Educated and Skilled to Lead America! SkillsUSA: Champions at Work!

Two student competitors sit at a table programming computers while a third student configures a computerized milling machine.

Students test their skills in an advanced manufacturing competition at the SkillsUSA NLSC.

Thank you dedicated students, advisors, state directors, alumni, and business partners for showing the world that SkillsUSA members are true Champions at Work! SkillsUSA returned to Kansas City June 23-27, 2014, for its 50th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC). I am honored to have witnessed the largest national conference it has ever held with the most participants in its history. It was the premiere showcase of career and technical education students. More than 15,000 students, teachers, education leaders, and representatives from more than 600 national corporations, trade associations, business and labor unions participated in the event. In addition, the 2014 NLSC marked the beginning of a year-long celebration as SkillsUSA turns 50 in May 2015! I have already marked my calendar to be in Leesburg, VA on May 8th for the birthday celebrations.

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Tuba City High School CTE Students Graduate with College Degrees

Tuba City High School awarded students in their Early Childhood Education (ECE) career and technical education program Child Development Associates (CDA) degrees. Tuba City is the third school in the nation to award CDA National Credentials to high school students. The program was developed in partnership with Coconino Community College and funded as part of a discretionary grant that was awarded to the State of Arizona by OCTAE.

The Tuba City CTE program and its seven CDA graduates were featured in articles in the Arizona Daily Sun and the Navajo-Hopi Observer.

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Finding Funds for Technology

The following appeared in the Teachers Edition on February 13 and could be helpful for High School CTE programs.

As the administration works to connect students to high-speed Internet through the E-Rate program, ED wants states and districts to remember they can use federal professional development dollars to support technology use. While ESEA and IDEA might not spell it out, states and districts can use some of the money to support “innovative technology-based strategies to personalize learning,” the Department says in a new Dear Colleague letter. For example, Title II funds can be used to help teachers improve their teaching through effective blended-learning practices.

Celebrate CTE Month!

Each year the Department of Education highlights the important role CTE plays in the lives of students and our country. February is Career and Technical Education month and CTE partners across the U.S. are joining the celebration.

The current edition of the OCTAE newsletter includes a message from Secretary Arne Duncan to the “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.”

Keep your eyes open for more activities celebrating CTE month and look for #CTEMonth on Twitter.

Office of Vocational and Adult Education Becomes Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

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

Students in a studio

Technology is a critical tool for career readiness at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington, DC.

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month, and what could be more fitting than to announce that the name of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education has been changed to the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). Vocational education was recognized as a national priority with the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. “Career and Technical Education” has now replaced “vocational education” as a more accurate term to describe what and how students are studying to be career ready.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, “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.” He acknowledged that those on a CTE track are helping our nation meet our economic and workforce challenges. “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.”

Natalie Tran, a Future Business Leaders of America chapter president at River Hill High School in Clarksville, Md., told ED, “[In CTE] over time, you gain confidence—you know what you are doing, you know that you are able to go into the workforce . . . And it’s all about—knowledge is power, and that’s what CTE provides us.”

In 2012, the Obama Administration released Investing in America’s Future, A Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education. The Blueprint calls for effective, high-quality CTE programs aligned with college- and career-readiness standards. These programs provide work-based learning opportunities that enable students to connect what they are learning to real-life career scenarios and choices. Students participating in effective CTE programs graduate with industry certifications or licenses and postsecondary certificates or degrees that prepare them for in-demand careers within high-growth industry sectors.

Student with headphones

A CTE student at the Veterans Tribute Career Technical Academy in Las Vegas, Nev., explains her project to OCTAE Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier

Alvon Brown, a student from The Edison Academy at Edison High School in Alexandria, Va., studied to become an HVAC technician in CTE. He told ED, “. . . instead of just staying with being an HVAC technician, I want to become an engineer and work with HVAC, because I like creating stuff, and I like working—not only do I like working with my hands, I like thinking about what I can do with my hands.”

The Office of Vocational and Adult Education has had a rich history of being in the forefront of career, technical and adult education, providing funding and technical assistance to the career pathways movement, for instance. OCTAE continues to be the office in ED responsible for administering federal CTE programs, as well as the partner adult education programs. The Congressionally-mandated change in name to OCTAE acknowledges the CTE reality and looks to the future as it advances the priorities around preparing all youth and adult students for success in college and careers.

Webinar Tomorrow on Career Pathways

Tomorrow the National Center for Innovation in Career and Technical Education (NCICTE) will host its second series of training on transforming high schools. The first of the five part series is a live webinar tomorrow, Friday, September 20th, from 12-1:30 PM EDT on Making Career Pathways Work: Curricular Design and Instructional Practice. Presenters will offer approaches to help strengthen educators’ capacity to design and deliver standards-based, integrated curriculum and improve instructional practice in career pathways. Register for the webinar here. If you are unable to attend the live webinar, an archived version will be available in the NCICTE Training Center.

Advancing CTE in Transportation Pathways

The U.S. Department of Education announces Phase II of the Advancing Career and Technical Education (CTE) in State and Local Career Pathways Systems project.

The first phase enabled Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon to receive targeted assistance to align their education, workforce, and economic development systems to better meet the need of employers and workers in their respective states.

Under Phase II, three new states will be selected through a competitive application process to participate in this two-year project. States are invited to create a cross-agency state team that would to drive its project. The technical assistance provided under the project is designed to assist states in the development of comprehensive Career Pathways in highway design and construction and transportation-related careers, by aligning a state’s On-the-Job Training Supportive Services (OJT/SS) activities, funded by the Federal Highway Administration, with CTE Programs of Study and Career Pathways System development efforts.

You can find more information about the competition that focuses on transportation-related careers including highway design and construction on the PCRN.

States should submit their proposals by November 5, 2013 to Jobs for the Future which is under contract to manage the national initiative for OVAE.

Back-to-School Bus Tour – Day 4

Photo of Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier and Division Director Sharon Lee Miller in front of the tour bus.

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier and DATE Division Director Sharon Lee Miller in front of the tour bus.

This is the fourth in a series of daily updates from Dr. Sharon Lee Miller who is on the Back-to-School Bus Tour currently in progress in the Southwest U.S.

Thursday evening – Local Phoenix Time –

It’s a wrap!

After 10 events in four cities over three days, we have successfully completed our leg of the Secretary’s Back-to-School Bus Tour! We saw many extraordinary CTE, adult education, and postsecondary programs; met hundreds of dedicated administrators, teachers, faculty and business and industry partners; and, most importantly, met the most incredible students! From aspiring high school students to adults seeking a better life for them and their families, our leg of the tour showed us how programs in the Southwest are truly preparing students for a “Strong Start, Bright Future!”

6:22PM Thursday Local Phoenix, AZ Time –

Photo of Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier shaking the hand of a GED student in a classroom.

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier greets newly enrolled GED students


We arrived at the last stop on our leg of the Secretary’s Back-to-School Bus Tour at the Rio Salado College, in Phoenix. Rio Salado is one of 10 colleges in the Maricopa Community College System. While Rio Salado began predominately as an online community college, it began a “brick and mortar” adult education program. Among the offerings at Rio Salado is the nationally-recognized I-BEST program. Several I-BEST graduates are taking part in the roundtable and sharing their personal stories in gaining their GED, transitioning to college, earning industry-recognized credentials and degrees, and obtain employment.

2:36PM Thursday Local Glendale, AZ Time –

Photo of student at a conference table speaking to Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann- Messier and 8 other participants at the table.

Participants applaud as a student shares her progress and success in the nursing program.

We just began our series of roundtables on college affordability and accessibility with educators and community stakeholders in Glendale, Arizona, hosted jointly by Glendale Community College (GCC) and Northern Arizona University (NAU). GCC has partnered with NAU, which has created an innovative transfer program called 2NAU that works with community colleges like GCC to help students make a seamless transition to a four-year institution and thus dramatically lowering the overall cost of a bachelor’s degree. Among the federal grants administered by NAU is the GEAR UP program, which is funded under the Higher Education Act (HEA). As a college readiness program, GEAR UP works with low-income, first-generation high school students to help prepare them for college. One of the issues being raised at the roundtable is faculty shortages, especially in the health professions, where individuals can earn significantly more in the field than they can in teaching at the college or university. This issue becomes more pressing as the country raises its expectations for college-going by all students.

2:10PM Thursday Local Paradise Valley, AZ Time –

Photo of Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier with CTE Biotechnology teacher, Marni Landry in a biotech classroom.

Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier talks with CTE Biotechnology teacher, Marni Landry, Arizona’s Teacher of the Year about Paradise Valley High School’s Center for Research in Engineering, Science, and Technology (CREST) program


We just completed a fabulous visit to Paradise Valley High School’s Center for Research in Engineering, Science, and Technology (CREST) program. We began with a tour by an amazing group of students to CREST’s three program strands: biotechnology, sustainability, and engineering. Each of these programs exemplify the Department of Education’s vision for high-quality career and technical education (CTE) as provided in the Department’s blueprint for the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Act, which is a major source of funding for CTE across the nation. Among the key features of CREST’s programs are integration of academic and technical education; collaboration among secondary, postsecondary, and business/industry; and work-based learning. During the visit, we had the honor of meeting Arizona’s teacher of the year—a biotechnology (CTE) teacher, Marni Landry

From Wednesday –

Lee Lambert, Chancellor of Pima Community College, reflected on Wednesday’s visit by Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier to Tucson, AZ. Dann-Messier visited students at a family literacy and an adult education program.

“When all the gears are meshing, we are capable of great things….it is crucial that all the gears do in fact synchronize. The need for seamlessness between K-12, community colleges and four-year institutions is critical. Students must be able to map out clear roads leading to whatever their education goal might be. That point was emphasized by Dr. Dann-Messier, who recognizes as I do that it is essential for Adult Education and community colleges to partner to provide clear articulation paths, and for Adult Education courses to prepare students for college or careers without the need for remediation.”

Read his entire post “Opening Doors.”

Join OVAE in San Antonio at the National Career Pathways Network

OVAE will be contributing insights and updates at the 2013 National Career Pathway Network conference in San Antonio, Texas on October 14 and 15, 2013. The event is hosted by the Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD) and will feature speakers and sessions to help educators, workforce development professionals, business and industry experts, and economic development partners build and enhance career pathways in their communities.

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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