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Can Deeper Learning and the New Career and Technical Education Coexist?

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This post is by Nomi Sofer, a writer/editor for Jobs for the Future

Career and technical education appears to be enjoying a resurgence these days. From President Obama's Ready to Work Initiative and the Department of Labor's American Apprenticeship grants, to the California Career Readiness Initiative and the states participating in CCSSO's Career Readiness Initiative, hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into CTE, and everyone seems to be talking about work-based learning.

Should proponents of deeper learning be alarmed by this resurgence? Does it suggest a return to tracking poor and minority students into non-academic programs? Or does this moment provide important new opportunities to promote deeper learning for all students? As Jobs for the Future's Nancy Hoffman has argued, "learning to work, learning about work, and experiencing a productive workplace [are] all powerful frames for deeper learning." The growing interest in CTE in the U.S. raises many questions for proponents of deeper learning and everyone who is concerned about equity in secondary education. The upcoming JFF summit is an opportunity for a deeper discussion of these and other questions:  

  • How do we ensure that CTE, apprenticeships, and work-based learning are developed in a truly equitable way and don't default to the tracking systems of an earlier era? 
  • How do we ensure that work experiences are connected to academic experiences in a meaningful way? 
  • How do we ensure that students go into workplace environments that provide the kind of deeper learning that we know benefits both students and employers?

There are models of work-based learning that engage students deeply and provide equitable access both in the U.S. and abroad. The Swiss VPET system serves 70 percent of Switzerland's diverse population and is highly permeable: Swiss young people are free to choose applied or theoretical courses of study, and to move between these tracks as they mature and their interests change. In the U.S., career education programs ranging from early college schools to High Tech High Schools engage adolescents in real-world tasks, challenge them to learn advanced subject matter, regulate their own behavior, solve complex problems, work in teams, and persist in completing difficult tasks--all hallmarks of deeper learning.

Advocates for deeper learning have a unique opportunity to influence the development of this new age of CTE but can only do so if we're all engaged. To join the conversation, come to the JFF summit in New Orleans, where we will consider the challenge and great promise of work-based deeper learning.  

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