College and Career-Ready Conversations in South Seattle

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.

“Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge: to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.”  

- President Barack Obama, February 12. 2013

State Superintendent for Washington

State Superintendent for Washington, Randy Dorn speaks with teachers and staff members from the Department of Education

When President Obama spoke those words in this year’s State of the Union address, I felt like cheering.  As a science teacher, it’s my job to help students fall in love with learning and explore important questions about how the world works.  I also know the principles and problem-solving skills they’re mastering will help them succeed in today’s competitive global economy, where science, technology, engineering and math (or “STEM”) careers are on the rise.  And, through fellowships with the U.S. Department of Education, I’ve been paying even closer attention to how the Obama Administration’s proposals affect my work.

The President’s High School Redesign plan would invest in programs that re-invigorate the American high school experience for the 21st century.  Strengthening Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and collaborating more closely with postsecondary, business and community partners are two ways that high schools can re-think their current model. I recently had an opportunity to visit a school that’s using both of these strategies when I accompanied Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education, on a trip to Cleveland High School in Seattle, Wash.

As teachers and school leaders across the country think about implementing the President’s plan, there’s a lot we can learn from schools that have already started down this path.  Cleveland High School was restructured as a STEM-themed school four years ago, and according to the principal, Princess Shareef, “There was no template set for us.” Instead, school leaders and staff had the freedom to innovate, meeting every week and including parents, employers and other partners in designing a new approach. The result?  A high school in South Seattle that provides a college-and-career-ready curriculum through project-based learning, and connects students with mentors from the surrounding community.

TAF post 2

Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education speaks with State Superintendent of Washington, Randy Dorn

During classroom walk-throughs, we spent time in a computer engineering class and talked with students engaged in a reverse-engineering assignment.  In this hands-on design project, students choose an everyday object like a toy car or a mechanical pencil, measure the object using calibration tools, design and draw blueprints, transform the blueprints into multi-view drawings, and create a mock assembly. The students we met clearly understand and excel in their subject.  They’re also confident that what they’re learning will empower them in the future.

One student said, “It’s really nice to have experience with the computer-aided design, and this will help with job preparedness. Most [engineering] jobs are looking for experience in graphic design.” Another added, “I’m learning how to solve problems and to communicate with my team every day. This is important for my career in the future.”

These students realize that, in today’s marketplace, they need even more technical skills and experience. The days of working in isolation are over: problem-solving and teamwork skills are essential for success in the 21st century.  At Cleveland High School, students learn to be effective collaborators through project-based learning.

As one student explained, “We get graded on work as a team. Communication is important and there are instances when the group doesn’t function and so you have to learn how to communicate in a better way. You also learn how to speak for yourself and develop a voice.”  A business leader at the table drew an appreciative laugh from the group by noting, “Yes, just like in the real world.”

Equipped with a full range of academic, technical and employability skills, students at Cleveland High School will be ready for the demands of the world that awaits them after graduation.  That’s good news for them and for the employers in their region.  It’s also great news for the country.

As Dean of Students Catherine Brown told the assembled students, employers and civic leaders that, by coming together to re-engineer Cleveland High School, “You’re not just thinking of your industry—you’re thinking about the common good of society.”  By focusing on relevant, real-world skills; by making STEM-themed learning, wrap-around services and broad-based partnerships a vital part of each school day; and by graduating college-and-career-ready students, this re-engineered high school is preparing the next generation of U.S. leaders in some of tomorrow’s most exciting professions.

Dr. Kareen Borders is a Regional Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

Adult Learners Share Stories of Personal Triumph

Cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog.

The inspiration for Alma Miller to obtain her GED started with a simple statement from her youngest son: “Mom I challenge you to finish your GED.”

Attaining the GED would be no easy feat for this mother of four who dropped out of school when she was sixteen. Fortunately for Alma, her children stepped up and volunteered to tutor her in preparation for the exam.

Today, Alma Miller is a proud GED  recipient but most importantly, she’s an inspiration to her children, just as much as they are an inspiration to her.

Miller is one of eleven adult learners who recently met with Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier at the Department of Education (ED) to share their stories and make recommendations on how ED can improve services offered to adult learners.

Dann-Messier acknowledged that these adults face many barriers to success in the labor market. Some of the barriers she cited were: a lack of a high school diploma, no postsecondary degree or training, and an inability to speak, read, and write English well.

Each of the adult learners at our recent meeting displayed a tremendous amount of courage in order to overcome the odds associated with returning to school as adults, but what is more laudable is the strength they found in their families and in support organizations.

“I was an honor roll student in high school, but I just kind of lost my way,” said Shamika Hall, the state vice-president for the Delaware Career Association.

Hall lost her sister to an act of senseless gun violence, a devastating tragedy that altered her life’s course. She credits her family and the James H. Grove Adult High School in Wilmington, Del., for helping her get back on track. Watch Hall tell her story below:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Secretary Duncan said that he was inspired by each of the adult learners resilience and tenacity. “It’s pretty remarkable to hear not just where you’ve been but how far you’ve come, and most importantly, where each of you are going,” he said.

Before the meeting concluded, Reuben Holguin, an ex-gang member and convicted felon, showed Secretary Duncan his inmate ID. He said that even though he acquired his GED, completed college courses and changed his life around, he will always carry his inmate ID with him to remind him just how far he’s come.

The adult learners who stopped by ED were in town to attend VALUEUSA’s National Adult Learner Leadership Institute, and Dann-Messier thanked VALUEUSA, the only national literacy organization governed and operated by current and former adult learners for helping to organize the meeting with Secretary Duncan.

This fall, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will release the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The goal ofPIAAC is to assess and compare the basic skills and the broad range of competencies of adults ages 16-65 around the world. PIAAC covers 23 countries, including the United States. OECD will also release a country report specific to the U.S. to accompany the data release. The report will identify policy implications for improving the skills of adults in the U.S.

De’Rell Bonner works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

How Articulating the Registered Apprenticeship Certificate to College Credit Creates Opportunity

Now more than ever, maintaining America’s competitive edge requires that workers obtain relevant post-secondary credentials and that employers have access to a well-trained and highly-skilled workforce.  For decades, the national Registered Apprenticeship system and the nation’s extensive network of two- and four-year post-secondary institutions have been at the forefront of providing industry-driven education and training that supports business competitiveness and career advancement for workers.

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Pay for Success Financing

The President’s 2014 Budget Proposal includes several Pay for Success pilots. The Office of Management and Budget at the White House says the following about this new way of financing: “Pay for Success is an innovative way of partnering with philanthropic and private sector investors to create incentives for service providers to deliver better outcomes at lower cost—producing the highest return on taxpayer investments. The concept is simple: pay providers after they have demonstrated success, not based on the promise of success, as is done now.”

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TAACCCT Round Three Is on the Street!

On April 19th, the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, announced the availability of $474.5 million to create and expand innovative partnerships between community colleges and businesses to educate and train workers with the skills employers need. This is the third of four rounds of funding under the $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program.

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Bridging the Opportunity Gap: Helping Vulnerable Students Succeed

Worldwide, there are nearly 75 million young people, ages 15 to 24, who are not in school and unemployed. This situation is being described as a global crisis which requires immediate, targeted and renewed action to tackle youth education and employment issues. The U.S. is no exception. Amidst high youth unemployment rates and a growing skills gap in our nation as the baby boom generation retires, our nation is also faced with a widening opportunity gap for vulnerable young people.  In the U.S. today there are nearly 6.7 million “disconnected” young people ages 14 to 24 that are homeless, in foster care, involved in the justice system, or are neither in school or employed. According to the White House Council for Community Solutions, this roughly equates to 1 in 6 young people in this age range.

Focusing on the education and employment needs of “disconnected” youth populations is critical to meeting the President’s goal of the United States, once again, producing the world’s highest proportion of college graduates, and the world’s most competitive workforce, by the year 2020. 

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Reentry education, building a working model

OVAE’s reentry demonstration grant program to invest in innovative programs preparing incarcerated individuals to successfully reenter society with the support of education and workforce training is in good company.  ED’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services is supporting demonstration grants to develop and model effective practices for returning youth in juvenile justice confinement who have Individual Education Plans under the IDEA program. 

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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

How OVAE Celebrated 2013 CTE Month

Just like CTE students, teachers, and administrators, OVAE celebrates CTE every day of every month.  However, during the month of February the pride is elevated with celebration and recognition for all that is CTE during “CTE Month”.

We used CTE Month 2013 as an opportunity to collaborate with our colleagues across the U.S. Department of Education (ED) as well as our dedicated professional associations.  We shared the message that it was CTE month and CTE Works! (this year’s theme as designated by the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE)).  It seemed that no workspace or office in OVAE was spared a CTE Month poster to hang with pride.  We made sure to say “Happy CTE Month!” in our phone calls, office meetings, and every chance we had.

Secretary Arne Duncan, Deputy Secretary Tony Miller, Undersecretary Martha Kanter, and Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier all contributed to the OVAE Connection newsletter; supporting articles were also sent through the Teaching Matters newsletter and Homeroom, ED’s official blog.

We were excited and proud to see two CTE students were sitting in the First Lady’s box at President Obama’s State of the Union address.

The week of February 11th saw an increased volume of social media buzz about how CTE professionals and CTSO students were celebrating CTE Month.  On my own hand held device, I read tweets and updates at #CTEMonth and #CareerTech.

ED staff also attended a student recognition event at McKinley Technology High School, which houses a STEM-focused CTE program where students have the opportunity to select one of four pathways in a STEM-related strand. The strands provide students with relevant, real-world project-based learning opportunities that prepare them for postsecondary education and 21st century careers.

On February 21st, ED hosted a policy briefing to all agency staff on how CTE is addressing the nation’s skills gap.  The session included a pair of conversations – one with educators and business leaders, and a second with Career and Technical Students Organizations (CTSO) participants. Check out the blog post recapping the briefing.

Finally, the Secretary visited the Harbor School in New York City, a CTE school that prepare students for success in college and careers through restoration of the local marine environment.

As you can see, OVAE enjoyed celebrating CTE Month and looks forward to celebrating 2014 CTE Month with you next year!

Robin Utz is the Director of the College and Career Transitions Branch in the Division of Academic and Technical Education at OVAE