Lori Morton: Students can find their passion in Career Technical Education

March 25, 2014 

Lori Morton

What is CTE? Technically speaking it is the acronym for Career Technical Education. But what is it really? What does Career Technical Education mean for students and our local economy?

Career Technical Education programs in our Valley provide students with a way to find their passion, which in turn heightens their level of engagement, broadens their skills, deepens their knowledge and prepares them for college and career.

We should all set goals, but sometimes it's hard to hit your target when you don't know where to aim. How many of you knew what you wanted to become when you graduated high school?

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The truth is, most students are unsure about their future career or what it will take to get them there. They don't realize the potential time and money saved if they had a clearer vision up front. So how do they set a path?

Career exploration is the first step. Research shows us that students are at the highest risk of dropping out in their freshmen year. So why not have them develop their goals then?

Schools that have started offering a career planning course to all ninth-grade students have seen tremendous success. Students participate in activities that allow them to investigate their personal strengths and narrow their career choices to develop a 10-year plan. This enables them to chart their course and have an end goal in mind.

Once students select a career pathway of study, they can start taking courses in that area to prepare them for postsecondary education and career success.

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State Center Consortium partners with nearly 20 school districts in Fresno, Madera and Mariposa counties, as well as higher-education institutions and community organizations, to provide support to CTE teachers, administrators, counselors and students through various grant funding.

These school districts and colleges, along with the Regional Occupational Programs through Fresno ROP and Valley ROP, offer a stunning array of Career Technical Education programs. Students have the ability to learn skills in construction, health, business, agriculture, manufacturing and transportation among others.

Better yet, some of these courses have gained articulation with Fresno City College, Reedley College, or Fresno State. This allows students the opportunity to earn college units while they are in high school.

A study by the James Irvine Foundation found that students who earned these units in high school were more likely to graduate, persist in college and complete their degree. Speaking from personal experience, graduating from high school with college units is an enormous incentive to keep going.

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With the new implementation of Common Core, students will be evaluated based on their ability to think critically and problem-solve using a variety of resources. This has long been the case in Career Technical Education programs where students create projects and portfolios as a way to demonstrate competency.

Academic and CTE instructors are coming together more than ever before to plan instruction so students can better connect their physics class to their engineering program. When students can see the relevance in what they are learning, they find meaning and motivation to their work.

It's evident we have quite a gap between the number of jobs available and the number of skilled workers to fill them. We hear our political leaders speak about this often, and funding is starting to shift, investing more heavily in CTE.

Gov. Jerry Brown has appropriated $250 million to the California Career Pathways Trust, a one-time competitive grant fund established to encourage regional collaboration and the development of career pathway programs in high-skill, high-wage and high-growth industries.

Even with plenty of funding and amazing teachers and programs, there is still something we need more of — business engagement. Without business and industry professionals actively engaged in Career Technical Education, we are missing the big picture, which is ultimate employability.

Business partners know better than anyone what their labor needs are and how we can provide them with a skilled workforce. In February, State Center Consortium and partners hosted a Central Valley Career Technical Education Conference on Building Business and Education Partnerships.

Coinciding with the conference was the unveiling of the recently developed Employer & Education Engagement Network, which will provide businesses with a way to partner with schools that offer Career Technical programs in their field.

Undoubtedly business partnerships make a lasting impact on student success. To learn more, visit www.e3network.statecenter.com.

Back to the original question: What is CTE? College and career readiness, students' paths to success, business and industry partnerships — and so much more.

To learn about the CTE programs in your area, contact your local high school or community college. You may find they have more to offer than you realized.

Lori Morton is director of the State Center Consortium.

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