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November/ December 2013 Not Your Father’s Shop Class

The promising revival of career and technical education.

By Harry J. Holzer

In addition, high-quality CTE should provide a range of social and academic supports, especially to students who have fallen behind in academic preparation. Teachers and administrators might also need professional support to keep up with newer curriculum and pedagogical developments in this area. High schools must develop agreements with local colleges (known as “articulation”) to ensure that students find appropriate pathways from the former to the latter, and perhaps begin their post-secondary work while still in high school.

To achieve these goals, the states and the federal government could do more to support innovations in high-quality CTE and the scaling of successful models. For example, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which provides about a billion dollars each year to state and local CTE, should target funds to programs based on newer and better models. Building better career pathways in high schools and colleges for young students as well as adults could be encouraged through other federal laws, such as the Higher Education Act and the Workforce Investment Act, or other programs that provide grants for the most innovative state and local efforts. All would require more rigorous research and evaluation to identify the successful approaches before moving them forward.

State governments could also provide funds and technical assistance to local school districts to help them generate more effective CTE teacher development and student support services. They could do more to help build modern teaching curricula that combine academic and technical skill building, and develop more partnerships between industry and educators to ensure the job market relevance of CTE. They could also help develop tests that better assess the technical and employment skills of students as well as their academic ones, so we could hold districts more accountable for the quality of the CTE programs they provide.

More broadly, we need to better integrate the worlds of education and workforce services and make both more responsive to job market trends. In an era when public funding for education will remain tight, we must use the resources we currently spend more effectively than we do today. While we don’t have all the answers to the labor market problems of our young people and our disadvantaged citizens, providing better career tech education and workforce services would certainly help.

To read more from our November/December 2013 cover package on opportunity in America, click here.

Harry J. Holzer is a professor of public policy at Georgetown University and a visiting fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

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