Reinvigorating Vo-Tech

As part of the Washington Monthly‘s November-December cover package on rebuilding paths of opportunity, Georgetown professor Harry Holzer focused on the oft-forgotten stepchild of secondary and post-secondary education, Career and Technical Education (or CTE, also known as “voc-ed” or “vo-tech”). Even without the additional support and direction Holzer calls for, it’s a much different proposition than it used to be:

In the past, CTE was known as “vocational education.” But let’s be clear: we are not talking about our father’s shop class or old-fashioned voc ed. In those classes, students with the weakest academic skills spent their time in dead-end classes that often prepared them for low-wage or disappearing jobs, if any job at all. Even worse, the programs tracked students, particularly minorities and disadvantaged students, away from college, leading voc ed programs to become very unpopular in those families and communities.

By contrast, the best models of high-quality CTE today integrate rigorous academic instruction into the teaching of technical and employment skills and thus prepare young people for college just as well as a traditional “college prep” program does. These next-generation CTE programs, available in both high schools and colleges, typically encompass a broad range of work-based learning efforts, including apprenticeships, paid internships, and co-op programs, in addition to in-school instruction….

Given the potential demonstrated by these new models, dismantling the walls that have separated CTE from more traditional programs leading to higher education should be a priority for educators and policymakers. Our goal should be to have all students graduate from high school ready for both college and careers, and be able to choose from a range of appealing higher education and labor market possibilities afterward.

Check out Holzer’s full article and his more specific policy prescriptions here.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.