education or credential.
It is now up to the states to use the current energy behind CTE to their advantage.
They must assess how their programs stack up against the new law’s provisions and their own vision for preparing students for college, career, and citizenship.
States must ask themselves tough questions, such as:
- How do our CTE programs deliver on their
promise to improve students’ career readiness, expand access to postsecondary
credentials, and provide opportunity for long-term career advancement?
- How can we incorporate work-based learning opportunities, which help prepare students of all backgrounds for the jobs of the future?
- How can we provide coursework that is rigorous and reflects the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in a chosen career path?
States should also consider key equity questions to ensure their CTE programs are of high quality and accessible to all students.
Fortunately, not all states have to start from scratch. When the new law goes into effect on July, 1, 2019, they can build on their established work and learn from those who are leading effective strategies. Delaware and Tennessee are among a handful of states who’ve made strides in key areas.
For example, the Tennessee Department of Education’s Office of CTE performs annual reviews of CTE programs and courses to ensure they align with regional labor market needs and makes adjustments when necessary. The state also conducts reviews of postsecondary CTE programs and certificate offerings from community colleges, technical colleges, and four-year universities to determine which should be continued, added, or expanded.
Delaware’s CTE programs of study include college coursework, work-based learning opportunities, and industry certifications where available and appropriate. They also provide professional development opportunities for CTE educators to ensure that instruction is up to date on academic and industry standards.
The Perkins Act reauthorization also provides a major step forward in changing the sometimes negative perceptions of CTE programs across the country. Previously known as “vocational education,” these programs have a long history of being viewed as an alternative to a rigorous academic pathway—reserved for students deemed “not college material.”
To the contrary, excellent CTE programs prepare students with the skills and knowledge they need to excel in both college and a career. A number of states and regions are working to reverse such misconceptions. The strong policymaker support for CTE, signaled in the passage of the new law, can help educators and parents demonstrate that CTE is a strong option for all students.
States should continue to build on what works and make improvements where needed. JFF has seen effective CTE programs and helped expand them through our Pathways to Prosperity Network. We look forward to working with the U.S. Department of Education and with states to implement the new CTE law.