Let’s Re-imagine Career and Technical Education

Today’s students need both academic and career preparation to succeed

GUEST COLUMN | by Pete Findley

For the first time in generations, students are finding themselves with an education but without a job. As our schools try to readjust to set students up for life-long success, it’s time we re-thought the role – and the subject matter – of Career and Technical Education (CTE).

Once considered a nice-to-have or alternative education track, CTE in our nation’s schools has been invigorated these last years. We should all feel encouraged by the progress in the treatment and teaching of CTE curriculum, and the fact that it’s been identified as integral to preparing students for bright futures.

But what if a career-oriented education tied directly to the most in-demand jobs, was wholly integrated into a broader course curriculum, and was delivered via more engaging and personalized instruction? And what if students had the opportunity, even as early as middle school, to begin intentionally exploring their career interests? Reimagining CTE carries with it the potential to simultaneously enrich a students’ education and prepare them for the certifications and exams that will lead to real jobs.

There are a host of realities that in my opinion beckon and invite the next wave of CTE innovation and I am convinced we’re up to the challenge.

First, the current job environment has changed the skills required of our workforce, asking more of them than a proficiency in core subjects like math, science and English. The marketplace demands a demonstration of advanced technical, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Second, a high school diploma is not only essential for pursuit of higher education, but is a gateway to gainful employment. Yet national statistics indicate that nearly 25 percent of students aren’t graduating from high school in four years; about one in four students drop out along the way.The failure to obtain an advanced education has profound financial consequences for students and their families. Economists estimate that high school dropouts earn $20,000 less annually than high school graduates. Looked at another way, workers with college degrees earned 73 percent more than those who had not completed high school.1

Finally, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) projects that eighteen of the 20 fastest growing occupations within the next decade will require career and technical education. This projection alone underscores how critical it is to layer fresh CTE approaches on top of what is already being done well inside our nation’s schools.

Whatever your point of view and any way you crunch the data, it’s clear. Education needs to click early and strongly with professional aspiration. I believe these unacceptable high school dropout rates are in part occurring because students perceive their education as being divorced from their desired career and future. Yet evidence suggests that bringing the two together can keep students on-track for graduation. For instance, a 2011 study revealed that high school students who took 3 or more CTE credits were less likely to drop out than those taking one or less CTE credits.1

That begs the question of what’s being done to reconcile these perceptions of irrelevance. Enter CTE programs that are again being re-imagined, this time through the integration of technology. In my imagination, tomorrow’s CTE programs will need to leverage the inherent attributes and benefits of a rigorous technology-based curriculum in order to take full root. Why?

–  Technology-based instruction enables schools and districts to offer CTE when it otherwise might be untenable. The efficiency and flexibility of online curriculum will mean more students can pursue a CTE path of specific interest to them, even at more modest student enrollment levels. All across the country, we’ve seen electives cut because they’ve been unsustainable. Access to great training in Health Sciences, Business, and Information Technology – among the top hiring engines for the foreseeable future – can’t be compromised.

–  Today’s students are digital natives. They respond favorably to hands on interaction with content and information, and their careers will ask that they’re adept and comfortable with technology. It makes sense then to smartly integrate e-learning platforms as a way to augment the learning and teaching going on in the classroom.

–  Technology drives personalized, differentiated instruction. With online blended into existing CTE programs, the teacher can move into an ever more valuable role, operating more intimately and collaboratively with students during classroom time, to enhance productivity and ensure comprehension of subject matter.

–  Technology offers a level of transparency that allows teachers to see in real time when a student is struggling with a concept and needs intervention, coaching, motivation; or alternatively, where they are excelling. Importantly, it does this all discretely, being respectful of a student’s pace and way of learning.

All told, there’s been advocacy and momentum put behind an education that squarely factors a student’s career aspirations into their full course curriculum, earlier on in their academic journey, and built on a clear understanding of marketplace needs. I see technology-based instruction as an enabler of an even more powerful breed of CTE, as a supplement to traditional classroom instruction, and as a great equalizer that affords access to inspiring courses that will lead students to the greatest employment opportunities and higher education success.


Author Pete Findley is Vice President of Career and Technical Education at Edgenuity (formerly education2020), a leading provider of core and elective instruction for students in grades 6–12, creating innovative, rigorous, standards-aligned courseware and virtual instruction programs to prepare students for college and careers. Write to: petef@education2020.com


1 Aliaga, O. A., Stone, J. R., III, Kotamraju, P., and Dickinson, E. (2011). Engaging students in high school: An examination of the Positive Role of Career and technical education. Louisville, KY: National Research Center for Career andTechnical Education, University of Louisville.

  • Jason Sprenger


    Skills gaps are emerging, and one important way we can bridge them is to invest in career and technical education (CTE). The benefits of this kind of work is well documented, and it’s even more powerful when businesses and educators work together. It’s definitely worth investing in.

    The Industry Workforce Needs Council (led by Eau Claire-based Realityworks) is a group of businesses working together to spotlight skills gaps and advocate for CTE as a means of curbing them. For more information, or to join the effort, visit http://www.iwnc.org.

    Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC

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