Educator forecasts threat to high school career, technical education

January 24, 2005

University Park, Pa. -- Almost a hundred years of federal assistance for high school career and technical education could abruptly end if a current federal proposal succeeds, a Penn State educator says.

The viability of high school vocational education -- now called Career and Technical Education (CTE) -- is once again being questioned, notes Kenneth Gray, professor of education. The Bush administration recommends that the $1.3 billion in federal funding for high school CTE, Tech Prep (which combines instruction in both technical and integrated academic skills) and even postsecondary technical education be redirected toward a purely high school academic curriculum linked to college.

According to Gray, the present administration's attitude is that every teenager should be going to college and thus secondary education should focus almost entirely on the traditional academic components of English, math and science. The current administration's plan to improve education is to motivate young people by requiring all of them to take standardized tests and stigmatize as failures both those students who do poorly as well as their schools.

"The implication is that CTE is antiquated and incompatible with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) guidelines. One appointee with the U.S. Office of Education, now retired, went so far as to characterize CTE programs as preparing students for careers as shoe repairers," says Gray, author of a recent article in Phi Beta Kappan, "Is High School Career and Technical Education Obsolete?"

"The CTE experience, in reality, holds the potential to assist all teens in verifying tentative career plans as a prerequisite to making postsecondary plans," Gray notes. "Less CTE will mean less opportunity for teens and, in the long run, less prosperity for all of us."

As opposed to English, math and science, no high school student is required to take CTE. USOE data shows, however, that almost every high school graduate takes one or more courses in Career and Technical Education and 25 percent of them take three or more credits in a single occupational area.

"Whereas no teen has to take CTE, one can assume that these students and their parents, not to mention local school boards who finance most of these courses, find them of value," says Gray.

"CTE is to some teens what advance placement and honors courses are to others, namely an alternative program of study they find more applicable and instructionally effective. At the high school level, No Child Left Behind requires alternatives," adds the Penn State researcher.

"The common academic curriculum/college prep approach offers little of relevance to more than half of all teens, especially the 25 percent who drop out and the 30 percent of those remaining who go to work fulltime," Gray says. "In most cases, the lack of an option to strict academics is one reason why many teens drop out in the first place. And while academics count in any occupation, labor market advantage for the work-bound high school student in competing for jobs with career possibilities and a living wage comes from having specific occupational skills as well."

Moreover, CTE does not conflict with the administration's No Child Left Behind initiative. Most students in CTE programs take essentially the same number and kind of academic classes as non-CTE students, and they graduate with equivalent test scores. Even college-bound students dismiss much of the traditional academic curriculum as irrelevant and opt for CTE programs.

Gray says, "For many students, CTE provides options that they find more meaningful in light of their aspirations and talents. Without high school CTE, high school dropouts will likely increase, work-bound high school graduates will be prepared only for low-skills/low-wage dead-end employment, and TECH PREP, the only high school academic program specifically designed to prepare students for college-level technician training, will be gone."

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 28, 2017