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Schools Lead the Way but the System Must Change: Rethinking Career and Technical Education

As the economy rapidly shifts toward automation, there is growing consensus that while new jobs will be created, change is the new normal. Youth need training in soft skills alongside preparation for lifetime learning. Systemic change, not minor improvements, will be necessary.

States, districts, and schools are adjusting to the aspirations of “new CTE”—as many are calling this rethinking of career and technical education—and searching for examples of what this can look like. CRPE has identified 32 programs around the country that represent the variety of efforts being used to reinvent CTE. We profile district schools, charter schools, after-school programs, and a tuition-free independent school. Some started in the early 1900s, others opened their doors just a few years ago. The range of models provides a glimpse into the diverse ways educators across the country are attempting to reinvent career pathways.

In our sample we found encouraging examples of educators breaking down institutional barriers to expand CTE. Schools are breaking down the boundaries between school and community by partnering closely with industry, trade unions, and four-year institutions. And schools have formed partnerships with one another to open institutions that focus on career training, which are then paid for through a share of student enrollment. Programs are dismantling tracking by making sure students are in control; students select a pathway only after taking exploratory coursework and working with a counselor, with the option to change programs.

But we also identified trends that must be addressed for CTE to fulfill its promise. Educators and policy leaders must push harder to:

  • Develop systematic training for in-demand careers.
  • Provide accessible information about employment prospects to guide student choice.
  • Create consistent work-based learning opportunities.
  • Improve the quality of basic education.
  • Improve access to high-quality schools and programs.
  • Identify outcomes and student demographics, especially for part-time programs.
  • Leverage opportunities from post-secondary and business partnerships.
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