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Doing Trade Schools Right: Georgia's 'Pathway' Program Revitalizes CTE

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I endorse Career and Technical Education, otherwise known as CTE, as an option for high school students looking for an alternative to your typical college-prep track. This year, an innovative program in Georgia high schools seeks to offer students such an option, and does in a way that should be emulated in other states' school systems. Here are some of the ways that the Pathway program improves upon the previous model of CTE programming:

First, CTE education through Pathway doesn't "track" students, as other CTE programs have traditionally done (both in the US and abroad.) All graduates pick a career or academic-focused pathway, but the lines are "blurred" between electives, college prep work, and career exploration. Career training is considered to be part of a balanced college prep curriculum, creating a "melding of curriculum types, so that in theory, CTE programs will not stop you from going to Harvard," writes Anthony Carnevale, of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

The melding of CTE and traditional "academic" tracks is beneficial for all types of students: This way, every student has the opportunity to learn and discover new skill-sets, and CTE is no longer stigmatized as a warehouse for kids who aren't oriented towards a college-prep track (or, not immediately oriented in that direction.) Such an approach does much to mitigate broad criticisms that CTE programs only foster social stratification.

Moreover, the CTE courses through Pathway are (ideally) taught in an "intellectually demanding fashion," so as to furnish problem solving and abstract thinking skills that will serve students in any level of further education. Courses are aligned with industry certifications, making them more challenging and better preparation for post-secondary school employment. In one high school profiled, Dalton High in Dalton, Georgia, teachers have gotten on board with the program, working to share best practices, and mentoring students outside of class.

To be broadly scalable, such a program would require larger investments from state and federal governments. One of the ways the Pathway program--as implemented at Dalton High, at least--achieves economic and industry relevance is by teaching students current trade and vocational skills, as opposed to the ones of yesteryear (woodwork, auto-shop, "home economics"). Students work with 3-D printers and welding stations; they used computer-controlled tools and other current machinery. Such hands-on experiences not only provide rigorous learning opportunities--they're also exciting for the kids, whose graduation rates and post-secondary education enrollment rates have increased in recent years. But, the equipment involved costs some money, which school systems would have to be comfortable furnishing, without the promise of a ROI in the form of immediate college matriculation (as is ever the focus of current initiatives).

I'd like to see programs similar to Pathway emerge in the NYCDOE and other large school systems. The cost of a bachelor's degree is ever growing, while it's value in the job market continues to diminish; offering students more options and teaching new skills makes good sense academically and economically.

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