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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