Monday, February 26, 2018

Career and Technology Education expansion in our traditional high schools - by Victoria Henley, MCCPTA representative to the CTE Task Force


There was a MCPS Career and Technology Education retreat held on Thursday, January 11, 2018, at the Thomas Edison HS of Technology, located next door to the newly renovated Wheaton High School in Wheaton, Maryland.

In December 2016, the Board of Education contracted with the Education Strategy Group (ESG), a Bethesda based consulting firm, to conduct a comprehensive review of MCPS Career and Technology Education (CTE) Programs of Study (POS). Funding for this study was approved by the Board as part of its Fiscal Year 2017 Operating Budget.

The retreat I attended focused on reviewing the recommendations and collected feedback received by MCPS and Education Strategy Group (ESG), since the release of the initial report in September 2017. As participants, we were asked to prioritize the recommendations and suggest a multi-year timeline for implementing the recommendations. MCPS and ESG consulting would take our input into consideration as they prepare the final report.  This retreat did NOT discuss the future of Thomas Edison HS of Technology.

The Career and Technology Education retreat brought together Dr. Erick Lang, MCPS’ associate superintendent of curriculum and instructional programs, AND representatives from the business community, current CTE students, former CTE students, MCPS relevant staff, and other stakeholders.  I represented MCCPTA. The retreat was facilitated by Kathleen Mathers, a Director at ESG consulting. Every participant brought to the retreat their energy, real-time data, thoughtful discussion points, and professional experiences. I was personally impressed by the wealth of knowledge and honest commitment to improving the CTE programming. 

Undoubtedly, MCPS has created a culture of high expectations in its schools. But, career preparation and vocational training “has been marginalized, sometimes being inaccurately perceived as the “direct opposite” of a college-prep education. After years of focusing on preparing students to enter four-year colleges, MCPS is planning to redesign and ramp up its career programs to keep pace with the changing world. MCPS Superintendent Smith spoke about the new exciting career programming during his proposed Operating Budget presentation.

Nationally, there has been a resurgence of interest in career readiness. For various reasons, not every high school graduate wants to, or will be able to attend a 4-year university. According to ESG consulting, MCPS is one of only a hand-full of large school districts around the country taking a serious look at Career Readiness to be ahead of the curve. That is a good thing!  However, among other large districts studied in the state of Maryland by ESG consulting, MCPS was the only one with a declining enrollment in career and technology education programs. During the 2015-2016 academic year, 29 percent of MCPS students were taking one or more career technical education courses, compared to 35 percent in Howard County and 50 percent in Baltimore County.

In general, the initial report from ESG recommends that MCPS bring leading employers together in an advisory council led by the superintendent, train staff about the regional labor market, and improve the quality and consistency of career programs across high schools. MCPS Career and technology (CTE) education should be redefined as offering rigorous academic coursework, 21st-century technical instruction and real-world experiences.

At the retreat, we were divided into 4 focus-area work groups. (CTE Vision, Employer Engagement, Program Rigor and Implementation, and Stakeholder Communication). I participated in the Stakeholder Communication work group.

We discussed the benefits of students becoming both college-ready and career-ready – that these two things can co-exist and should be promoted as such.  Vocational training should not be disregarded as a second-place finish. Yes, there are differences in Vocational Training and graduating from an Ivy League university-  and they will bring different results. So, as a priority, we needed to look at what motivates a person to choose a specific career path. Was it personal fulfillment, an opportunity to give back to a community, financial gain?  Determining these types of motivators would be key in reaching prospective students and increase excitement around CTE programming. The truth is that we all have a vocation (a job)- whether as a practicing attorney, a marketing manager, educator, writer, or scientist. It’s how much training and educational that we are personally want, and willing to commit to obtaining.  By definition, a vocation is, “a person's employment or main occupation, especially regarded as particularly worthy and requiring great dedication.) From a communication standpoint, the work group recommended that all stakeholders (students, parents, middle school counselors, the local government, and the business community) must be encouraged to think more strategically and creatively about what CAN and SHOULD be included within a high school experience. What opportunities exist and will exist to prepare a student for the future?

Career and technology education has widened in scope over the years, preparing students for jobs in health care and information technology as well as more traditional areas such as construction and automotive repair.

It became clear that developing a powerful marketing message is critical. Career readiness within MCPS is not just vocational training, but all training a student receives to prepare them for their future profession.

Collectively, we felt another priority and goal of career readiness programming should be to expose students to job options more broadly and the educational paths that lead to them. By communicating to stakeholders the successes for CTE programs, MCPS would become the desired destination for well-rounded experiences, career readiness and college preparation. We suggested that the messaging should clearly communicate that a MCPS student will be well-prepared and equipped to succeed, regardless of whether he or she decides to pursue a vocational certification, 2-year degree, or a 4-year degree. The value must be communicated well.

Why should a student who wants to become a biomedical engineer feel that taking a hospitality vocational course is not worth it?  And yes, you are correct, the hospitality course will probably have nothing to do with his or her advanced engineering studies, but it might assist them as they work to pay for college. Or, they might find the hospitality industry actually interesting, and the student might change their major to Electrical or Mechanical engineering in order to solve a hospitality industry problem. 

It was also discussed that the parents should play a role in the educational process. Middle school and high school counselors must work with students and their parents to create a plan that works for that student’s particular interests. At the end of high school, every graduate should leave MCPS with enough preparation and training to successfully go directly into a career or continue their educational studies in 2 or 4-year programs and beyond.

During the retreat, we noted that MCPS currently offers strong career and technology education, however access to these programs varies widely across the school system. That needs to be addressed for college and career readiness to be successful in the MCPS for ALL students.

In addition, we expressed that tailoring the stakeholders messaging to clearly communicate benefits and value will increase interest and credibility to the CTE programs. Benefits such as CTE programs helping students gain real-world experience in their fields of interest or earn college credit and industry-recognized credentials while they’re in high school. These great offerings are mostly unknown by stakeholders. School counselors (especially middle school counselors) must help to increase awareness of available programs and speak to parents about the opportunities that exist. 

As you might imagine, there was much more discussed. The other three focus area work groups were just as engaged in prioritizing recommendations and generating additional points to consider.

It’s anticipated that the group will reconvene sometime in March 2018.

I appreciated the opportunity to represent MCCPTA at this important meeting.

Thank you!

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