COMMUNITY VOICES | Data shows that career and tech ed is a gap-closing strategy


One of Minnesota’s best achievement gap reduction strategies is being woefully under-utilized.

Recently, Michael Diedrich of MN2020 wrote about a school that was working to revamp their career and technical education (CTE) programs. Although CTE (think vo-tech) has a murky history, he correctly pointed out that courses today go way beyond the traditional woodworking and auto mechanics classes.

I thanked Diedrich for bringing attention to this issue. I think CTE is an important, although not singular, gap-closing tool and should be more seriously considered by the education community (meaning all stakeholders).

I use the term ‘gap-closing’ with data in mind. There is a succinct, one page report from the MN Department of Education that gives some powerful data about the graduation rates between student groups for those who have taken 2-3 courses in CTE. One example from the report is that the 2013 statewide ‘CTE’ grad rate for American Indian students is about 75%, compared to 45.5% for the 2012 overall 4-year grad rate. That is a 30-point improvement. See my table below for more comparisons:

Not nearly enough people have seen these data. The report is not posted to the MDE website, but the Center for School Change has it posted here.

A variety of Minnesota communities recognize this too. See Forest Lake for one.

Some people are legitimately concerned about the history of ‘tracking’ certain kids into these types of courses and programs. I advocate here for the OPTION and OPPORTUNITY for students to take these courses.

Many CTE courses today look different from those in the past, and they happen to fit in nicely with all those STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) job predictions we have been hearing about. Instead of woodworking, think software development. In place of machinists, think graphic designers. And for home-ec, think nursing. If most students will need a postsecondary education to compete in the job market, and most of the future’s new jobs will be in the STEM, healthcare, or related fields… why not help our students develop the tools they need to succeed?

In addition to the common sense job realities we face in the near future, I think CTE can provide a valuable tool for engagement and success with many students who may otherwise not complete high school or be interested in postsecondary. Many students are not interested in and motivated by courses in biology or Shakespeare. We should provide additional, gap-closing, opportunities– and CTE courses seem to be one way to do so. There is data from Minnesota and around the country that supports the value of CTE….. Let’s act on it.