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Propelling Career and Technical Education in a Portfolio System

This post comes from the first edition of Re:portfolio, a publication with articles, news clips, and resources about the portfolio strategy. The strategy has its roots in the writings of CRPE founder Paul Hill, as well as what we’ve learned from civic and education leaders over the years via research projects and portfolio network meetings. As we continue the conversation to meet new challenges and improve outcomes for kids, sign-up to receive this newsletter every month, direct to your inbox!

New approaches to education are needed to meet existing and growing “skills gaps” and to improve the relevancy of secondary education. How do efforts to reinvent career and technical education (CTE) fit into a broader portfolio strategy to improve the quality and diversity of school options for students? 

Without careful consideration, districts run the risk of reinforcing inequity when they expand career-connected learning opportunities or worse, leaving students unprepared for the future. 

CRPE’s recent scan shows the promise of new CTE when entrepreneurial school leaders have the freedom and capacity to implement high-demand career pathways. The 32 promising district, charter, and nonprofit CTE programs highlighted in the report show what’s possible when schools go beyond the vocation education of the past, including a high school focused on preparing students for technology careers and closing the racial wealth gap, a charter school for adult learners, and nonprofit providers that coordinate work-based learning for specific careers and the local economy. 

But, as our report finds, these efforts can’t succeed without embracing principles of autonomy that are central to the portfolio strategy, including more flexibility in funding, scheduling, and teacher hiring. Our research revealed pressing concerns about programmatic quality and family access. State and local leaders need to provide greater oversight and accountability. CTE raises questions that will be familiar to any portfolio system leader but whose answers may push thinking on the portfolio strategy in new directions. For example:  

  • What’s the best way to hold CTE programs accountable?
    In most states, CTE schools are subject to the same accountability standards as other public schools, but CTE programs are not. No state or region has a system for tracking and reporting outcomes for regional CTE centers, CTE programs within comprehensive schools, and nonprofits. How should CTE programs be included in state and local accountability systems? What accountability frameworks will ensure CTE programs avoid tracking? How should we ensure that academic preparation is a continued goal for CTE schools and programs so college continues to be a viable option for graduates—including those initially bound for the workforce? 
  • How can the system inform and guide families?
    How should families and students be informed of different pathways and job prospects to make smart choices? Can this be done through a school finder, school counselors, or another format? School systems should consider locations and transportation options that make attractive programs available to all students in their cities.
  • How can school district and charter authorizers support schools to improve CTE?
    Career and technical education requires schools to experiment with new instructional approaches and modified scheduling. Does the system have a policy or framework in place to allow for and encourage these experiments? Are there supports to help schools assess what is working, learn from mistakes, and make adjustments? 
  • How should local leaders approach career pathway development?
    Low-wage, low-demand pathways persist across the country. How can local leaders facilitate school leader  coordination with industry groups, colleges, and career training centers? What regional demand and wage analysis data is needed to help schools identify career pathways that are high-wage and high-growth? And do system leaders want to control pathway development by identifying career-pathway gaps or setting restrictions on the pathways schools can offer? 
  • How should CTE be delivered?
    Students can access CTE through a part-time program, comprehensive school, or CTE school. What schools or providers are already in place? How will system leaders support school redesign? Will they issue RFPs for charter, district, and nonprofit organizations?  
  • Who teaches CTE and how do they connect to schools?
    To teach CTE, adults need specialized career skills, training in instruction, and knowledge of how to best leverage work-based learning. Many schools are working with post-secondary institutions that already have career pathways with trained faculty. In these cases, what supports do schools need to form relationships with post-secondary institutions? There is a role for system leaders to help individual schools coordinate articulation agreements and to set regional standards for course credit. Schools may want to hire industry professionals or train existing teachers. Is there a pipeline for career changers or general education teachers interested in CTE instruction? 
  • How should funding flow?
    Creating new options requires investment. Do student-based allocations allow schools to create and sustain these programs, or should the school system provide grants? Should the system seek additional funding from workforce or philanthropic partners? If students are served by multiple providers, how can funding follow the student?

Let us know your thoughts on these questions. Email us at crpe@uw.edu, and sign up for the Re:Portfolio newsletter here.

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