THE FOURTH RECOMMENDATION IN ACTE'S high school reform position statement is to dramatically improve how and where academic content is taught. Even as advanced academic course-taking and high school graduation requirements have increased, student achievement on national benchmarks has remained flat, and college remediation rates continue to capture national attention.
This leads to the conclusion that the achievement problem is not just one of low-level course-taking, it is also related to unfocused curriculum and instructional methods that are not reaching all students. Integration of academic competencies into career and technical education (CTE) curricula and of real-world content and applied methods and examples into traditional academic classes can raise student achievement levels and increase understanding of rigorous concepts.
As each state refines and clarifies its standards for college and career readiness, it should recognize that traditional "academic" skills can be acquired in a variety of settings, not just the traditional academic classroom, and that the delivery of academic instruction must be tailored to the needs of a diverse group of student learners.
Requirements to integrate academics into CTE programs have been a component of the federal Perkins Act since 1990, although in many places there is still a great deal of work to be done in this area. Traditional academic teachers must also get involved in the integration efforts to create a seamless, relevant curriculum that prepares all students to succeed. All educators must work together to identify strategies that show promise for helping all students attain proficiency in high-level courses across the curriculum.
Rising to the Challenge
As the state of Kentucky prepared for the reauthorization of the Perkins Act and implemented new high school graduation requirements, CTE leaders realized that an increased emphasis on the integration of academics and CTE was necessary. While this integration had been a priority in the state for more than 10 years, a full-scale initiative was launched to increase the focus on integration and student achievement. The initiative in Kentucky contains three major elements:
1 Developing interdisciplinary academic/ career technical courses to teach required core content, such as construction/ geometry.
2 Integrating math within CTE courses using materials developed by the National Research Center for CTE.
3 Master Teacher Training for math teachers using applied/contextual instructional strategies to teach algebra I, geometry and algebra II.
Rodney Kelly, director of the Division of Career and Technical Education in the Kentucky Department of Education, has been a strong leader of these efforts and adds, "These new options provide students opportunities to learn rigorous academic content in a way that utilizes applications of content relevant to real-world problems and career areas in which students are pursuing." The math initiative exemplifies the recommendation to dramatically improve both how and where academic content is taught.
For several years, Kentucky has offered students the opportunity to gain academic credit through interdisciplinary courses that integrate academic and CTE content. Current courses offered in Kentucky include agribiology, business economics, math for business and industry, agriscience, nutritional and food science, construction geometry, consumer economics, medical science, computer aided drafting, and health and wellness.
The interdisciplinary courses can substitute for a required course for graduation as long as the course meets the same rigorous academic content as the required content course. Kelly emphasizes, "These interdisciplinary or applied courses are not watered-down math courses, but rather high-level academic courses that hold students accountable to the same content as required for postsecondary preparation. …