Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Should Teachers and Parents Take the CTE Boom Seriously?

By Rick Hess — April 08, 2019 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Education is in the midst of one of its periodic swings. Testing, teacher evaluation, and accountability are out of favor, while early childhood education, social and emotional learning, and career and technical education (CTE) are decidedly in.

One inevitable question is whether a given enthusiasm is a fad or something more substantial. It can be tough to tell the one from the other. But it’s worth trying to do just that for the sake of educators, parents, and policymakers. It speaks to how seriously they should take the reform and how much elbow grease they should put into supporting, shaping, or resisting it. That’s why my crack research assistant RJ Martin and I recently took a stab at doing just this for CTE, to see what we could learn.

CTE is especially interesting, since its champions are hoping to address so many persistent frustrations: by making high school more relevant for more students, offering students paths other than college, and rectifying problems that have long plagued vocational ed. With an eye to making sense of what might be ahead for career and technical ed, RJ and I analyzed CTE’s public profile over the past two decades and compared that to what we found for some other popular 21st-century education reforms (you can see the study for all the particulars).

After examining two decades of media coverage, we emerged with four key takeaways.

First, as the following figure illustrates, interest in CTE has grown steadily over the better part of two decades. The scope and sustained nature of the growth are striking. Since 1998, the number of U.S. media mentions for career and technical education has increased more than a hundredfold.

Second, this heightened interest in career and technical education is part of a larger trend, which is seismic growth in attention paid to skills training and workforce preparedness. Indeed, media mentions of “workforce development” dwarf those of CTE and have grown faster.

Third, attention to career and technical education has grown much more steadily than did attention to the major 21st-century reforms. Now, as the figure below makes clear, CTE has not approached the intense attention showered upon No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and teacher evaluation at their peaks. Yet, while those reforms rocketed to public attention over three or four years and then saw rapid declines in media attention, CTE’s public profile has looked very different—featuring a marked and uninterrupted build over an extended period.

Fourth, interest in CTE increasingly outpaces that in other prominent school improvement strategies. From 1998 to 2008, for instance, mentions of school vouchers dwarfed those of career and technical education. Over the past decade, that trend reversed—even though vouchers are more controversial, and, thus, more newsworthy. Meanwhile, whereas interest in CTE was once similar to that shown stuff like school turnarounds, personalized learning, and 21st-century skills, over the past decade CTE has left those far behind.

It seems a safe bet that CTE’s gradual build will give it more staying power than other contested, high-profile 21st-century reforms. For better or worse, career and technical education appears poised to be a focal point in the post-NCLB, post-Common Core world.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Opinion Can College-Going Be Less Risky Without Being 'Free'?
Rick Hess speaks with Peter Samuelson, president of Ardeo Education Solutions, about Ardeo's approach to make paying for college less risky.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion What Will It Take to Get High School Students Back on Track?
Three proven strategies can support high school graduation and postsecondary success—during and after the pandemic.
Robert Balfanz
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of students making choices based on guidance.
Viktoria Kurpas/iStock
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion An Economist Explains How to Make College Pay
Rick Hess speaks with Beth Akers about practical advice regarding how to choose a college, what to study, and how to pay for it.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says College Enrollment Dip Hits Students of Color the Hardest
The pandemic led to a precipitous decline in enrollment for two-year schools, while four-year colleges and universities held steady.
3 min read
Conceptual image of blocks moving forward, and one moving backward.
Marchmeena29/iStock/Getty