Reports of Career Technical Ed’s demise are greatly exaggerated

David Gordon

As a longtime proponent of Career Technical Education, I feel compelled to provide additional context to the June 5 commentary by Nicole Rice and Jeremy Smith entitled “Save Career and Technical Education from Their Death Spiral.”

It is unfortunate that the article suggests that Career Technical Education (CTE) in California is on the decline when the state’s commitment to a complete, integrated learning program actually is stronger than ever. The commentary makes some valid points, but I am concerned that progress made in the remarkable transformation of Regional Occupational Programs and technical courses to more flexible, career-based and industry-themed courses throughout California will be obscured by the focus of this article.

The central premise of the authors’ commentary focused on a reported one-year decline in CTE courses and accompanying course enrollments gleaned from the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) and reported by the California Department of Education. That commentary failed to include any multi-year analysis of the same data to truly evaluate trends in course offerings, course enrollment and CTE teachers. That lack of depth helps paint a false picture.

The article cites a decrease in the number of CTE courses from 2011-12 to 2012-13 (the most recently available data from the state). Data included from an EdSource article published earlier this year, “New Report Fuels Fears of Decline of Regional Occupational Programs” (Jan. 26, 2014) confirm a one-year course offering decline from 2011-12 (42,610 courses) to 2012-13 (35,625 courses). However, the number of CTE courses reported in 2012-13 represents an increase of more than 12,000 courses over the previous five years (23,600 courses were reported in 2008-09). In addition, that article reported a 20 percent drop in the number of full-time CTE teachers from 2011-12 (6,145 teachers) to 2012-13 (4,937 teachers). Yet, the commentary fails to note the fact that the number of full-time CTE teachers actually had increased since 2008-09 (4,862 teachers).

In reality, California’s CTE future is bright. Just one year ago, the state Department of Education identified 20 linked learning pilot programs made possible through state legislation. These pilot programs use coursework, technical training, work-based learning and related support mechanisms to forge real connections between high school and college and career. Students in these programs are demonstrably more likely to graduate from high school than their statewide counterparts, and do so with the skills and knowledge that California employers say they need.

And less than two weeks ago, state schools chief Tom Torlakson announced the recipients of more than $250 million in competitive grants for school districts to build seamless pathways between high schools, higher education and careers through the new California Career Pathways Trust fund. This alone serves as proof that CTE is flourishing in California.

I am proud of the Sacramento County Office of Education’s recent award of $15 million for our Capital Region Academies for the Next Economy. With these funds, I know thousands of students throughout the 21 local educational agencies participating in the consortium will receive unforgettable, real-world opportunities for learning and career exploration that will put them on a path for success in college, career and life.

CTE is no longer isolated into strict course units and programs and its success and viability can no longer be measured by focusing narrowly on CTE course enrollment. Rather today, through programs like linked learning, CTE has been integrated into core academic areas to provide rich and relevant learning experiences for all students to ensure that they graduate from high school ready for success in college and career. The infusion of the Next Generation Science Standards into the educational fabric will further strengthen these efforts. And as these changes in CTE take place, changes in the measures of its success and viability are also necessary. For now and into the future, we must evaluate our success through a multi-method approach that measures meaningful outcomes for students and their readiness for success in college and career.

As the educational landscape continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of colleges and the working world, we have a commitment to explore a variety of alternatives that will best meet the needs of our diverse population of students and ensure their success. The new Local Control Funding Formula provides schools and school districts with yet another opportunity to be flexible and align funding with the priorities and needs of students.

I want to assure you that the future of CTE is strong and bright and that the county superintendents will continue to embrace a variety of programs through which all of our students can find their place and achieve success in school and in life.

David Gordon is the Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools.

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18 Responses to “Reports of Career Technical Ed’s demise are greatly exaggerated”

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  1. Lance Gunnersen on Jun 25, 2014 at 1:52 pm06/25/2014 1:52 pm

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    Mr. Gordon is incorrect as too the well-being of CTE and for the future of CTE in California. I have been teaching CTE for 17 years here in California I have served in three different school districts that are all presently looking for qualified CTE teachers for Industrial Trades and none are to be found. These schools are losing their programs because then cannot find teachers for these positions. In the real world, companies are paying top dollar for qualified welders, electricians, high tech manufacturing CNC operators, etc… People like Mr. Gordon are living in an “educational dreamland” and seem to think that just saying CTE is health and wonderful will make it so.

    In a system that only values what it requires, tests and funds, CTE is out in the cold. Some time ago our policy makers removed CTE from a high school requirements for graduation. Then they decided we no longer needed to test or measure our students comprehension in CTE. Now with the Local Control Funding Formula it is NO surprise that schools are dropping CTE from the curricula. The school districts are looking at it like this — we have no mandate – no need to require CTE, we have no testing by which our schools will be measured by — no need to test for CTE, and now we have money to use any way we want –no need to fund CTE! And as a last blow to this death spiral, CTE teachers are retiring with no new teachers in the lineup to replace them.

    Good night and good luck California.

  2. Paul Watters on Jun 17, 2014 at 12:44 pm06/17/2014 12:44 pm

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    Mr. Gordon, along with other poorly informed individuals (read that as our governor and other elected officials) continue to repeat the same old and patently untrue messages; “ California’s CTE future is bright”, “We support Career Technical Education” and of course “ New funding for CTE”. Here is an idea one may consider when attempting to make an honest statement regarding the status of high school career technical courses – try asking schools, or better yet students, about the CTE options available at their school. The answer, far fewer options are available now and drastically fewer will be available in the near future. One simply needs to ask the question and be willing to accept the truth.
    Suggesting that 20 linked learning pilot programs or even $250 million in California Pathways Trust funding is an improvement over $530 million in state revenue invested in CTE annually prior to 2008, demonstrates either intent to distort the facts or a challenge with simple math.
    Of course it is fine and dandy to talk about Next Generation Science Standards and CTE integrated into core academic areas but that only holds water if there are CTE options available for students.

    I suggest there is a larger issue at hand. The real issue is that many individuals, not just limited to government & education elitists, do not see the value in careers not associated with a college degree or even with technical coursework that prepares students for college level technical coursework. We hear these same individuals talk about Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM)and assume they know what they are talking about. Really, Technology and Engineering without Engineering and Technical coursework. How does that work?

    But just think in about three years these same folks will want to “invent”, a system, to prepare students to enter the workforce. Our students can’t wait.

  3. Daniel Binsfeld on Jun 13, 2014 at 11:44 am06/13/2014 11:44 am

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    When you say “progress made in the remarkable transformation of Regional Occupational Programs” are you talking about them being defunded and shut down?

    “… the same politicians who voted for this funding set-aside capitulated to the Brown Administration by agreeing to eliminate all funding for Regional Occupation Centers and Programs (ROCP) by the 2015-16 fiscal year.” ( January 8th, 2014)

    “Only in Sacramento can a one-time $250 million grant be reason for celebration when in the same budget $384 million in ongoing, annual CTE funding will be eliminated following a two-year “maintenance of effort” requirement on districts.” ( January 8th, 2014)

    noun e-jə-ˈkā-ˌkrat, /
    (1) A person who has been an education administrator for so long they can effectively spin any issue into the complete opposite of the truth.

    After 21 years working as a classroom CTE teacher and seeing the devastating effects of California “University for all” structure I am tired of hearing politicians using the term CTE as a buzz word to fool the public. They make it sound like they are supporting the trades when you are actually cutting them.

  4. Bob Hawkes on Jun 13, 2014 at 11:13 am06/13/2014 11:13 am

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    Let’s hear it for the California Career Pathways Trust Fund (Long name – marginal results). In the wisdom of the Department of Education, Paramount Farms, a multi-billion dollar company and the Resnick family who have more money that God, received $10 Million to help a handfull of students. Oh, and the Resnicks have been heavy contributors to Torlakson. Of course that had nothing to do with it. Great decision making…and use of tax money. CTE is the last thing on their minds.

  5. Bill Brown on Jun 13, 2014 at 8:40 am06/13/2014 8:40 am

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    Preparation for “College and Career” is the new goal for all California high school students. The direction of the programs the author represents are single (not sequential), theoretical-based “academic” classes targeting students in the top 10%, not the “middle-kid” likely going to a community college and/or work in the field.

    In my opinion, CTE classes should give students IN-DEPTH, HANDS-ON experiences in programs offering sequential pathways in specific fields such as Manufacturing, Architecture, Engineering, Business Metalworking, or Agriculture.

    True CTE PROGRAMS that prepare that “middle kid” for college and career are sadly going away in California’s high schools.

  6. Colette Marie McLaughlin on Jun 12, 2014 at 11:35 pm06/12/2014 11:35 pm

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    The author is confusing authentic Career Technology Education with with Cheap Teaching Experiences. The authentic type of CTE prepares students for careers by providing shop-based hands-on vocational training; CTE’s inexpensive substitute is based upon rote learning in classrooms featuring passive academic lectures. Administrators, such as the author, have decimated authentic CTE’s shops to justify their obscene salaries by balancing their budgets with ineffective fake CTE programs and diverting funds needed to provide shop programs.

    The inferior version CTE may be flourishing but it is cheating students and the public knows it. (see Instead of confusing the issue, it is time to demand authentic CTE shop-based programs. That way students will emerge from their education with skills necessary to pay off student loans.

  7. Fred Kendell on Jun 12, 2014 at 10:59 pm06/12/2014 10:59 pm

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    For the past 20 years I have seen 90% of the CTE teacher positions go unfilled and programs closed. The State quit credentialing CTE teachers and now we see a slow and painful death. From my shop perspective Mr. Gordan’s characterization could not be further from the truth. My heart breaks when I see the lack of CTE programs currently available and the lost opportunities for our kids.

  8. Rick Damiani on Jun 12, 2014 at 5:40 pm06/12/2014 5:40 pm

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    I didn’t get interested in engineering because I took a lot of math and science classes. I took a lot of math and science classes because taking auto shop got me interested in engineering.

  9. John J. Chocholak on Jun 12, 2014 at 5:34 pm06/12/2014 5:34 pm

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    In Mendocino County the ROP office as we know it will fade away during the summer after some 40 years of full blown operation. As of this month, in our high schools in this county, (and these are part time programs) there are only 2 auto programs in the entire county, one machining program, no drafting programs, two wood programs, three welding programs and what is left of about five Ag programs at six high schools in this county. Thirty five years ago these were all full time SHOP programs at the high school and ROP level in
    Mendocino County.

    On the North Coast high schools there used to be over 100 full time SHOP programs from Marin county up the hwy 101 corridor up to
    Humbolt county. Today, one can count only about 25 such programs, and most are only part time, many will be gone in two years.

    This fellow in Sacramento sees CTE growth being positive in areas that are not SHOP. CTE SHOP is dying, and in fact DEAD in most areas of this state.

    If this is a CTE administrator with any years of experience, he has lost his perspective and lost his way.

    Industry Trade Skill certification of students and programs will not happen under common core or STEM or Project Leed The Way or under what this administrator sees as the great current progress of CTE across the state.

    Sacramento County Superintendent Dave Gordon is out of touch and out of reality when it comes to industry track CTE SHOP programs.

    Now, some person currently in the leadership of teacher CTE organizations should step up to the plate on the statements made by
    Sacramento County Superintendent. And by the way, I expect that no person on the 4Th floor at CDE will speak up on this issue as they are part of this problem…….as is the current State Superintendent.

    John Chocholak
    Field Rep – Small Manufacturers” Institute
    Gave away about 1 million dollars in new equipment in the last two years


    • el on Jun 17, 2014 at 4:59 pm06/17/2014 4:59 pm

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      And the thing is – the kids who shine in these programs, welding, machining, auto mechanics, etc – are probably well set up to make more money and have steadier careers that even someone with a STEM academic education. You can’t outsource a diesel mechanic, and you can live anywhere you want if you’re a good one.

      And Mendocino County on the whole is, I sense, a place where traditional CTE is valued. The changes in responsibility from the regional consortium back to schools plus the structuring of hold harmless provisions mean that the money that used to go to CTE is evaporating.

  10. Jim Howlett on Jun 12, 2014 at 4:13 pm06/12/2014 4:13 pm

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    Mr. Gordon must be new to the scene. Anyone who has been connected with Carrer Education over the last 20 years or more has seen a drastic decline in the number of courses available to students not interested in college. I note that Mr. Gordon talks of current and new programs that will prepare students for college and career. Note the order of choices. The emphasis is always on college, not career.

    What needs to be addressed and corrected in California is the fact that there is not a viable path for those who wish to teach what used to be called Industrial Arts. Schools have been closing IA programs for years for lack of teachers. Teachers with four year degrees who are capable of intergrating mathematics and physics into machine, welding, auto and wood classes. Not the other way around. No one is capable of teaching auto or machine technology in a math or physics class to the skill level necessary for employment.

    The definition of CTE is so diluted that it includes nearly any course that can be said to lead to a career. The multitude of classes dealing with computers hides the real problem – lack of hands on skill/trades training in California.

    Mr. Gordon notes that the number of full time CTE teachers in 2012-13 4,937 teachers is an improvement over the number of CTE teachers for the school year 2008-09 (4,862 teachers). Both numbers are pathetic in light of the 1980’s when there were nearly 5,000 IA teachers and no computer classes.

    If one really wants to get a feel for the state of the State with regards to “Skills traing” drive around and look for fully operational shop classes. Good luck!

    Finally, nice as grants are, they are a poor patch on a major problem. During their lifetime they serve only a very small percentage of the state’s students and then they are gone. Skills classes, IA if you will, need consistent funding well above that provided and most important, we desparatly need a teacher training track in the Cal State University system.

  11. Bob Hawkes on Jun 12, 2014 at 3:34 pm06/12/2014 3:34 pm

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    Oh how I wish that this was a true picture of CTE in California. Sad to say that in spite of this current grant and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent through years of Tech Prep and the soon to pass on SB70, we have not advanced the CTE cause at all. The Chancellor’s office still refuses to clarify simple rules for articulation and dual enrollment which is critical to student success. The “Pathways” are fictions when they do not contain the basic requirements of Perkins. If you want to see robust CTE programs, go to Ohio, Texas, Florida or virtually every other state and you will find California is 20 years behind. You are obviously talking to the wrong people. Check with the CTE director of any high school and see what has happened to his program. do the same at any community college. There is no consistency. Alchamists in days gone by tried to turn lead into gold. Our system truns money into crap…very efficiently. Look at the structure of our community colleges. The only model that fits is 14th Century Europe with scattered independent little kingdoms with no central government.

  12. Chris Walker on Jun 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm06/12/2014 12:38 pm

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    Andrea, get used to kids not knowing how to repair a tractor diesel engine. Sacramento County is preparing our kids through “Capital Region Academies” for the “Next Economy!” I suspect Mr. Gordon and his co-authors regard auto shop, construction and machining courses as dead-end pathways that only support yester-year’s economy. They have higher aspirations for our children than providing them instruction that could lead to a “blue-collar” job. Sad but true.

  13. Andrea on Jun 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm06/12/2014 12:07 pm

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    In addition to what I previously stated I wonder that if CTE is blossoming in California, why can’t my association members find anyone coming out of our schools with the slightest notion of how to repair their tractor’s diesel engine? Such mechanics charge well in excess of $100/hr, and yet they are becoming few and far between.

    The “flexibility” you laud is what is leading many school administrators to shut-down actual hands-on training opportunities for students, and instead opting for career brochures and academic teachers providing a couple of career-oriented instructional events and calling that “CTE.” Seriously?

    Not only are industry leaders up-in-arms about the shuddering of these CTE programs up-and-down the state, many kids are “voting with their feet” and simply dropping-out of a system of education that has become theoretical and academic-centric with no real-world relevance to them or their life aspirations. The Ag industry — which is the single largest job provider in California — needs genuine CTE programs to assure the next generation of Californian’s can keep this robust sector of economy thriving.

    CTE is in a Death Spiral make no mistake!

  14. AP on Jun 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm06/12/2014 12:07 pm

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    I concur – my superintendent and the other superintendents within my county, would all disagree with Mr. Gordon. Or – what they would say is they love CTE, but they’re not going to fund it.

    Our county has lost about 150 + sections with approximately 20 students per class – (about 3,000 + students)just this year.

    I’m not sure where the information is coming from, but I agree, it’s incorrect and please talk and listen to your CTE teachers, administrators, and students statewide

  15. Hilary McLean on Jun 12, 2014 at 12:02 pm06/12/2014 12:02 pm

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    Bravo – well said Dave!

  16. Andrea on Jun 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm06/12/2014 12:01 pm

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    I am sorry to contradict you Mr. Gordon, but you are incorrect in your assertion that all is well for the future of CTE in California. As a matter of fact CTE dollars are being diverted wholesale to non-vocational expenses, under the new “flexibility” of LCFF. Anyone teaching in the field of CTE knows that your perspective about CTE is false. Our teachers are retiring by the hundreds with no new teachers in line to replace them and no intention of site administrators to replace them or maintain their programs once they are gone. This is the true and sad state of affairs concerning CTE not at all how you state it in this commentary based on your out of touch opinion.

  17. Chris Walker on Jun 12, 2014 at 11:40 am06/12/2014 11:40 am

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    The real-world says you’re dead wrong. Sorry, but you say:

    “I want to assure you that the future of CTE is strong and bright and that the county superintendents will continue to embrace a variety of programs through which all of our students can find their place and achieve success in school and in life.”

    Your premise is baseless and just wrong. The numbers from the California Department of Education showing enrollments from not just 2011-2012 but 1990-2014 completely contradict your points.

    Please talk to CTE teachers and students statewide.

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