Educating Every Student for College and Career Success

Archived Information

Educating Every Student for College and Career Success

Remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) CareerTech VISION 2013 Awards Banquet

December 4, 2013

Good evening, everyone. Thank you, Doug, for the warm welcome, and for all your hard work and leadership at ACTE. I also want to recognize our UFT colleagues in the room, for your tireless efforts on behalf of students.

For almost a century, this organization and its partners have done yeoman's work. Imagine your founding members' reaction if they could see today's world and workplaces.

You face a more difficult task than ever before: equipping students to succeed in a competitive global economy, a knowledge-based society, and a hyper-connected, digital age. And, your collective mission has never been more important.

As Tom Friedman often points out, 21st century workers need the knowledge, flexibility and ingenuity to thrive in jobs that haven't been invented yet.

How do you prepare young people for jobs that we cannot see – that don't exist?

They will need a blend of academic, technical, and employability skills – like critical thinking, collaboration and communication. They will need to be adaptable, and also to learn from failure.

And, they'll need to re-skill often, to keep up with ever-changing demands.

We all must be lifelong learners. The day we stop learning is the day we cease to be relevant.

These new realities – both the challenges and the amazing opportunities – are among the main reasons we're all working so hard to transform education in the United States.

Teaching and learning must change, in part, because the very nature of work has changed.

As all of you know, 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 career and technical education is absolutely critical to meeting that challenge. That's why we need the help, support, ideas and expertise of everyone in this room this evening.

And, that's also why – as my good friend Michael Mulgrew recently reminded me – this visit with ACTE is long overdue.

Earlier this afternoon, I talked with local stakeholders about the power of high-quality CTE during a town hall meeting at East Career and Technical Academy: a wonderful example of a school that gets this.

I also met with ACTE and UFT representatives. We had a great conversation: candid, constructive, and focused on ways we can collaborate to prepare more students for dynamic and fulfilling careers.

At a time when unemployment rates are too high, yet literally millions of high-wage, high-skill jobs still go unfilled, our collective work should have no natural enemies.

High schools, community colleges, employers, business leaders, parents and students themselves must all work together to strengthen this pipeline to the middle class.

Tonight, I'm honored to join in recognizing the outstanding individuals and organizations receiving awards. Please give them a hand!

I'm struck by the tremendous impact this dedicated group has had – in their states, regions, and literally across the country.

This visit has been another great opportunity for me to listen, learn, and share some thoughts about CTE's role in our federal education agenda.

It's also a chance to say: thank you.

Thank you for your commitment to reaching every student, regardless of circumstance. I know there is no category called, "those other kids", in your vocabulary.

That is not your mindset.

We know high-quality CTE is a great strategy to bring learning alive for all students, across America's increasingly diverse student population. It is hands-on, it is engaging, and it is relevant.

We are still losing far too many of our young people in the education pipeline, but CTE makes a real and tangible difference in closing achievement gaps, and preventing dropouts. CTE students want to come to school, and they want to succeed.

They know why their education is important to them.

Thank you for helping students explore their options, find their passion, and prepare for careers that both pay well and provide ladders to the middle class.

And, thank you for being willing to reinvent the work you do.

It is never easy to challenge yourself, to challenge the traditional way of doing things, but your creativity and entrepreneurial spirit are so important to helping our students prepare for tomorrow, not yesterday.

I've had the chance to see the impact of some terrific CTE programs, from Northern Virginia Community College, to TechBoston in Massachusetts, to Aviation High School, the Harbor School, and P-TECH in New York.

I visit CTE high schools virtually every month.

Many of these programs are connecting students with the high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields – where so many of the good jobs go unfilled, due to the lack of qualified applicants.

And, by implementing dual enrollment and early college models – which I love – a growing number of CTE schools are helping students to fast-track their college degrees.

Take Wheeling High School outside of Chicago, where I visited in October.

A few years ago, it was a school of last resort that many in the community shunned. Today it is a school of choice, with a waiting list.

Their new nanotechnology laboratory is breathtaking: it is literally filled with cutting-edge equipment typically found only on elite college campuses or inside high-tech companies. Student engagement and motivation there is extraordinary – they understand the magnitude of the opportunity before them.

As a nation, we're projected to need up to 2 million nanotech workers in the next few decades – and this school is preparing students for high-wage jobs in fields from mechanical engineering to medicine.

Students there are aiming for college majors and careers that would have been unimaginable just a few years earlier.

In September, as part of our Back-to-School Bus Tour, Brenda and I visited Transmountain Early College High School in El Paso. The school is next to the campus of El Paso Community College, and it has a powerful focus on STEM education.

Its students are low-income, Latino, and virtually all will be first-generation college goers. And yet, I visited a freshman Biology class where 13- and 14-year-olds are taking a college-level class, for college credit.

When you think about high expectations, think about that example – and ask why today so few students are given similar opportunities to soar, and excel.

Transmountain partners with a community college, so students can earn a both high school diploma and an Associate Degree in four years.

Finally, the school works closely with the local community and industry to train students for careers in growing fields like green energy, 3-D technology, and robotics.

Why can't this systemic commitment to acceleration and exposure become the norm in our disadvantaged communities, rather than the exception?

That is our collective challenge, and our extraordinary opportunity.

The best ideas never come from me, or – quite frankly – from anyone else in Washington. We see our federal role as providing incentives for innovation, listening to and learning from what works, helping scale up the most effective models, and creating a climate where the best ideas thrive.

CTE must be an essential part of our comprehensive cradle-to-career agenda.

That cradle-to-career agenda starts with providing every child a strong start in life, with high-quality preschool for all. We must level the playing field, and give our babies a chance in life.

High-quality early childhood education should be the ultimate bipartisan issue.

Our agenda includes supporting state- and district-led efforts to raise standards, dramatically improve struggling schools, and boost student outcomes. And it promotes college affordability, value, and completion.

At the same time, we've taken significant steps to help you build stronger and more seamless pipelines for students – with secondary, postsecondary, employer, labor and workforce organizations as equal partners.

In particular, at the Department of Education, we're providing $2 billion in Trade Adjustment Act funds for CTE partnerships led by our nation's hard-working community colleges. We will only fund collaborative projects: everyone must get out of their silos.

With significant input from so many of you, we released our CTE Blueprint to reauthorize the Perkins Act and leverage change through that $1 billion annual budget.

And, the President's 2014 budget proposed $300 million for high school redesign, to ensure college and career readiness, and postsecondary access, for more students.

Last month the President announced a new initiative between the Department of Labor and us, providing $100 million in new funding for Youth CareerConnect grants.

This program will encourage school districts, higher education institutions, the workforce investment system, and other partners to scale up evidence-based models that transform the high school experience in this country.

And, the best thing about this effort is we don't have to wait on Congress. We can move forward ourselves. The goal is to be fast and smart.

Let's be very clear: these grants are designed to complement, not replace, the Perkins Blueprint. We plan to make up to forty grants, on an ambitious timeline. We expect to announce the awards early next year.

And, the Youth CareerConnect priorities should sound very familiar.

CareerConnect will fund rigorous, integrated academic and career-focused learning linked to in-demand industries.

It will involve robust employer engagement, strong ties with postsecondary institutions, and integrated career and academic counseling.

And, it will continue our policy of encouraging commitment and sustainability by requiring a 25 percent match.

Our end goal is preparing students to excel in college, long-term occupational skills training, registered apprenticeships, and employment.

We can never, ever again distinguish between preparing students for either college or a career. From now on, it's always got to be "both/and."

Not tracking, not forcing choices – but simply expanding opportunity.

I may have to start quoting one of tonight's awardees, Tony Brannon, who is Dean of the School of Agriculture at Murray State University. Where's Tony?

Tony explains it this way: "Academic education isn't education unless it's vocational, and vocational education isn't education unless it's academic."

That's what you all are proving every day. Your leadership is why I am so hopeful.

But as we celebrate the contributions of these extraordinary awardees tonight, let's also set our sights on new milestones.

We need to make sure that every CTE program is rigorous and relevant.

We need to make sure that every CTE program aligns educational credentials, like degrees and certificates, with industry-recognized credentials.

And, we need to make sure that every CTE program clearly articulates a pathway to a well-paid, in-demand occupation.

Forging deeper ties with business and labor will help ensure that instruction and assessments keep pace with workplace changes. We can't afford a mismatch.

Honest, ongoing conversations – and real-time adjustments – are critical.

Work-based learning is another essential element of CTE, and this component needs strengthening in many programs.

The best way to tell if students are truly career-ready is to give them sustained, supported, supervised workplace experiences well before – before! – they enter the job market. And, in today's economy, the best way to ensure that all kids get that exposure is through work-based CTE experiences.

Those are my challenges to you.

I hope you'll continue to challenge me and my team, as well.

Thank you for your vision, your hard work, and your commitment to leading the country where we need to go. As you drive this transformation of CTE and educational opportunity, we want to be your partner.