Encouraging news for CTE

In the rural area where I live, getting high school graduates “college and career ready” is shorthand for getting graduates ready for college which will lead to a career.

photo collage of photos representing four CTE fields with slogan Hands and brains CTE

Career and Technical Education students who want the career without a four-year college degree get no respect.

Quite the contrary.

CTE students are mocked, bullied, and generally discriminated against even while stories about how adolescents without college degrees are building wildly successful businesses are discussed over coffee at Bob’s Diner.

I read three articles this week that made me think the tide might be turning.

Financial aid for nontraditional students

A month ago Microsoft launched a series of classes in data science through edX.org, the nonprofit online learning destination founded by Harvard University and MIT. The entire Data Science course costs $516.

Data science is are one of the hottest professions, with more job offerings than candidates, and median salary around $90,000.

This week eCampusNews reported a federal Department of Education experimental program will make financial aid available nontraditional students to take courses including coding boot camps and online courses offered by nontraditional training providers in partnership with colleges and universities.

Sounds a bit like the classes Microsoft has started, doesn’t it?

Such aid for nontraditional training would make good, twenty-first century jobs possible for CTE students in my area.

Auto mechanic changes oil on vehicle on lift
CTE can lead to a career in auto mechanics.

MOOC with graded paper option

Shortly after massive open online courses appeared on the educational scene,  providers of the free courses began offering students who participated in discussions and passed multiple choice quizzes the opportunity to buy a certificate as documentation of their experience.

Certificates for MOOCs I’ve taken have cost about $30—and I’ve taken MOOCs that were as good as the best traditional university courses for which I paid considerably more than $30.

Here’s the other thing: Students taking a MOOC don’t need to make any financial investment until they are sure they are going to get through the course.

Now MIT is offering a MOOC with more scholarly twist.

The 12-week course “Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness” will enable students to obtain a verified ID certificate by writing a paper which will be graded and commented upon by professional philosophers. For the MIT philosophy course, the verified certificate is $300.

In effect, students learn for free;  they pay only if they choose to take the final exam.

As competency-based programs become more common in higher education, I think we’ll see more MOOCs on the MIT pattern.

The MOOC format would essentially allow students to take a required course in a subject that’s difficult for them more than once, from different instructors from different universities, until they felt confident enough to do the exit activity.

That could be a boon for CTE students going after two-year degree in a competency-based program, for example.

Young woman with blonde ponytail lies under truck in parking lot making a quick repair.
CTE skills also come in handy in everyday crises.

Expanded CTE concurrent enrollment

To strengthen and expand dual and concurrent enrollment and early college high school options in Perkins-supported career technical education (CTE) programs, introduced Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced the Workforce Advance Act.

Strengthening concurrent enrollment programs for CTE students is essential if they are to get advanced training.

Most concurrent enrollment courses in rural areas are taught on high school campuses by high school teacher, but CTE students from those schools are often bused to regional centers for CTE courses.

CTE instructors there may not be qualified to teach non-CTE courses, such as English composition, that their students would be required to take their first semester of college.

The Workforce Advance Act would allow school districts to use funding to support teachers pursuing the credentials needed to teach these courses in their high schools, helping to remove a barrier to providing access to college credit.

Finally, the Workforce Advance bill would allow the Department of Education to use national CTE activities to help identify successful methods and best practices for providing dual or concurrent enrollment programs and early college high school career and technical education opportunities.

Finding out the best ways to provide both CTE  and general education credits is important.

As I explain in another post, assuming the CTE students’ high school background is good enough that they don’t need to take remedial courses (a big assumption) first semester,  students would be taking primarily general education requirements.

Through dual enrollment, the academically oriented students usually get those requirements out of the way, but the CTE student may not receive that benefit.

I don’t expect any of these developments to earn CTE students the respect and support they deserve or help them acquire the skills their home communities desperately need, but I’m pleased to see a few signs that the issues are beginning to be noticed.


Acknowledgements. Thanks to the folks at Scoville-Meno in Bainbridge for letting me take photos on the shop floor. And I hope the woman with the ratchet wrench who was making a quick repair to her truck in the municipal parking lot got to her destination safely.

Live-streaming video for career exploration

In our rush to get students “college and career ready,” I wonder if we’re not overlooking the importance of first-hand experience doing the kinds of work done in the career fields that students think may interest them.

career options list

One of my cousins was very interested in art and design. He enrolled in the architecture program at Syracuse University. One of the first things he learned was that he absolutely hated doing the mathematical calculations that architecture requires.

He changed career paths, became a science illustrator.

Such vocational changes are not uncommon.

Medicine and law have high first-job dropout rates, far higher than the commonly bemoaned beginning teacher attrition rates.

Here’s part of an abstract of a study about law firm attrition:

law-exitBecause students have grown up watching doctors and lawyers on television, they think they know what doctors and lawyers do. After graduation, when they discover the not-suitable-for-prime-time elements of their chosen careers, they may decide they should have become shoe designers or forklift operators instead.

In a Forbes article about why so many physicians regret their career choice, Howard Forman, a professor at the Yale School of Management who studies healthcare leadership, says:

If young people pursue the profession with full knowledge of what’s in store,  they’ll be more satisfied than if they believe they’re going to be thanked every 15 minutes.

Perhaps instead of live-streaming video of raptors’ nests in the wild 24 hours a day, we could steam images of CPAs and home health aides and computer technicians’ work sites (as this webcam of an Arlington, Texas, airfield does once a minute every day [[broken link removed 2016-01-22]) to give students a glimpse into the real workplace.

OK, it’s a crazy idea.

What do you suggest instead?

 

Let’s take English out of the classroom

Scarcely a week goes by that I don’t see an article such as this about teachers taking STEM teaching out of the classroom into alternative settings.

11-20-14_Lab_series_2Science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers seem to have no difficulty finding topics their students are already interested in that apply science, technology, engineering and math concepts.

I rarely see English teachers getting students out of the classroom to see how reading, writing, and speaking are done in alternative settings.

Visiting a TV station or interviewing seniors about how life was different before cell phones may be more interesting than doing grammar exercises, but I doubt those activities do much to show students how something they are already interested in applies reading, writing, and speaking on a regular basis.

Working on ” if you can’t fight ’em, join ’em” premise, you could try working with STEM teachers who are taking their classes into alternative settings.

At some point all that knowledge about the physical world needs to be documented so it can be readily transmitted. Figuring out how to craft the documentation for a particular audience is applied English.

Your school may offer opportunities for students to use English class skills in nontraditional settings.

For example, the college application process is tough on students.

How could your students use their English skills to make the application process easier for next year’s crop of applicants? Video interviews with people with particular expertise? Infographics? A series of weekly podcasts to help applicants break the application process into manageable bits?

logo from Federal Student Aid website

Getting their kids into college isn’t easy for parents either. How could your students use their English skills to make sending their kids off to college easier on parents?

Are there specific groups of parents who need specialized help with the transition, such as parents whose son or daughter will be the first person in the family to attend college or parents for whom English is a second language? What kinds of communications would be most useful to those small groups of parents?

Article consisting of sample college recommendation letter from a teacher
Sample recommendation letter is a teacher resource

School staff may also appreciate a little help as students go through the college application process.

How could students use their ELA skills to make staff’s lives easier? Would curating a list of online resources help? Perhaps a private (school-only) resource in which college-bound students summarize their goals and accomplishments with appropriate pictures to remind those who may be asked to give recommendations of what the student wants to be remembered for.

In working on projects within their school, students are likely to run into problems in which their view of their audience’s needs and the school’s view clash. Such problems are routine occurrences for people whose jobs entail communicating on behalf of an employer.  And learning the soft skills of navigating over such rough spots is an important part of English language arts.

What do you do to show students how ELA skills are used beyond the classroom?

Photo credits:  Lab series 2 by sadsac

The challenge of providing challenges

I recently finished reading Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old. This 2009 book by a pair of psychologists, Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrel Allen, explains how well-intentioned parents and teachers have deprived teenagers of real-world challenges those students need and crave.

At the same time I was reading Escaping the Endless Adolescence, I was reading the 1922 bestselling novel Maria Chapdelain by Louis Hémon.  The fictional account vividly illustrates the point the Allens make that historically the teen years were a time when children worked alongside adults, learned adult roles, and moved within a matter of months into functioning as adults.

"Cabin in forest"

The novel is set among the immigrant pioneers to the rugged forests of Quebec and is based on the Hémon’s own experiences in the area in the first decade of the twentieth century.

In the novel, Maria by age 15  is indispensable to her family. She helps with  housework, cooking, child care, and laundry and is almost entirely responsible for the weekly baking for a large household.

Maria’s slightly older  brothers work off the farm most of the year. The household could not survive without the income they bring home or the labor they contribute when they are home.

When her mother dies suddenly, Maria could marry a young man and move to the comfort of a Boston home. Instead decides to marry an older neighboring farmer who bores her and bring up her younger siblings.

The pattern of adolescent development shown in the novel has been the norm for adolescents for centuries. Only since the early twentieth century have Western cultures,  particularly American culture,  isolated adolescents into teen-only groups and relegated them to spending well over a decade as nonproductive hangers-on at the exact time they are demanding  independence, skills mastery,  and work that challenges them.

The Allens’ research and clinical reaches much the same conclusions that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his associates documented in Becoming Adult. I discussed those findings about  what happens in schools and about school enjoyment previously.

While I’m not in favor of returning to pioneer-age workdays for teenagers, I am in favor of providing teens with opportunities to work alongside adults, to contribute to their communities, and to develop and apply real skills.

Providing those opportunities for teens today will require both schools and their communities to work at making them happen. Some posts on this blog that explore ways schools and communities can collaborate to nurture teens’ development into adults (while not incidentally providing both school and community benefits:


Photo credit: “Cabin in forest” by pdufour

Dear Applicant: The reason you weren’t hired

Since April,  I’ve been advertising unsuccessfully for two part-time, virtual workers in my educational publishing business. The responses have been mainly from highly schooled individuals who:

  • Don’t know how to write an email,
  • Either don’t read or don’t follow directions, and
  • Don’t have a clue what skills are needed for the 21st century office.

I sent respondents boilerplate “thank you for your interest” replies, but mentally wrote letters I wished I dared send.

In honor of Labor Day, here’s a sample of what I would like to have said.


Dear Applicant,

Your success at raising fourth grade writing scores in your 14th year of teaching is truly impressive. Regretably, I have no need to raise fourth grade writing scores, and if I did, I couldn’t wait 14 years for you to do it.

Yours truly,


Dear Applicant,

Your one-sentence application was a model of conciseness. I’m sure you are the shining star of the English faculty at your college. Unfortunately, I have a policy that prohibits me from hiring people solely because they say they need extra income.

Yours truly,


Dear Applicant,

Your application was truly memorable. I cannot recall ever before having anyone include in a cover letter a 3,000-word article on how to choose a lobster.

Although the job will be filled by someone who can follow directions, you can be sure that the next time I have a job opening, I will remember your application.

Yours truly,


Dear Applicant,

Thank you for offering to come to my office to discuss the virtual assistant position.

Anyone who needs to discuss a virtual position face-to-face is not suited for the position.

Yours truly,


Dear Applicant,

With your two masters’ degrees and a doctorate, you are vastly overqualified for the virtual assistant job. The last person who had the job was a 14-year-old; she was overqualified, too.

There is only one position in my business that is a good fit for someone with your creativity and business acumen.

I’m not about to give it up.

Yours truly,