In his fifth State of the Union address, President Obama called on the nation to make 2014 a year of action. He laid out a clear vision for promoting equality of opportunity and challenged everyone to go all-in on the innovations that will help this country maintain its edge in the global economy. “Here in America,” said the president, “our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That’s what drew our forebears here. … Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.” The president also put heavy emphasis on career and technical education and training that prepares young people for work. “We’re working to redesign high schools,” he said, “and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.”
February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month—a great opportunity to acknowledge the important contribution CTE is making to individual citizens, our economy, and our nation. Every year, during this month, we recognize the efforts and accomplishments of the many students who are pursuing their ambitions through CTE pathways. We also thank all those working tirelessly so that more students can find their life’s passion and reach their full potential. Each day, thousands of teachers, school and district administrators, state education officials, career and technical student organization leaders, business and labor leaders, parents, and others are helping to equip students with the academic knowledge—as well as the technical and employability skills—they need to find productive careers and lead fulfilling lives.
Today’s CTE students and educators face a more difficult challenge than those of earlier generations, when a high school diploma and the skills it represented were enough to secure a place in the middle class. Those low-skilled, well-paid jobs are gone, and they won’t return. By working together, those at the local, state, and national levels are making significant progress in improving the rigor and relevance of CTE programs all across America.
In the 21st century, we need to prepare all students to succeed in a competitive global economy, a knowledge-based society, and a hyper-connected digital world. All students must be lifelong learners, able to re-skill frequently over the course of their careers, in order to meet the changing demands of the workplace and the marketplace. They’ll need the flexibility and ingenuity to thrive in jobs that haven’t even been invented yet! Teaching and learning must change, in part, because the very nature of work has changed. President Obama’s North Star goal in education is for every student to graduate from high school and obtain some form of postsecondary training or degree.
High-quality CTE is absolutely critical to meeting this challenge. Inspiring CTE teachers and effective curricula are essential to ensuring that students can master the new realities and seize the amazing new opportunities that await them.
The president and I believe that high-quality CTE programs are a vital strategy for helping our diverse students complete their secondary and postsecondary studies. In fact, by implementing dual enrollment and early college models, a growing number of CTE pathways are helping students to fast-track their college degrees.
CTE programs provide instruction that is hands-on and engaging, as well as rigorous and relevant. Many of them are helping to connect students with the high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields – where so many good jobs are waiting.
In visiting CTE programs across the country, I’ve seen many excellent examples of partnerships that are providing great skills and bright futures for students. Our challenge is to replicate these successful programs so they become the norm—especially in communities that serve our most disadvantaged students. This administration’s goal is to prepare students to excel in college, in long-term occupational skills training, in registered apprenticeships, and in employment.
The president’s 2014 budget proposal includes both continuing and new funding to support this agenda. In addition to refunding the Perkins Act at roughly $1 billion, the Department of Labor will complete providing approximately $2 billion in Trade Adjustment Act funds over four years for CTE partnerships led by the nation’s community colleges. And, in November, the president announced a new $100 million initiative between the departments of Labor and Education to fund Youth CareerConnect grants.
Youth CareerConnect will encourage school districts, higher education institutions, the workforce investment system, and other partners to scale up evidence-based models that transform the U.S. high school experience. Best of all, with this grant program, we can plan on making awards early this year.
In celebrating CTE month, we celebrate all the partners—students, parents, business, union and community leaders, educators all through the pipeline, and many more—who are helping to transform CTE and achieve our shared vision of educational excellence and opportunity for all students. At the Department of Education, we’re proud to be your partner.
Together, we can make the year ahead a time of bold, smart, far-reaching action.
Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education