College & Workforce Readiness

Task Force Outlines Strategies to Improve Career Education Programs

By Caralee J. Adams — December 01, 2014 4 min read
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State leaders should expect more from career technical education programs, hold schools accountable for their success, and bring employers in as partners for advice, according to a new report from the Council of Chief State School Officers.

A task force appointed by the CCSSO, a national organization of public officials who head state departments of elementary and secondary education, recently reviewed various strategies to improve career education programs. The resulting report released Monday included three recommendations and 11 state-action steps to raise the bar of quality for CTE programs and make sure that what students learn is in tune with the needs of the job market.

“We must break down the barriers that have traditionally separated these programs and shed the stigma associated with career-preparation programs: ‘Career ready’ means postsecondary ready,” the report says. “That means establishing rigorous standards for all students and paying serious attention to the future labor market our young people will face.”

The CCSSO report emphasizes the need for broad engagement by multiple organizations. It comes at a time when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently launched its talent pipeline project to encourage employer-school partnerships and the National Governors Association has funded 14 states with grants to align education systems with state economic needs. The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium is scheduled this week to release a report on the state of employer engagement with CTE.

The CCSSO task force, comprised of state schools chiefs, postsecondary and CTE leaders, business leaders and national education experts analyzed career preparation in the United States and internationally to arrive at three main recommendations:

1. Enlist employers as partners to define essential pathways and skills.

States need a new “demand- driven” system so that programs prepare students for high-paying jobs that are needed in the future. The feedback loops between employers and educators need to be strengthened so that career programs are responsive to the changing dynamics in the workplace, the report suggests.

This would include involving employers in designing courses and developing workplace learning experiences, as well as establishing a structured process for them to collaborate with educators, the CCSSO task force concluded.

2. Set higher expectations for career program quality so students are prepared for postsecondary education.

The report underscores the need for a postsecondary or industry credential as a prerequisite to be competitive in the job market. It suggests all career programming be required to be organized within pathways that culminate with some kind of college degree or credential.

Schools should raise the level of rigor by including a college-ready academic core and technical core. The CCSSO task force says states should encourage and facilitate dual enrollment by removing barriers to access and supporting a funding model that serves both high schools and colleges. States must take steps to ensure that credits earned through dual enrollment transfer to postsecondary institutions, the report suggests.

CCSSO also calls for expanded career guidance beginning in middle school, more work-based learning, changes to state funding to support the pathways in greatest demand, and recruitment of industry experts for career instruction.

3. Create incentives for schools to provide career opportunities and link programs to accountability measures.

Too often, career readiness is undervalued in state accountability systems, the task force concluded. It called on states to set strong performance goals for all students that value career-focused courses, experiences, and credentials, and then require reporting of specific indicators. Finally, the report recommended that high school graduation requirements and scholarship criteria be adapted to recognize students who meet career-readiness indicators.

The recommendations are intended to guide states in their planning to transform CTE programs. The report stops short of prescribing how states should implement the recommendation, but does highlight some examples of districts and states that are leaders in career education.

This afternoon in Washington, D.C., the CCSSO will host a panel discussion of the proposed actions featuring the task force chairman Terry Holliday of Kentucky, CCSSO Executive Director Chris Minnich, a representative from IBM, and state leaders from North Carolina.

UPDATE 5:15 p.m.

At the CCSSO briefing today, Minnich announced that chiefs from 43 states, territories, and the District of Columbia have committed to use these recommendation to upgrade their career-readiness systems.

“We are still leaving it open so other states can make that commitment,” he said. “But I was not expecting 43 states to want to step up and take this serious level of commitment around career readiness. That’s a very exciting development for us.”

The CCSSO will work together with states to advance the conversation and support policy changes as outlined in the task force report.

“We talk about college and career a lot,” said Minnich. “But career has gotten a second treatment. We hope that this report today will push forward the idea that career-readiness needs to be front and center as we go forward.”

Holliday of Kentucky said in too many states K-12, community college, universities, and the business community are not working together to solve the skills gap. The report calls on states to approach career education in concert, share information and expand work-based learning opportunities.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.