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Career Technical Education Linked to Boys' High School Survival

Making the case for career technical education, researcher James Stone III presented findings today that show enrollment in CTE is a strong predictor of staying in high school—especially for boys.

Earning three or more CTE credits within a focused sequence of courses was second only to 9th grade students' grade point average as the strongest variable affecting high school survival for boys. While CTE "did no harm" to girls' high school engagement, it did not produce a similar positive effect on females.

The results were "stunning," said Stone, a professor and director of the National Research Center of Career and Technical Education at the University of Louisville, at the National Policy Seminar of the Association of Career and Technical Education in Crystal City, Va., today.

"We have a boy problem. Boys are less likely to finish high school, go to college, finish college, go to graduate school, or finish grad school," said Stone, noting that 75 percent of D's and F's are given to male students. "We are driving them out. We are not giving them things that engage them."

The analysis was based on restricted data from the National Center for Education Statistics looking at high school transcripts for the class of 2004, the most recent set of data available, he said. While unique in showing the gender difference, Stone said the results build on other research that has consistently shown a link between CTE and higher levels of engagement and achievement.

About 400 CTE professionals have gathered this week to learn about the latest research and meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to advocate for CTE legislation and funding.

"Many policymakers and their staff do not actively value and support our students and programs," wrote ACTE President Karen Mason in a letter to members attending the summit. "In many cases, this is due to the fact that they have not been exposed to the data, information, and student success stories which highlight CTE's effectiveness." She encouraged members to hammer home the connection between CTE programs and the economy in discussing the future of the Carl D. Perkins CTE Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Workforce Investment Act.

In his remarks, Stone said it was important to emphasize evidence-based strategies that clearly link CTE with student success. Rather than thinking of "rigor" as merely meaning more courses, he said the focus should be on how to teach better. Research shows that when math, science, and English are woven into CTE courses and students apply their knowledge to real-world problems, they become more engaged and perform better.

With four-year high school graduation rates around 78 percent, Stone maintains that still one in five students is not getting a high school diploma, and CTE can be one tool to keep some of those students at risk of dropping out, he said.

Schools are increasingly preparing all students for a four-year college, when that's not the right path for many, notes Stone. And the narrowing of the curriculum is squeezing out the kinds of programs that attract boys, he said.

Starting career exploration early and developing individual graduation plans is a key to keeping students on track, said Stone. Also, to be effective, CTE must have high-quality instruction, work-based learning programs, and active career-tech student organizations, he said. This requires more professional development to help teachers find the best ways to integrate math, science, and English into their curriculum, he added.

"We are missing the boat when young people don't have the time to engage in intensive work-based learning," he said. The new emphasis on college and career readiness puts CTE in a good position to advance that goal and support the new Common Core State Standards, Stone said.

For CTE to succeed, schools need to form strong connections with industry, Stone added. He urges educators from high school and postsecondary institutions to consult with businesses to better connect curriculum to the workplace.

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