Report examines CTE alignment in K-12

School districts and local businesses need to work together to create effective career and technical education programs
By: | April 10, 2019

Despite a growing number of career and technical education programs in K-12, few are aligned to the highest-paying jobs, according to a recent study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank.

How Aligned is Career and Technical Education to Local Labor Markets?” compares CTE course-taking data from the High School Longitudinal Survey against employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the first time such a study has been undertaken, says David Griffith, senior research and policy associate at the Fordham Institute and co-author of the report.

“It’s a perpetual challenge to train kids so that they’re ready for an ever-evolving labor market,” says Griffith. “And it’s doubly difficult to do that in a way that speaks to their specific needs in a specific community—to connect the right hand to the left hand in a way that creates this pipeline you’re always hearing about.”

Local cooperation needed for CTE success

Students are more likely to take courses in fields that support more local jobs, but less likely to do so when those jobs are high-paying, according to the study. That suggests that CTE connects students with jobs that are plentiful but low-paying by industry standards.

“Within most industries and clusters, we see an inverse relationship,” says Griffith. “If IT wages are higher in Silicon Valley, then we see less CTE IT course-taking. It’s not shocking—Mark Zuckerberg didn’t take CTE courses to found Facebook. Future doctors don’t take health care CTE to align with an associate degree.”

As young workers increasingly take jobs closer to home, business and K-12 education leaders need to communicate and work together to make sure that career pathways address needs.

“At the end of the day, we’re all playing for the same team,” says Griffith. “District leaders want their kids to be able to find good-paying jobs, and the business community is sometimes frustrated that they can’t find people to fill those jobs.”

The report also finds that nearly every student takes at least one CTE course, whether or not they realize it, says Griffith. However, only about one student in six actually concentrates in a particular field (taking at least three courses), which raises questions regarding what CTE standards should be and how much classwork is needed versus practical work experience.

Education and business leaders need to evaluate CTE programs to see if courses really constitute a pipeline that helps kids get jobs, says Griffith.

Ultimately, there will always be students who will either stop at high school or just get an associate degree, says Griffith.

“We can’t say, ‘Well, enjoy yourself at prom, and good luck getting a job.’ We still need a plan for them,” says Griffith.

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