Career/Technical Education & High School Reform

voc ed

In the 1980s, CLE began advocating for vocational reforms which would help end, rather than exacerbate, tracking of some students into programs with lower academic content and limited career potential -- culminating in a completely redirected Perkins Vocational Education Act in 1990 (and the expansion of those reforms in 1998 and 2006) and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act in 1994.  At the same time, our Vocational Opportunity for Community and Educational Development project worked in communities across the country to help create programs that are high quality, equitably serve all students, engage the community in program development, and engage students and teachers in community development.  As the primary subcontractor for the Department of Education’s New Urban High School initiative, CLE also worked with several urban schools uniting school-to-career principles with schoolwide high school reform -- for example, through the creation of thematically different, but academically equivalent smaller sub-schools.  A key part of our various high-school detracking efforts is to replace an outmoded industrial model of narrow job training with deep, active, and critical  exploration of all aspects of a broad field of human endeavor (such as health care, media, or transportation).

The current version of the Perkins Act can be found here.  The two key, interrelated  principles which CLE articulated are central to the Act – (a) academic-vocational integration at a high level that fully qualifies students for the full range of post-secondary education options; and (b) actively learning all aspects of an industry (including planning, management, finance, labor and communities issues, principles of technology, and health, safety, and environmental issues), not just narrowly defined occupational skills for a single job, in order both to create the broader activity base needed for integrating high-level academics and to help eliminate high schools’ role in occupational stratification.  These principles are built into the Act’s definition of career and technical education and into the core requirements for state and local program plans and applications.  CLE also has successfully worked to strengthen provisions in the Act on equity for members of various populations and on student and parent voice in program decision-making.

This work on career and technical education was designed not just as a way of reforming career and technical education but also to contribute to overall high-school reform, articulating principles and approaches that have now found their way into the mainstream of high-school restructuring to provide engaging, relevant, and rigorous education for all students.