Magazine article Techniques

Changing Approaches-Changing Perspectives

Magazine article Techniques

Changing Approaches-Changing Perspectives

Article excerpt

Over the past seven years, research teams from the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) have been at work testing curriculum integration models. Each of three studies--Math-in-CTE, Authentic Literacy-in-CTE, and Science-in-CTE--has focused on the development of pedagogic frameworks and delivery of professional development. An unintended but powerful outcome of this research has been a growing respect between the career and technical education (CTE) and academic worlds and changing perspectives about CTE and its contribution to student academic achievement.

Despite the progress we are making in the field, misperceptions about CTE abound. Some of these are deeply rooted in the experiences of those who attended or heard about the vocational education programs of the past. Many people still feel that CTE is appropriate only for a certain segment of the school population. For instance, they may still believe that students in automotive technology only learn how to change oil and fix brakes, or that students in agriculture are going to work on the family farm. Through our collective experiences with curriculum integration research and technical assistance, we have learned just how deeply these misperceptions persist.

Today, even strong proponents of CTE, including students themselves, persist in believing that CTE is much more about hands-on applications than about minds-on problem-solving that requires critical math, reading and science skills. Sometimes these misperceptions are based on what's popular at the moment. For instance, a criminal justice teacher recently characterized the misperceptions of his students this way: "Students enroll in my classes because they want to shoot people. What they soon learn is that criminal justice is all about reading and writing case studies and thinking about crimes. We don't shoot anybody." Starting a CTE program with misinformed expectations can keep students from benefitting from programs that are rich in opportunities for high levels of academic integration, especially in literacy.

Although the image of CTE continues to be a source of concern for the field, we caution that focusing too much on image can become a "red herring"--a distraction that sometimes serves to defind practices that really do need to change. It may also prevent us from capitalizing on our strengths and successes. Through our curriculum integration projects, we are learning what happens when we examine our practices and make substantive changes that result in measurable improvements.

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We suggest that perspectives about CTE change when we change--when we pursue high-quality research, make purposeful changes in our approaches, and consistently work to bridge the gap between the academic and CTE worlds.

Building Credibility Through High-Quality Research

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CTE tends to be a "doing" field--our experience-oriented, pragmatic pedagogy is one of our greatest strengths, attracting and engaging students who want to "do" something. However, that very benefit has often come at the expense of an environment that promotes conducting high-quality research to undergird our practices. The field is in a unique position to capitalize on the experiential opportunities it holds for students, but that alone is not enough. We must also ground our practices in valid, reliable research.

Conducting rigorous research has the potential to propel CTE to the educational forefront, building credibility for the field in the larger educational forum. For example, we designed our NRCCTE curriculum integration studies as group-randomized trials in which teachers and their classes were randomly assigned to control and experimental groups. Additionally, each study employed a mixed-methods approach to capture qualitative data associated with the treatment. These design features were important because they help lead us to the most reliable findings. …

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