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Acting Ed. Secretary Urges Congress to Renew Career-Tech Law

By Catherine Gewertz — March 15, 2016 3 min read
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Acting Education Secretary John B. King Jr. is urging Congress to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, even though prospects for its revision and approval appear dim.

Last renewed in 2006, the Perkins Act funnels more than $1 billion a year into career and technical education at the middle school, high school, and college levels. Lawmakers started the process of reviewing and reworking it several years ago, and wanted to focus in particular on building more consistency into the quality of CTE programs. But those efforts have largely stalled.

Building on remarks he made earlier in the week to a gathering of mayors, King used a March 9 appearance in Baltimore to draw attention to the need for Perkins Act reauthorization. His voice joins those of career-tech-ed advocates pushing Congress this week for more funding for the law.

“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,” said King, according to remarks prepared for delivery.

Building Skills

The best CTE programs build students’ creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and help them prepare for additional education and good jobs after high school, the prepared speech said.

“Today’s CTE is about the future you can’t prepare for with just a textbook,” the prepared remarks said. “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.’ ”

President Barack Obama’s administration has been pushing for greater innovation among young people and the creation of “makerspaces” to support it. The White House hosted a CTE innovation fair last fall, and will soon name a group of “CTE Presidential Scholars” who exemplify ambitious goals in career and technical education.

The administration has also been pushing to build incentives into the Perkins Act for innovative, high-quality CTE programs. And it wants the law to better define the courses that should make up a good CTE program, make sure that career pathways reflect the needs of the labor market, and describe how mastery of CTE content should be measured.

Congress isn’t in love with all the Obama administration’s ideas for a reauthorized Perkins Act, though, including a proposal to distribute some of the funding through competitions, instead of doling it out through a standard formula. CTE advocates are also concerned that the administration’s approach to funding CTE would make too little formula funding available, squeezing program supply as demand rises.

Between those reservations and election-year complications in Washington, few are optimistic that the Perkins Act will be reauthorized soon.

Grant Competition

In Baltimore, King announced a new competition, sponsored by the Education Department, to create space for high-quality CTE programs. Called the “Career Technical Education Makeover Challenge,” it will distribute a total of $200,000 to as many as 10 applicantsto convert space in their high school building into places equipped to allow students to design and build things.

King used his appearance to team up with Baltimore City schools CEO Gregory Thornton to help the city in its bid to open a P-TECH school. The Pathways in Technology Early College High School is a model started in New York City with a partnership that includes the city’s high schools, colleges, and the tech giant IBM.

It blends rigorous high school and college study with preparation for high-tech careers and real-world work, allowing students to graduate with high school diplomas and associate degrees. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has been working with state lawmakers to gain approval for a P-TECH school in Baltimore, and King wants to showcase the model as the kind of CTE program that could benefit more students through a reauthorized Perkins Act.

A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2016 edition of Education Week as Acting Ed. Secretary Urges Congress to Renew Career-Tech Law

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