Counselors and Career Tech

By Sean Cavanagh — June 18, 2009 2 min read
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We don’t write that often on this blog about career-and-technical education, or what used to be called voc-ed. And that’s probably an oversight.

After all, almost all students in this country take some sort of career-and-technical education class. The Perkins Act is the largest federally funded high school program in the nation. And high school students, on average, earn more credits in vocational education courses (4.01) than they do in math (3.68) and science (3.34). I’ve taken this information from the 2004 National Assessment of Vocational Education and other federal data on voc-ed.

Advocates for voc-ed classes say they can play a vital role in keeping students who are otherwise bored in school interested in academics—and give them valuable job skills. There are critics, too, who say too many voc-ed classes amount to second-tier courses that aren’t preparing students for college and demanding work. That debate received a lot of attention during the Bush administration, as Congress began moving toward its eventual renewal of the Perkins Act.

One challenge for high schools is that counselors often don’t know much about what goes on in CTE courses, or how they should be organized during high school to prepare students for life afterward. That issue is explored in a recent issue brief, “Counselors as CTE Stakeholders,” released by the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium. A whale of a name, I know; simply put, they represent state chiefs of voc-ed programs.

The brief discusses how counselors can work with teachers and employers and colleges to make sure courses meet standards. Counselors can help arrange career-themed classes around “career clusters,” or 16 different occupational groupings, it says.

I imagine that some counselors might be wary of directing students to certain tech courses—lest they be accused of steering them away from a more demanding academic path. But the brief argues that effective counseling will actually encourage students to take academic classes more seriously. Students may become “more likely to enroll in rigorous and relevant courses because they will better understand the necessary next steps,” whether that’s college or the job market.

The brief gives examples of states that have sought to connect counselors with CTE. Missouri, for instance, with state funding, is offering curriculum and professional development, among other resources, to CTE teachers and counselors.

What should counselors be telling students about career-and-technical ed? How much potential is there for school staff members to keep students who might otherwise be on the verge of dropping out of school on task, by directing them toward a health, technology, or auto course that excites them?

Photo by Tim Shaffer for Education Week.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.