|Getting Along and Getting Ahead in Education
Education is the hotbed of politics and the culture wars. Just this week, a Florida principal was fired for showing sixth graders a photo of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David. Southeastern PA has its own headline-grabbing battles over gender, race, and inclusion in the classroom.
But career and technical education (CTE) is a rare exception to the rule.
A look at last year’s governor’s races across the country found that both Democratic and Republican candidates promoted CTE in their campaign platforms. Along with greater education funding, it was mentioned more frequently than any other topic.
To be sure, there is renewed interest in students graduating with “practical skills” like managing finances, preparing a meal, or folding a fitted sheet. But more than being able sew a button, there is growing bipartisan support for students to have high school courses that transition them seamlessly from high school to stable employment in the trades or service industries.
Today, Republicans and Democrats agree that success for individuals, businesses, and state economies all hinge on getting more than a high school education and getting more out of that education. With CTE and high school apprenticeship programs that strengthen career pathways and dual enrollment, students can gain skills in high school that give them access to earning postsecondary education credits and/or skills credentials before they graduate.
Study after study shows that where states and public schools do it right, career-related learning boosts student outcomes. Specifically, the data show that students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages.
- CTE is not a path away from college. Students who take more CTE classes are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as their peers.
- CTE provides the greatest boost to the kids who need it most: boys and students from low-income families.
Fewer than 7% of PA high school students have access to CTE programs, according to Meeting the Demand for New Workers, a new study by Children First and Keystone Research. (By comparison, 33% of West Virginia public school students are enrolled in CTE.) Black and Hispanic student participation is exceptionally small in PA because their low-wealth districts just can’t afford to pay for CTE programs and materials.
Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal includes a $24 million increase for CTE, an impressive improvement but not near the $230 million needed to seriously invest in building proven pathways to career success for students, as indicated in the report.
This is a major opportunity for Republicans and Democrats in Harrisburg to pause the debates on library books or rainbow flags or naked statues, and deliver a solid solution to our children’s and grandchildren’s future success and happiness.