Is Career and Technical Education Just Enjoying Its 15 Minutes of Fame?

By Hess, Frederick M.; Martin, R. J. | AEI Paper & Studies, February 2019 | Go to article overview

Is Career and Technical Education Just Enjoying Its 15 Minutes of Fame?


Hess, Frederick M., Martin, R. J., AEI Paper & Studies


Key Points

* This report examines how much media attention toward career and technical education has grown and how that compares to other prominent 21st-century education reforms over the past two decades.

* Since 1998, the number of articles mentioning career and technical education has increased more than a hundredfold. Since 2012, media mentions have doubled.

* This heightened interest in career and technical education is part of a larger trend entailing increased attention to skills training. For example, media mentions of workforce development increased by a factor of 13 in the past two decades.

* Career and technical education's rise has been unusually long-running when compared to other 21st-century education reforms--such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core--and is especially notable for an idea that generates little controversy.

Over the past couple years, career and technical education has garnered a lot of attention. Politico reported that 49 states and Washington, DC, enacted 241 career and technical education-related laws, executive actions, and budget provisions in 2017. (1) The National Governors Association has tagged career and technical education as one of its 12 priorities, and Jobs for the Future has observed that career and technical education "has become the 'next best thing' in high school reform." (2) A 2018 AEI study found that career and technical education was the only education issue a majority of gubernatorial candidates supported. (3) Meanwhile, a 2018 analysis reported that the number of high school students concentrating in career education rose 22 percent, to 3.6 million, during the past decade. (4)

All this raises a big question, given education's long experience with fads and shifting sentiment: Is the boom in career and technical education one more fad, or does it reflect something more substantial? That answer matters for how much attention this push deserves from educators, parents, and policymakers.

In a stab at addressing this question, we examined the media attention devoted to career and technical education over the past two decades--and how that compares to the attention devoted to other popular 21st-century education reforms.

We used the search engine LexisNexis (a database of news articles from national and international media outlets) to identify the number of articles each year that mentioned career and technical education and, for comparative purposes, other related terms. We searched for "career and technical education" rather than "CTE" to not inadvertently include articles about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that has received extensive coverage for its impact on former football players' health.

In all cases, we searched for articles in the LexisNexis category "US Publications," a compilation of major US media sources. (5) While that LexisNexis category is comprehensive, it is not exhaustive. For example, blogs and some education-specific media, such as Education Week, are not included. The exclusion of specialized outlets helps ensure that the results are a pretty good gauge of how much attention the relevant issues received across the broad sweep of US media.

Since 1998, the number of articles mentioning career and technical education has increased more than a hundredfold, as displayed in Figure 1. Since 2004, media mentions have grown over tenfold, and they have doubled since 2012. In short, the coverage devoted to career and technical education has exploded during the past two decades.

This heightened interest in career and technical education is part of a larger trend, which entails increased attention to skills training and workforce preparedness (Figure 2). Indeed, media mentions of workforce development increased by a factor of 13 in the past two decades.

Meanwhile, other training-related terms that were once more common than career and technical education have not kept pace. …

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