Can K-12 Handle a Newfangled Career & Tech Ed.?

A couple of renowned scholars at Harvard’s ed. school are getting hugs and slaps for suggesting that secondary schools shouldn’t hold all their students to a college-prep track. Take a look at my story about it to get up to speed and to read the report itself. But here is their argument in a nutshell: With so few people earning even an associate’s degree, and the economy demanding at least some post-high school training, there have to be rigorous, engaging, career-oriented options for students who aren’t college-bound. The report is essentially a clarion call for top-notch career and technical education.

Now this has the CTE community cheering in the balconies. Because, as you can guess, that’s where it’s been stuck during these years that college-prep has become the default argument in the K-12 world. Having Haaaah-vaaad place a validating stamp on its vision, and having the U.S. secretary of education himself bless that vision in a lengthy speech given at the report’s release event, has to have been a top-10 moment of the decade for CTE leaders.

It isn’t hard to see why creating marvelous career and tech-ed. offerings could open promising paths for thousands of young people. But that said, let’s get real. Once we get past the hugs and popping of champagne corks, this stuff gets dicey pretty quickly. As a high-art movie from 1970 might have asked: Where do I begin?

OK, how about this for starters: CTE hasn’t exactly had a distinguished history of delivering its kids to glowing futures. Certainly there have been success stories. But far too many CTE programs have been—as Arne Duncan himself pointed out—dumping grounds for students nobody expected much of. And it doesn’t take a bachelor’s degree to guess who those kids were: Poor kids. Kids of color. Kids who didn’t seem interested in anything, maybe because no adult in their lives had done his or her job in helping light their inner fire.

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