Employer-Driven Innovations in CTE

By: Maria Salciccioli, Policy Analyst

The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) held an engaging discussion on October 20th, called Employer-Driven Innovations in CTE: Promise, Practice, and Opportunities for Policy. I was excited to attend and learn about any potential connections between the latest research and what our High School Graduation Requirements Task Force is doing – we have a lot of people on the task force with deep expertise on the pathway to college, but we want to make sure we incorporate the career and technical education (CTE) voice into our conversations, and one way to do that is to take advantage of the amazing panels that often take place around the city.

The conversation opened with comments from Mary Visher, a Senior Associate at MDRC. Dr. Visher hypothesized that interest in CTE is currently resurging for four reasons:

  • There is a documented skills shortage, and industries are beginning to look to high schools to fill the gap
  • Pre-Bachelor’s credentials have strong labor market returns, and recipients have lower debt
  • CTE was stigmatized and seen as a negative consequence of tracking – that is no longer the case
  • CTE is one of few bipartisan strategies to address education and workforce needs

CTE newly emphasizes both college AND career, instead of college OR career – and when the programs are developed, employers are excited and are sitting at the table. Successful models include career academies, early college, vocational education, and apprenticeships. Dr. Visher added that CTE can have a positive impact on graduation rates – the idea is that CTE brings increased engagement and awareness, as well as greater 21st century skills, and this will turn into greater knowledge and credit accumulation, which will help students graduate high school at higher rates.

This was a particularly attractive idea to me, since one issue we’ve addressed in the task force is that while graduation rates have been improving in the District, test scores suggest students are not becoming more proficient in the core subjects at the same rate. A strategy that helps students graduate more prepared with more advanced credits is, in my opinion, a winning one.

The panel then presented three CTE models that have proven successful in a variety of contexts – not every program works in every city or state, so I appreciated the diversity of presenters, and I heard some ideas about career academies and community college pathways that could help District students succeed. The members of our task force are passionate about the idea of preparing students for 21st century jobs – jobs that may require college and/or workforce training, but that, regardless of the necessary credentials, use 21st century skills like communication, technology, and time-management. I look forward to bringing some of the ideas I heard at AYPF’s panel back to our task force members and thinking about what a truly transformative high school experience looks like.

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