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Fine-Tuning Career-Tech (Vocational) Ed

Career-and-technical education (the subject formerly known as voc-ed) occupies a strong place in the school curriculum, not to mention the public imagination. Studies have shown that many students take at least one elective class focused on a specific trade or a job-based skill, like auto technology, health care, or construction. Many of us can remember trading our textbooks for safety goggles at some point during middle or high school.

Those programs aren't just popular in school districts. They've been popular on Capitol Hill, too. The federal vocational program receives $1.3 billion a year. I saw one study describing it as the nation's largest high school program.

Yet critics have long questioned whether these programs challenge students academically in subjects like math and science. Are CTE students being given skills that will help prepare them for challenging, and potentially high-paying jobs? Or are these courses serving to relegate them to low-paying work and outdated career tracks? How can CTE courses be made more academically demanding?

Five states—Arizona, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, and Oklahoma—will soon begin examining these questions in earnest. The states were competitively awarded the right to take part in a "policy academy" focused on "Meeting Academic and Economic Need Through Career Technical Education," arranged by the the National Governors Association.

The states will take part in meetings and a "learning lab," and perform a diagnostic analysis of state CTE efforts, with help from NGA.

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The mission will be to seek better ways to connect CTE courses to skilled jobs, encourage more demanding academic work in courses, and build standards and curricula in CTE that prepare students not only for the working world, but for college.

NGA has staged many policy academies in the past, on topics such as early-childhood education and improving high schools. You can read more about the organization's work on state efforts in career-and-technical education here.

(Credit for the photo goes to the Juneau Empire, in Alaska.)

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