Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Get College and Career-Ready at a Vo-Tech High School

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Get College and Career-Ready at a Vo-Tech High School

Article excerpt

Job experience, industry credentials, and college credits can put career-technical students ahead of students who have only an academic education.

Educators love their jargon like no other. The edu-phrase du jour "goes viral" quickly, gets uttered at every professional development workshop, published in articles, and repeated by colleagues. Surely you've heard most them: digital natives, grit, flipped learning, one-to-one initiatives. The list is l-o-n-g.

The phrase "college- and career-ready" catapulted to the top so fast that it earned cringe-worthy status within months. Secondary educators and departments of education obsess about it, attempting to define and redefine the term with broad-scoped qualitative and quantitative measures.

But here's a news flash--from the past: Career and technical students can tell you what it means because they have been doing it all along. Students who have selected career and technical high schools are intentionally preparing to be both college- and career-ready. They are earning industry-recognized credentials and college credits while completing their academic high school coursework. They're also working part-time during the school day, gaining valuable work experience, and making important business connections.

As school systems, states, and boards of education struggle to agree on what constitutes college- and career-ready--developing a host of indicators that includes SAT scores, AP class rosters, and postsecondary graduation rates--they often overlook the successes happening in the career and technical education (CTE) high schools down the street.

If they paid more attention, they'd see that the vo-techs (vocational and technical schools) are producing students with access to multiple pathways for their postsecondary pursuits. Today's CTE high schools have transformed themselves into a one-stop shop--becoming the Amazons of education--because today's students demand choices. Students no longer define themselves nor sort themselves into singular categories: those going to college, those not going to college, those going to work, those entering apprenticeship training. Students and their parents want options. CTE high schools provide those options with high-quality, rigorous programs of study that create floors with many doors and no ceilings.

Perhaps better than explaining or diagraming what a successful CTE program looks like are the closeup stories of some of its graduates telling how their schools affected their lives. These students aren't especially remarkable, but their experiences are in fact typical examples of how CTE high schools are preparing students to be college- and career-ready.

The examples come from New Castle County Vo-Tech School District (NCC Vo-Tech) in northern Delaware, which operates four full-time, comprehensive high schools ranging in size from 900 to 1,600 students. The district has 4,600 students in total in grades 9-12. Students must apply for admission to enter one of 40 different career programs of study ranging from allied health and IT to the more traditional construction and automotive technologies. Collectively the schools admit 1,300 freshmen each fall and turn away more than 500 applicants annually due to lack of capacity. During a decade when the growth of charter and independent schools has exploded in this community, demand for admission to these vo-tech high schools remains strong.

It may be because parents are seeking options that are practical and pathways that are flexible. Some CTE graduates elect to work part-time and attend community college part-time. Others matriculate to a four-year college and work part-time, using skills they learned in their high school career program of study. Some have so demonstrated their value to companies during their senior year cooperative education work placement that the companies offer them full-time positions upon graduation. …

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