Think CTE is just technical training? Think again
A highlight of my weekly school visits is a trip to career and technical education (CTE) classrooms. Without fail, I see students engaged in their learning and teachers committed to preparing them for postsecondary success. The combination of technical, academic and employability skills in hands-on environments provides deeper learning, which in turn makes learning relevant for students. And we know that when coursework is relevant, students thrive.
High-quality CTE programs are preparing students for a wide range of careers in high-demand fields, including agriculture, business, computer science, advanced manufacturing, engineering, health care, and human services. More students now have choices with clear pathways aligned to regional workforce needs and college opportunities.
And more secondary CTE programs include college-credit courses that give students a head start on industry credentials and college degrees. Annual CTE course-taking is increasing and 14 school districts now have high school registered apprenticeship programs.
Schools are erasing false distinctions between “technical” and “academic” tracks as CTE courses provide rigorous content, incorporate strong career pathways and work-based learning opportunities, and align with industry standards. These programs are developing future ready students.
I have seen this in places like the Waterloo Career Center where students in a health sciences class earned credits from Hawkeye Community College and prepared for a range of post-graduation plans, from directly entering the workforce to two-year allied health programs to bachelor’s degree nursing programs. In Pleasant Valley pre-calculus students got experience with both welding simulators and actual welding booths. And in the Interstate 35 Community School District, students in engineering classes designed signs that they then created using a plasma cutter.
CTE students in Iowa are earning national recognition, including the prestigious U.S. Presidential Scholars award. Iowa was one of only four states that had two CTE Presidential Scholars last year, Megan Niewoehner from Sumner-Fredericksburg and Jaxon Mullinnix from Lone Tree, and they were two of only 20 students recognized nationally.
Setting clear and consistent expectations for Iowa students is critical in preparing them for success. The State Board of Education recently adopted new state CTE standards, which provide a framework for programs to keep pace with industry changes, create opportunities for professional learning for CTE teachers, and integrate core skills to prepare students for college and careers. These standards mark another milestone in the implementation of House File 2392, signed into law in 2016 with the promise of ensuring all students have equitable access to high-quality CTE programs.
Regional Planning Partnerships, also a key component of HF 2392, are strengthening CTE courses by ensuring regional industry needs drive local programming.
Schools are introducing exploratory coursework earlier to better prepare students for higher-level academic and technical training.
Career guidance is ingrained into students’ educational experiences to help them make informed decisions about future postsecondary and career plans.
And students have more opportunities and access to work-based learning through the efforts of work-based learning coordinators, the Iowa Intermediary Network, STEM BEST, career and technical student organizations, registered apprenticeships and the new Iowa Clearinghouse for Work-Based Learning.
The new Summer College Credit Program is expanding access to college-level coursework during the summer in high-quality CTE programs aligned to regional in-demand occupations. This summer, a total of 764 students enrolled in 38 programs offered at Iowa’s 15 community colleges.
As we look forward to the year ahead, I am excited to begin work on Iowa’s strategic plan for the implementation of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, commonly referred to as Perkins V. This federal law provides nearly $12 million annually in federal support for CTE programs in Iowa.
Perkins V creates an opportunity to assess our progress, identify barriers and opportunities, and develop an innovative map for the future of CTE in Iowa. We want to engage a wide variety of stakeholders in developing Iowa’s plan. Accordingly, the Department is convening a statewide task force of educators and employers to assist in building on our strong foundation.
The task force will help develop strategies for new initiatives on expanding high-quality programs at the middle school level; enhancing CTE educator recruitment, training and preparation; strengthening data and accountability; and addressing the needs of special populations, including adults, individuals at Iowa’s correctional facilities, and out-of-school youth. The task force will meet monthly and we will post a draft of the statewide plan for public comment in January.
Together, our efforts are growing Iowa’s future workforce, which supports the Governor’s Future Ready Iowa goal of 70 percent of Iowans in the workplace attaining education or training beyond high school by 2025. Reaching this goal will happen with the hard work and dedication of highly skilled CTE educators. Thank you for your efforts as we look toward an even brighter future.
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