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A New Vision of Career Technical Education

The sharpened national focus on career and college readiness has prompted many questions about what both of those terms mean. Despite some protestations to the contrary, there is still something less than, ahem, total agreement on what constitutes sound preparation for college or for good jobs (there are so many types of colleges, and so many careers!).

While those folks yak about overlapping sets of skills and such, you might be interested to peruse a document that tries to capture what America's "vision" of career technical education should be as we drag ourselves move boldly into the 21st century.

Issued yesterday by the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, the vision statement describes the evolution of CTE from its vocational-education roots. It emphasizes that today's CTE is not just repackaged voc-ed, but a whole new beast that reflects the needs of a changed workplace.

Career technical education must be a challenging blend of job-related skills and academic skills that serves as an effective springboard for students, whether they choose to go straight from high school into careers, or obtain higher education before doing so, the paper says. It advocates that schools and districts develop sound career technical education programs around 16 "clusters" (areas of career study) aligned to a set of essential career knowledge and skills.

If education is going to prepare students properly for whatever lies ahead, the paper argues, the "dichotomous silos of academics versus CTE must be eliminated" and replaced with top-notch programs that blend the technical and academic work students need. It acknowledges that many CTE programs are not up to snuff in this way, and calls upon schools and districts to step up and improve them.

This wades into potentially touchy stuff, since it challenges the dynamics still commonly at play in schools, in which a blend of low expectations and inadequate capacity too often funnel some kids into cosmetology and others into AP Literature. That distinction would be less painful if career prep more closely resembled the rigorous course of study that the NASDCTEc envisions. But from what I've seen in my time roaming school hallways, we have an awful long way to go to reach that point.

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