We Need to Stop Meeting and Have a (CTE) Movement!

When the Harvard Graduate School of Education released its February 2011 report, Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century, lead authors Dr. Ronald Ferguson and Dr. William (Bill) Symonds had no idea about the chord they would strike among our nation’s education, workforce development, and economic development leaders; business and industry leaders; researchers; national associations; philanthropic organizations; and even parents and students. The message of their report was straightforward: to address our nation’s high school graduation and “skills” gap, we must build multiple career pathways for youth and adults. We must move beyond the one-size-fits-all, or “four-year college immediately following high school for all,” approach to education. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan aptly states, “we must move beyond the false dichotomy of preparing students for college or careers, and begin preparing every student for college and careers.”

Beneath the seemingly simple message and solution in the Pathways report, however, is an incredibly complex endeavor. Preparing all students for college and careers requires radical changes in the way we presently design, deliver, and assess teaching and learning. It requires commitment to providing every student with a rigorous core of academic, technical, and employability skills. It requires meaningful and sustained collaboration between academic and technical teachers, secondary teachers and postsecondary faculty, and educators and business leaders. It requires fundamental restructuring of the school day, changes in the delivery of career guidance and counseling, and an overhaul in how we prepare our nation’s teachers and faculty. It requires new methods for assessing and credentialing student learning, and evaluating the effectiveness of programs. It requires sweeping changes–at Federal, state, and local levels–in the policy and funding environment for education, workforce development, and economic development.

Despite many well-intentioned reform efforts that have come before, and incredible accomplishments in states and local communities across the country, radical change has generally eluded us. Part of the problem claims Dr. Ferguson, “is that we have to stop meeting and have a MOVEMENT!”

And, so, the Harvard folks convened, well, a meeting. But, this was no ordinary meeting. The two-day session held March 18-19, in Cambridge, MA, brought together the nation’s leading practitioners, researchers, business leaders, and students, for a “Direction-setting Conference.” The tone and context for the meeting was set by business leaders, including CEOs from Snap-On, Caterpillar, and Microsoft. The discussions centered not on the “problems” we face, but on the “solutions” we need. The highlight, as always, was the student panel that recounted the many exceptional programs they had experienced and that need to be brought to scale across our nation. To me, and likely for many others in attendance, it felt like the beginning of a movement, except that we already had a great running start!

The meeting caused me to reflect on work already underway in the Department, including our newly-launched Advancing CTE in State and Local Career Pathways initiative and our partnership with the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, and how well the Administration’s principles for alignment, collaboration, accountability, and innovation, were so echoed and reinforced.

Finally, as a parent of a soon-to-be six-year-old whose favorite movie is Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, one word kept coming to my mind—”unless.” “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” In the coming weeks, the Harvard folks will issue the recommendations from the meeting.

Sharon Miller is the Director of the Division of Academic and Technical Education at OVAE

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