Career Education

I experienced a moment of deja vu when reading this article from last Sunday’s New York Times discussing the threat to Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. This quote, in particular, prompted the feeling: “Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that ‘at a time when local, state and federal governments are all facing tremendous budget pressure’ advocates for vocationally oriented education ‘must make a compelling case for continued funding.’” 
During the summer of 2008, when I was working as the oldest intern in CPS history, I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Duncan and present my strategy for upgrading the quality of CTE programs at Chicago Public Schools. The strongest research has been MDRC’s extensive efforts to evaluate career and vocational-oriented programs, or Career Academies. In an extensive evaluation of students in career academies compared to control groups, they found that students in career academies had higher earnings than the control group. Admittedly, most of the benefits accrued to the males (and less so to females), but the results were significant (in an econometric sense). Extensive research into what works in other countries also points to the value of career-oriented programs.

Based on that research,  Mr. Duncan approved the hiring of Aarti Dhupelia to develop an in-depth strategy for what she called “College and Career Academies.” Under her phenomenal leadership, she convinced Mr. Duncan to invest sizable funds in upgrading the quality and capabilities of the College and Career Academies at CPS, an initative that continues today under Aarti’s able stewardship.

I was nonplussed, then, to read of his recent call for more and better research. If it was good enough for CPS, surely it is good enough for the nation. In addition, President Obama’s call for more college graduates to meet the needs of employers who require more skilled workers will require extensive investments in and improvement of career education. 

I was heartened, then, to do a little more research to see that the quote, in my opinion, was taken out of context. When I read the original speech, I saw that Mr. Duncan is calling for a re-imagining of CTE. When you read the speech, you can clearly see the positive view he has on the potential for CTE, in alignment with Aarti’s strategy as presented to him a little more than two years ago. And further, it seems like a great opportunity for CCC to use Reinvention as a way to re-imagine what we ought to be doing for students.

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