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How Can Schools Get More Industry Experts Into Career-Tech Programs?

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engineer-apprentice.jpgLeaders in the career and technical education field are pushing hard to bring more industry experts into classrooms, to help students get a "real world" sense of topics they're studying. But key obstacles are slowing that movement.

That's one of the main findings of a new report that explores the role of industry professionals in career-tech programs. Advance CTE led the effort, with a group of other organizations, to conduct two surveys that outline what state and local leaders can do to draw more of those experts into high school classrooms, and what's standing in their way. 

Nearly all the state CTE directors surveyed said that it's a priority for them to bring more industry experts into high school classrooms. No surprise there, since a persistent teaching shortage dogs the CTE world. But low awareness of the need for such experts, insufficient pay or other incentives, and lack of access in some geographic regions, hamper those efforts.

Many of the states reported that they're trying to find new ways to bring experts into the classroom, but many of those strategies are still new and not paying off yet. Ninety-one percent of the states in the surveys reported that they have alternative certification policies that can pave the way for industry professionals to teach, but those are designed for fulltime employment, and many people who might enrich a classroom aren't ready or willing to leave their professions to do so.

Advance CTE encourages states to create alternative certifications that lend themselves better to part-time and co-teaching positions. Virginia and North Carolina are two states that have pursued that option. In Arkansas, school districts can get state waivers that let industry experts work part-time as teachers. 

Questions of Quality

But the report also noted a big caveat in the alternative-certification route.

"Alternative certification carries its own challenges related to instructor quality, as teachers who go through the alternative process by definition begin with less education training than other candidates," it said. "Alternative certification must maintain a delicate balance between flexibility and quality in hiring practices."

Thirty percent of the state directors in the poll, in fact, said they are concerned about the quality or effectiveness of industry experts who serve as teachers.

Arizona has tried to address the quality question with an unusual program. The state department of education and the state career-tech association created a 15-course professional development program for industry professionals. It focuses on instructional practice, and it's reportedly helped improve the effectiveness of experts who come into the classroom. 

Another idea the report offers: Making deals with higher education. Creating dual-enrollment programs that utilize college and university faculty members with industry expertise could benefit high school students.

Stronger outreach by states to industry could also raise awareness of the need for professional expertise, and lead to more opportunities as mentors and career coaches, and more opportunities for students in internships and apprenticeships, the report said.

Photo credit: Getty Images


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