Mar 06

House hearing highlights value of career and technical education

On February 28, House Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chair Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Ranking Member Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) hosted a hearing entitled “Providing More Students a Pathway to Success by Strengthening Career and Technical Education.” The hearing highlighted both the demand for career pathways that meet modern needs and the residual barriers to entry into career and technical education (CTE) programs that reflect old patterns of thinking.

Chairman Rokita began and ended the hearing by expressing his optimism that the time is right for passage of updated legislation to reauthorize the outdated Perkins CTE law last authorized in 2006. He categorized an update to the law as a “common-sense bipartisan reform” that deserves priority.

Rep. Polis honed in on statistics about the future needs of the workforce, which will require a much higher proportion (65 percent) of employees with postsecondary credentials as soon as 2020. Polis highlighted dual and concurrent enrollment programs as a solution, citing that students in dual enrollment programs are 23 percent more likely to continue on to postsecondary education after high school. Programs that are fully funded, locally flexible, and labor market-driven to ensure effectiveness and relevancy could act as a “ladder to lift students to the middle class” and “reconnect disconnected youth” in all communities, Polis explained over the course of his statement.

The hearing’s panel included Glenn Johnson, workforce development leader at BASF; Janet Goble, a CTE director from Utah; Mimi Lufkin, CEO of the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE); and Mike Rowe, CEO of the MikeRoweWORKS Foundation and former star of the TV show “Dirty Jobs.” Panelists discussed a range of ideas, including the importance of local partnerships, the skills gap, the importance of real connections to employment opportunities in local areas, the effects of baby boomer retirement, the reputation of skilled labor, the higher than average starting salaries of CTE-trained workers, the importance of data collection and reporting, and the need to encourage students into non-traditional fields—such as men in health care or women in construction.

We need to “aggressively confront the stigmas and stereotypes that prevent people from going into these trades,” Rowe testified. The “cookie cutter approach to higher education” can leave students without prospects, yet, Rowe mentioned, “many American view a career in the trades as a kind of consolation prize.”

Rep. Foxx, Chair of the full House Committee on Education and the Workforce agreed that CTE education deserved a more positive framing, after all, “Harvard College began as a vocational school,” she reminded.

Chairman Rokita asked how students can gain the necessary technical skills while still gaining the critical thinking skills he received from his own higher education experience. Johnson responded that systems can be designed with stackable credentials so that a student can receive technical training and then choose to go on for more. Goble suggested that student involvement in activities like Future Farmers of America can also help build these leadership and other skills.

Afterschool programs were not referenced directly, but could be heard in the echoes of discussions around the need to introduce students to career opportunities early; to build their “soft” (non-technical) skills, like leadership; and to provide real world experiences and opportunities. CTE legislation proposed in the last Congress included explicit mention of community-based partnerships and highlighted the importance of employability skills. It also included grants for flexible, collaborative, innovation and allowed funding to support student career exposure as early as fifth grade.

Due to the popularity of last year’s bill, which passed the House committee unanimously and passed the full House with a vote of 405 to 5, we hope and expect that any legislation released this year listens to this panel and the clamor of additional voices from the afterschool and education field and will similarly include these advances and opportunities for all students.