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Education Secretary Calls for Change in Career and Technical Education

John B. King Jr., championed increased access to CTE courses, a legislation overhaul and makerspaces.

The U.S. Education Department is putting its weight behind efforts to strengthen support for career and technical education. 

Education Secretary John B. King Jr., called for increased student access to career and technical education classes, which don't often draw students from more diverse backgrounds and don't always have the capacity to handle the students who want to enroll. For example, The School District of Philadelphia had to turn away 8,500 students who applied for its high school career and technical education program in fall 2014 due to a lack of rooms and resources. 

"CTE is not just about preparing some students for successful lives and careers, it’s about giving all students the tools to shape our future," King said in a speech on Wednesday, March 9 at the Digital Harbor Foundation in Baltimore.

He also urged Congress to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act — the main source of federal funding for secondary and postsecondary career and technical education that received its last reauthorization in 2006. This act provides more than $1.1 billion to schools and colleges.

Since Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act in a bipartisan manner last year, Congress should be able to pass an updated version of the Perkins Act, King said. King and the Obama administration laid out four action steps they want to see in the overhauled version:

  1. Match employer expectations
  2. Collaborate with K-12, higher ed and industry
  3. Hold schools accountable for academic and employment outcomes 
  4. Innovate at the local and state levels
King listed two examples that fit into the proposed blueprint. The Pathways in Technology Early College High School model started in Brooklyn and made its way to Baltimore, giving students job training while they earn a college degree at no extra charge. Farther south, Georgia's 12 for Life cooperative education program from the company Southwire helps potential high school dropouts learn technical, leadership and life skills while they earn their diploma. 

When it comes to making things, the Education Department asked schools to submit their plans for makerspaces that allow students to work hands-on in the career or technical field they're learning about. The CTE Makeover Challenge includes $200,000 in prize money that will be split between a maximum of 10 schools. The first round submission deadline is April 1.

Along the same lines, the White House, federal agencies and the broader community will celebrate National Week of Making June 17-23.

"We’ve come a long way from what we used to refer to as vocational education," King said. "Today, every job that leads to a secure future requires critical thinking, problem solving and creativity, as well as some postsecondary education or training. The best CTE programs help students prepare for this future once they graduate from high school."