Maine CTE: It’s Not Your Parents’ Vocational Education

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

Students at the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology in Biddeford, Maine are excited about learning — and they’re eager to tell you why.  They can also show you some pretty impressive proof that they’ve mastered the concepts they’ve studied.

Take, for example, the house they built as the capstone of one project.

Programs at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology

A selection of CTE programs offered at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology

“It’s not just about wiring a house, it’s about the theory and science [of] what is actually happening in the wires. In my other classes, you don’t really get hands-on, you just do what’s in the book,” a senior at the Center recently explained to visitors from the U.S. Department of Education.

Part of my role as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF) is to help teachers and other educators around the country learn about the Department’s efforts to support world-class teaching and learning. But, it’s just as important for us to bring teacher, principal, and student perspectives back to policymakers in Washington. For both those reasons, I traveled to Biddeford.

Right now, there’s an important shift taking place in schools and districts across the United States: a shift away from vocational education, and toward career and technical education, or CTE. The narrow vocational training of our parents’ and grandparents’ day was often separated from the college preparatory curriculum, and geared to the needs of the industrial age. Today’s CTE programs are designed to meet the needs and opportunities of the global economy and the digital age, and prepare students for equal success in college and careers.

When change is this ambitious, it can take a while for old perceptions to catch up to new realities. CTE teachers and students in CTE courses often find themselves having to correct the belief that CTE courses are less rigorous than traditional “college prep” classes. The experiences of the students and teachers at Biddeford certainly debunked this myth.

Biddeford offers professionally certified programs in career fields like legal studies, architecture, early childhood education, and health sciences. The students told us they feel good about learning a combination of academic, technical and employability skills that will equip them for success in college and in the 21st century’s technology-rich, team-based, results-oriented professions.

The teachers we spoke with called the Center “a direct link to college.” They explained that participating in the Biddeford program helps students set their sights on postsecondary education, giving them confidence in their abilities and real-world opportunities to apply ideas. A health sciences teacher, for example, spoke proudly of Biddeford graduates who are now in medical school or have launched careers as pharmacists, physical therapists, and registered nurses.

The CTE students at this regional center attend their home school for half of the day. Then, they travel by bus to Biddeford, to spend the second half-day in courses directly related to a career pathway, including work-based learning and other activities that require them to think critically, put theory into practice, and serve as constructive team members.  They graduate with a high school diploma and certification in their field.  This allows them to go directly to work in high-demand jobs, or continue their education at a community or four-year college.

A senior electrical engineering student explained the extra value he’ll be able to provide to his employer, beyond a strong grasp of the scientific skills his field requires. That added value is leadership: something he’s been able to practice in his classes, and as a member of a student council that offers peer-to-peer outreach.

Secretary Duncan has said that “a career-ready student must have the knowledge and skills that employers need from day one. That means having critical thinking and problem-solving skills, an ability to synthesize information, solid communication skills, and the ability to work well on a team.”

As these learners discussed the house they’d built, it was clear that they’re engaged in something worlds away from the “voc ed” of a generation ago. They didn’t just pound nails into 2 x 4 planks. Instead, they applied a wide range of academic and technical skills – from architectural design principles, to safety rules, to the physics of wiring. They also exercised the key critical thinking and communication skills they’ll need to get ahead, no matter what professions they ultimately pursue.

As one student put it, “If communication isn’t happening, that’s a safety issue – and the project doesn’t get completed.”  You can’t get much more real-world than that.

The students at Biddeford showed us what today’s career and technical education can look like: CTE that prepares 21st century learners for the demands of 21st century college and careers.

Kareen Borders is a 2012-2013 Full-Time Teaching Ambassador Fellows at the U.S. Department of Education.

Read the Department of Education’s Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education

ED Working to Reduce Barriers to Postsecondary Access and Persistence for Students from Foster Care

Late last week, Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier issued a “Dear Colleague letter” to Financial Aid Administrators. This letter clarifies that extended foster care payments made by a state directly to foster youth are to be excluded when determining a student’s student aid eligibility and do not need to be reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  “Our intent is to reduce barriers in the financial aid process for students in foster care to ensure they are able to maximize their student aid benefits”, said Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier. “We know these students face many challenges as they transition into adulthood—and the financial aid process should not be one of them.”

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Got Youth Info?

Many of us working with young people have been there at one time or another: the frustrating search of multiple web sites to find information related to youth programming. What grants are available? What does the latest research tell us?  What do evidence based programs look like? Where are the resources and programs in my community? You can now find the answers to these and other questions on the newly redesigned web site FindYouthInfo.gov.

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Announcing the Principal Ambassador Fellowship

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

Secretary Arne Duncan with principals

Secretary Duncan listens to educators and staff members following a Principal Shadowing Day.

The Department of Education is proud to announce that the first-ever Principal Ambassador Fellowship has officially launched!

The Principal Ambassador Fellowship has been modeled after the Teacher Ambassador Fellowship that the Department has offered since 2008. Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled the program to the public at a National Association of Secondary School Principals conference on February 28 this year.  The Secretary noted that after Department staff spent a day shadowing principals across the DC area, one of the participants highlighted the lack of principals’ voices in dialogues surrounding education policy. The PAF program is meant to recognize the important impact that a principal has on instructional leadership, the school environment, and talent management.

Like the Department’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows, Principal Ambassador Fellows will spend a year gaining greater knowledge of the content of key federal programs and policies, in addition to the context and process by which they are designed and implemented. Fellows will share their expertise with federal staff members; provide outreach and communication about federal initiatives to other educators on behalf of the Department; and facilitate the involvement and understanding of educators in developing and implementing these efforts at the federal, state and local levels, to improve the likelihood of their success.

The U.S. Department of Education believes that principals should have meaningful opportunities to both contribute to and understand the policies that impact their students, faculty and staff, and school communities. In order to implement needed reforms, all stakeholders, especially principals, must understand the intent of policy and be engaged in the outcomes.

As the Principal Ambassador Fellowship is just getting underway, ED is only consideringCampus Principal Ambassador Fellows for 2013-2014. The Campus Principal Ambassador Fellowship enables principals to participate on a part-time basis from their home locations for the Department, in addition to their regular school responsibilities, working in collaboration with the Department’s Regional and Federal Offices.

We recognize that the two programs, the Principal Ambassador Fellowship and Teacher Ambassador Fellowship, will need to differ because of the different nature and responsibilities associated with each job. The first class of Fellows will therefore also be tasked with helping us design and shape the program for future years to be more beneficial for the role of principals.

We invite principals to apply for the 2013-2014 school year by July 16, 2013 at 11:59 PM EDT. To access the application and view eligibility requirements, please visitwww.usajobs.gov and apply for the Campus Principal Ambassador Fellowship.

We hope you consider applying, and encourage you to share this information with your colleagues! You can also sign up to receive further updates, and call 1-800-USA-LEARN or email us at PrincipalFellowship@ed.gov with questions.

Note:  Some schools may use different terminology than “principal.” A candidate is considered eligible despite titling differences, provided that s/he is the highest administrative official in the school building.

Joshua Klaris is the  2013- 2014 Resident Principal at the U.S. Department of Education

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

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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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