Preaching the Word: Career and Technical Education

Article excerpt

SINCE 1862, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS passed legislation advocating the use of federal dollars for career and technical education (CTE). These federal legislations were and continue to be driven by social and economic reform. In the 21st century, the reform of vocational education, now officially called CTE, has emerged into a national debate of resource allocation and spiritual obligations. As the federal government begins to "cleanse" itself of certain educational programs, CTE must give a testimony of its importance to students, industry and society.

The social revolution of the early 20th century has given way to the knowledge revolution, which has as its core the skills of communication, problem-solving and reasoning (Grubb and Lazerson 2005b). Career and technical student organizations (CTSOs) not only provide students with the opportunities to explore career options, they also develop leadership skills, encourage personal and social growth, actively participate in community betterment, develop respect for work and lifelong learning, nurture team skills and develop citizenship (McNally and Harvey, 2001). Believers of CTE see these skills as necessary for employers to compete in a global environment.

Members of the CTSO of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) compete in local, state and national events of emerging business issues. The topic for the 2006 conference was privatizing Social Security. This emerging topic is a top priority to industry and its employees.

Caught in the Middle

Daggett (2003) says, "CTE has weathered many storms in the recent past, but it will face substantial new challenges as a result of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation."

NCLB will require each subgroup of CTE to focus on students obtaining specific academic skills or core competencies. These academic skills are primarily in reading and math. It would appear that career and technical educators may be feeling "the squeeze" from the top and the bottom. The federal government is pushing for more accountability, and industry human resource departments are pushing for employees with a great knowledge of basic skills.

Career and technical educators must re-engineer teaching methods that will develop education's most basic skills. It is believed the underdevelopment of these skills comes from society constantly changing due to technological advances and students feeling the pressure to adapt to systems, machines and processes (Daggett, 2003).

Others hypothesize that the underdevelopment of core competencies comes from the learning styles, socioeconomic status, and perhaps abilities of CTE students. The majority of CTE students are kinetic learners and prefer hands-on activities. Others (high-risk learners) are focused primarily on financial opportunities for themselves and their families. CTE programs have the ability to focus on these students' concerns. Across the country, the majority of CTE programs provide a job-site component or internship.

Many at-risk students appreciate the school-to-work connection because they have a financial hardship that can be addressed through a cooperative education program, thus CTE has created an environment for all students to experience success. (Brewer, 2004)

The Impact on Students

CTE has a major role in the U. S. secondary education system. About 25 percent of high school students have a focused area in CTE (Gray, 2004). Stitt-Gohdes (2001) reports, "Out of 212 business education students, 47.4 percent were working on a general academic diploma, 18.5 percent on a general academic/career and technical diploma, and 31.3 percent on a career and technical diploma alone." (p.42) These figures put a significant amount of public education secondary students in career and technical programs.

Another factor affecting CTE is lifelong learning. With technology metamorphosing at a faster pace than 10 years ago, employers are trying new methods to obtain a skilled workforce (Grubb and Lazerson (2005a). …