WASHINGTON—The United States stands far behind other leading nations in offering an education that prepares students for a career. However, innovative states and districts offer a model of how to catch up, according to a new report by Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of education chiefs who together serve over seven million students.
Stuck in a false and outmoded choice between career preparation and rigorous academics, the United States has shunned the kind of coherent, intensive preparation that most students in Germany, Finland, and Switzerland have. The cost to individual students and families, and to the nation’s economy, is enormous. Improving the quality and reach of career and technical education (CTE) must be one of the new top priorities for the nation’s schools, the report says.
“America has fallen far behind in preparing students for the future. It’s a problem that threatens individual young people and the American economy, and it marks an under-recognized front in the battle for equity of educational opportunity,” says Let’s Get to Work: Learning From Success in Career and Technical Education. “We can do better.”
Modern, high-quality CTE programs complement strong, college-preparatory academics, while deeply engaging students, the report argues. Such strong programs actually can open the door for students to additional learning, degrees, and credentials after high school.
“Our entire model of how to prepare young people for their future is stuck in the past,” said Chiefs for Change CEO Mike Magee. “That hurts everyone, and especially the students who already have the fewest advantages and the fewest choices. The good news is that several leaders throughout this country are offering a brighter vision. They are demonstrating what thoughtful, engaging CTE programs can look like, and what it means to offer all students a rigorous, real-world path that prepares them for college and good careers.”
Chiefs for Change published the report as states and school systems begin to implement the new version of The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which allows new uses of federal funds and financial aid for apprenticeships and other types of work-based learning.
The report recommends that state and district leaders across the country take specific steps to strengthen and modernize CTE. It highlights Nevada’s and Tennessee’s work to upgrade CTE across those states, and innovations such as one of the nation’s largest work-based learning programs in Denver and new career-themed high schools in San Antonio.
Some of the report’s key recommendations urge states and districts to:
- Build a truly seamless transition for all students into postsecondary education and career training: CTE programs should dovetail with higher education, including dual-enrollment opportunities that lead more students directly to industry credentials and degrees. States and districts should establish credit-transfer agreements with two- and four-year colleges, start more Early College programs, and adopt more innovative approaches and collaborations to help students in smaller communities.
- Improve the quality and rigor of CTE pathways and courses: CTE courses often still lack the academic and technical rigor to help many students seek postsecondary credentials and strong career paths. Chiefs can directly engage with business and industry, and the nonprofit and economic development/workforce sectors, to better connect school and real-world work opportunities. Research shows that students benefit from a linked series of courses in a specific career field, not just a course or two.
- Expand work-based learning, such as internships and apprenticeships: States should fund more of these experiences for students and explore new ways to encourage businesses to participate. Whenever possible, businesses should provide paid work opportunities to help students prepare for the workforce and develop a human capital pipeline.
- Expand and improve support for students and families: The American School Counselor Association recommends that school counselors’ caseloads be limited to 250 students each. Bolstering student advising now requires teams of educators and community organizations to support students.
- Ensure equity for all students: Develop a plan to ensure equal access to high-quality career readiness opportunities for all students, and ensure all students also can access traditional college pathways. Monitor progress by collecting and analyzing data to inform the growth of high-quality career-readiness programs, including disaggregated data to ensure greater opportunities for underserved students and alignment with regional labor market needs.
About Chiefs for Change
Chiefs for Change is a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education chiefs dedicated to preparing all students for today’s world and tomorrow’s through deeply committed leadership. Chiefs for Change advocates for policies and practices that are making a difference today for students, and builds a pipeline of talented, diverse Future Chiefs ready to lead major school systems.