The Association for Career and Technical Education officially committed support to the Common Core in 2009 because, like many, we believe all states need to have the same rigorous academic standards and that a state-led, rather than national-led, initiative holds the best promise of succeeding. But, the Common Core also holds great potential to accelerate the removal of the imaginary wall that separates core academics from career and technical education (CTE), a factor that is just as important to students’ academic performance and their success after high school.
As the Common Core mission states, “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.” Teaching must become more collaborative and engaging in order to meet this mission and an intentional focus on including relevance and real world connections should include career and technical education as the Common Core is planned and implemented. As the conversation about college and career readiness evolves, this connection becomes even more important.
Students themselves tell us this “real world” connection is needed to engage them. An often-cited Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation survey found that 81% of respondents said that more learning opportunities that make the classroom relevant to the real world would have helped them to finish high school. The connections between academics and CTE, which foster education-to-career pathways, can encourage more students to complete high school and have the potential to directly impact student performance. The National Assessment of Vocational Education showed that CTE concentrators – a state defined term which generally means students who take three or more related CTE courses – improved their 12th grade NAEP scores by eight points in reading and 11 in math, while students who took no CTE courses did not increase their math scores and only increased reading by four points.
There are signs that Common Core connection between academics and CTE is beginning to take shape as some states and localities are including CTE teachers and administrators in discussions about implementation of the standards and assessments. Achieve’s paper, “Common Core State Standards & Career and Technical Education: Bridging the Divide,” which ACTE signed onto, highlights states where good collaborative work is being performed. However, more nationwide focus is needed.
While implementation of Common Core will be challenging, it provides new opportunities to better connect and blur the lines between academics and CTE. Focus on accelerating these connections will result in a more meaningful and purposeful education for all students who question the need for particular coursework and the relevance of high school at all.