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#AskExcelinEd: Why is #CTEMonth important?

• Quentin Suffren

February is Career and Technical Education Month (#CTEMonth) and for the next few weeks we will be exploring some of the pressing issues facing state and local CTE programs. Today, Innovation Policy Managing Director Quentin Suffren previews what to expect from this series and provides background on CTE.

Here at ExcelinEd, we talk a lot about Career and Technical Education (CTE) – most recently in Putting CTE to Work for Students: A Playbook for State Policymakers. February is CTE Month, giving us another reason to talk about CTE and more importantly, about strengthening state CTE Programs.

Over the course of the month, we’ll be teeing up topics that state policymakers and practitioners are (or should be) grappling with as they strive to ensure their CTE programs are up to date and effective. That means the programs are closely aligned to state and regional industry needs and they feature rigorous, high-quality coursework and experiences to prepare students for college and career. Upcoming topics include:

  • Challenges in aligning CTE program offerings to business and industry needs
  • The role of industry-recognized certifications in a robust CTE pathway
  • Opportunities for students to engage in authentic work-based learning opportunities
  • Increasing educators’ capacity to provide rigorous instruction aligned with industry demand
  • The relationship between CTE and viable pathways to postsecondary credentials and long-term advancement in the workforce

Let’s start with a primer on what constitutes an effective CTE program. Based on our work in leading states, ExcelinEd has identified a set of eight criteria or “non-negotiables” to ensure CTE program quality:

  1. All programs of study align with state and/or regional industry and labor market data.
  2. Programs of study incorporate experiential learning and capstone experiences valued by industry.
  3. Secondary-school programs of study vertically align with postsecondary programs.
  4. Courses are sequential and progressive in a given program of study.
  5. Secondary programs of study incorporate courses and exams eligible for postsecondary credit or hours where appropriate.
  6. Course standards are robust and accurately represent the academic, technical and employability skills learners must master.
  7. Educators receive ongoing, progressive training and professional development to ensure their instruction is reflective of course standards and current industry work environments.
  8. Federal, state and local funding are used to leverage and drive programmatic changes, with the goal of implementing vertically aligned education-to-career learning pathways for students.

To be sure, meeting all these criteria takes time and planning, a good dose of “know-how” and sustained effort. Yet more than anything else, it takes the political will to act on real-world data about existing labor markets and program outcomes which may require sun-setting under-performing or misaligned courses and pathways (no matter how entrenched). But that data also presents new opportunities to develop the talent and programs that will better prepare students for the middle- and higher-wage jobs of today and tomorrow.

It may be tempting to think that federal actions, such as reauthorization of the Perkins Act or ESSA Plans, will take care of wholesale CTE program improvement. The reality is that states hold the key to CTE program quality. We hope you will join us for a month of discussion and insights into how states can proactively put CTE to work for student success.

About the author

Quentin Suffren

As Innovation Policy Managing Director, Quentin oversees Personalized Learning, College and Career Pathways and Course Access policies at ExcelinEd. Previously, Quentin served as executive director of the college, career, and military preparation at the Texas Education Agency. He also held leadership positions with Amplify Education, an education consulting and technology firm, TNTP, and The Learning Institute. Quentin began his career as a high school English teacher. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Memphis.