Today's Career and Technical Education Helps Students Write the Future

Archived Information

Today's Career and Technical Education Helps Students Write the Future

Prepared Remarks of Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., Digital Harbor Foundation – Baltimore, Maryland
March 9, 2016

Good afternoon. I'm John King, Acting U.S. Secretary of Education. It's wonderful to be here today. What an amazing place this is—it's incredible to think that this was once an abandoned rec center in downtown Baltimore. Today, the Digital Harbor Foundation Tech Center is a public makerspace, with a focus on giving disadvantaged youth the resources and the tools to tinker, create and learn. It's a place where kids can be kids—and also scientists, builders, engineers and coders. This is the future of play and also of work.

From Andrew Coy, a teacher who first had the idea to reinvent this center, to Shawn Grimes, the technologist behind the Digital Harbor Foundation today, and so many others—your vision, dedication and collaboration are invaluable. I should mention that Andrew's now joined the White House as a Senior Advisor in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and we're grateful to have him lending his expertise.

I can't think of a better venue to talk about the rapidly evolving field of CTE – Career and Technical Education. We've come a long way from what we used to refer to as vocational education. Today, every job that leads to a secure future requires critical thinking, problem solving and creativity, as well as some postsecondary education or training. The best CTE programs help students prepare for this future once they graduate from high school.

Today's CTE is about the future you can't prepare for with just a textbook. It's about learning how to build your own business, from an idea to a prototype and beyond. It's about creating new tools to solve everyday problems. It's about applying practical skills to tackle major challenges, like global warming or public health crises. One thing is clear—it's not your grandfather's "shop class."

Last fall, the White House hosted a CTE Innovation Fair featuring several young student inventors. They included Ahmad Shawaal, a high school student from Spotsylvania, Virginia, who created a 3D printer that prints chocolates, and Natasha Sanchez, a student from Corpus Christi, Texas, who showed off her underwater robot.

And there was a group of students from a tribal college in Montana who created an actual space satellite. The BisonSat was launched into orbit by NASA in October, and it's monitoring the environmental degradation of the Great Plains.

As a former social studies teacher, I'm passionate about how America's history, economy and identity are bound up with the ingenuity of makers like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington Carver, the Wright Brothers and Hedy Lamarr. But I'm even more excited about the narrative that today's diverse student-makers are writing through their own experience. The young people I've mentioned, and the inaugural class of CTE Presidential Scholars soon to be named by the White House, are proof that the future of American invention holds richer possibilities for us all.

Indeed, as President Obama said, "Today's D.I.Y. is tomorrow's 'Made in America." The White House has declared June 17th through the 23rd a "Week of Making," and the President will be headed to SXSW in a couple days to make a call for broader collaboration between the tech community and the public sector. In his 2017 budget, the President has requested $4 billion for states to fund Computer Science for All. It's the opportunity for every student to learn what is increasingly becoming a "new basic skill."

For our part, I am excited to announce a new open innovation prize competition, the CTE Makeover Challenge, to transform underutilized facilities in schools into fully-equipped makerspaces similar to this one. Participating schools will benefit from technical assistance and tools to help turn their ideas into actual models. Up to 10 entrants could receive a share of the $200,000 in prize money.

Remaking CTE for the 21st Century

This is a time of great stakes, but also of great progress in education. Never before have more Americans—from all backgrounds—been more prepared to join the global economy. States, districts and educators have come together to put in place higher college- and career-ready standards, achieve record high school graduation rates, and send a million more black and Hispanic students to college since 2008.

But we have further to go to close persistent achievement gaps and make opportunity real for every student. In terms of college completion, a dozen or more countries are out-educating us. And according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we now trail nearly all other industrialized nations when it comes to making sure each generation is better educated than the last.

Our biggest challenge, at every stage of the education pipeline, is doing right by students with increasingly diverse backgrounds—race, ethnicity, native language and socio-economic status—as well as diverse learners with different academic and professional goals. Through more innovative and accessible CTE, remade for the 21st century and beyond, we can help more students chart their path to the American Dream. We can transform America's workforce and economy on an unprecedented scale.

But where high-quality CTE programs exist, they are often overwhelmed by demand. In Philadelphia, the district recently reported that it received 11,000 applications for its CTE programs in 2014, but only had room and resources for 2,500. Massachusetts also released the results of a waitlist survey that found that about 4,600 youth wanted to get into CTE but couldn't. And, that number underreported the problem, as only half of all schools responded to the survey.

Perkins Reauthorization

There's no doubt that our investment today would have a much greater impact if we had a new Perkins Act on the books. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act is the main source of federal funding for secondary and postsecondary CTE, but it was last reauthorized in 2006.

Our Perkins blueprint is based on four principles:

  • Effective alignment with today's labor market, including clear expectations for high-quality programs;
  • Stronger collaboration among secondary and postsecondary institutions, employers and industry partners;
  • Meaningful accountability to improve academic and employment outcomes for students; and
  • Finally, local and state innovation in CTE, particularly the development and replication of innovative CTE models.

Late last year, Congress acted to give us a new comprehensive education law in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Now we need a new law for a new era in CTE. It's time for Congress to reauthorize the Perkins Act so that every student, in every community has access to rigorous, relevant and results-driven CTE programs. It's been a bipartisan priority, and I am confident we can accomplish it in a bipartisan spirit.

Here again, with great credit to Governor Hogan and Mayor Rawlings-Blake, Maryland is leading by launching a P-TECH initiative in Baltimore schools. P-TECH, which stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School, gives high school students hands-on job training as they simultaneously earn a free college degree. When students complete the program they have a high school diploma, an associate's degree, and they are first in line for jobs at partner employers like IBM and Johns Hopkins University.

The P-TECH model got its start in Brooklyn, and the effort to scale it statewide began when I was commissioner in New York. I knew the student demand was there, but I was greatly impressed with the diversity of employer partners who came forward, in technology, manufacturing and healthcare.

P-TECH is one of many innovative CTE models that embody our Perkins principles. Another example, from Georgia, is 12 for Life, a cooperative education program created by a company called Southwire that manufactures building wiring and cable. 12 for Life provides high school students at risk of dropping out with technical, leadership and life skills while helping ensure they earn their diploma. It's giving underserved youth new hope, while helping develop the workforce and revitalize communities.


And that, for me, just about sums up what we are trying to do not only through CTE, but through our entire pre-k through postsecondary education agenda: ensuring equity and excellence for every student in order to build stronger communities and a stronger America.

And personally, I am inspired by what our most disadvantaged students can do when we give them real opportunities.

As someone who lost both parents by age 12, and could have easily fallen through the cracks, I see my own reflection in students like Dequan Wilkins. Dequan was one of more than a thousand young people between the ages of 18-21 in Baltimore's foster care system. But just as I found hope, years ago, with the support of talented teachers, Dequan found hope through the Urban Alliance's Youth Adult Internship Program. Through his internship, he overcame incredible personal barriers, and received training, certification and job placement. His talent in culinary arts began to shine.

Today he's a sous chef and he loves his work. That's the good news – he's on the threshold of a bright future. But we still need to ensure that there is a clear path from the internship to further training and a stable career.

With the kind of commitment you've demonstrated here in Baltimore, with support from Congress to make "Computer Science for All" a reality and with a new and stronger Perkins Act, we can open up more lifelines and pathways for students like Dequan. CTE is not just about preparing some students for successful lives and careers; it's about giving all students the tools to shape our future. I look forward to working with all of you, and with Congress, and I look forward to seeing what our amazing students create.