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Report Calls for Revamping Career and Technical Education To Boost Engagement

WASHINGTON — Earlier this week, the Southern Regional Education Board unveiled a report calling for revamping career and technical education and integrating it into college-prep high school curricula with a goal of keeping students engaged and focused and better prepared for college and the work force.

The report, titled “Crafting a New Vision for High School: How States Can Join Academic and Technical Studies to Promote More Powerful Learning,” reveals that at least one in four high school students don’t graduate on time, if at all, and “many of these young adults blame a curriculum that is neither relevant nor challenging as a central reason for their disengagement.”

The report also finds that many students who do make their way into college won’t graduate, as “barely one-half of those who begin a four-year degree graduate within six years,” and the news is worse at community colleges, as only about one in five students earn an associate degree or a specialized career certificate within three years.

Gene Bottoms, SREB’s senior vice president for school improvement and the report’s lead author, says that many schools systems’ emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing is partly to blame for why so many students disengage, drop out or underperform.

“The emphasis has been so focused on passing the exam that an awful lot of at-risk students spend so much time in the early grades of high school on what I call test-prep instruction that they have become very bored with school and are not very much engaged in challenging learning opportunities,” Bottoms says.

“If we can begin to link quality academics in more schools with high-quality career and technical studies through project-based learning, we can come up with a means to turn more students on to high school, reducing the dropout rate and preparing more students for further study and for good employment,” he adds.

The report calls for “harnessing the applied teaching strategies” of career and technical education and “infusing them into college-preparatory academics.” Thus, the SREB reports says U.S. high schools can be transformed into high-performing learning centers where students are challenged and engaged and can take their skills and enthusiasm into postsecondary learning, preparing them well for the ever-evolving needs of a dynamic economy.

The report’s recommendations revolve around five key action points regarding the revamping of CTE: Align new and existing career/technical curricula with essential college- and career-readiness standards; Create a flexible system of optional career pathways in high schools; Create a policy framework that keeps students’ future options open, blending academic and technical studies and linking them to eventual career goals; Assessing the contributions career/technical education can make to improving academic and technical achievement; and preparing and enabling career/technical teachers to teach essential academic skills through application in authentic activities, projects and problems.

Katharine Oliver, assistant superintendent for career technology and adult learning for the state of Maryland, was present at the press conference at which the report was unveiled and endorsed the recommendations of the report, noting that they are in line with efforts underway in Maryland to better align the links between academic and technical learning to postsecondary learning and the work force.

For instance, Oliver says that the state of Maryland requires local school systems to design courses of study that link to at least two years of postsecondary learning. Maryland also requires local advisory councils for career and technology education “to be a joint secondary-postsecondary group when a school system and a community college are in the same jurisdiction.

“So that puts people in the frame of mind thinking about developing programs from the very beginning with that historical 2+2 concept, and now that has all kinds of variations,” be it 4+2, or even the P-20 concept, linking primary and secondary school to terminal degrees, Oliver adds.

The SREB report, unveiled in conjunction with the Council of Chief State School Officers at its Washington headquarters, emphasizes the concept that “high school is not an event, it is part of a continuum and pathway for students,” CCSSO Deputy Executive Director Lois Adams-Rodgers said. Adams-Rodgers added that some states are now moving in the direction of designing individual learning plans for students so they are “actually creating that foundation for kids to think about what the future may hold and what their interests are,” getting to the core of “this notion of engagement.”

The nonprofit and nonpartisan Southern Regional Education Board is based in Atlanta and was created in 1948 by Southern governors and legislatures to help education and government leaders collaboratively work to improve the social and economic life of the region. For more information and a copy of the full report, visit

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