02 Mar 2020


Career and technical education is a term applied to schools, institutions, and educational programs that specialize in the skilled trades, applied sciences, modern technologies, and career preparation. It was formerly (and is still commonly) called vocational education; however, the term has fallen out of favor with most educators.

Career and technical programs also provide both academic and career-oriented classes, and many provide opportunities for students to gain work experience through internships, job shadowing, on – the-job training, and credential opportunities for industry. Depending on their size, type, location and mission, career and technical programs provide a wide range of learning experiences covering many different career paths, fields and industries, from skilled trades such as automotive technology, building, plumbing or electrical contracting to fields as diverse as agriculture, architecture, culinary arts, fashion design, filmmaking, forestry.

Career and technical education in middle and high schools or through community colleges and other post-secondary institutions and certification programs may be offered. Regional centers, which serve students from multiple schools or districts, often provide career and technical education at the secondary level. For instance, New York’s Boards of Cooperative Educational Services oversee a network of 37 regional career and technical education centers that serve students across the state. Many states have similar regional hubs or national networks functioning as part of the system of public schools.
In some cases a high school offers career and technical education, where it may or may not be an integral part of the regular academic program of the school. Students may also spend part of the school day in different career and technical schools, or a regional center may be the main enrollment school, where students take both academic and career and technical courses. In other instances, career and technical programs that take the form of a distinct “school within a school,” such as a theme-based academy that provides an interdisciplinary or career-oriented program in which academic courses correspond with specific career paths, such as culinary arts, nursing, or engineering.

Some educators and advocates for school reform claim that career and technical education is an underutilized learning avenue that could help increase student participation, performance, and achievement in more traditional academic programs. The realistic learning opportunities frequently offered in career and educational programs appeal to many students and certain specific elements— focusing on critical thinking, new technologies, real-world environments, hands-on activities, and applying learning to practical problems, for example — aligned with an increasing emphasis on skills of the 21st century — skills important to all academics. Advocates might also argue that career and technical education services are an alternative to some of traditional academic programs ‘ shortcomings. For example, students are acquiring realistic, appropriate, marketable skills rather than learning from books, taking tests, and debating abstract concepts in classrooms, which will make them more employable adults after graduation.

Learning standards for career and technical education have risen significantly over the past few decades, largely in response to the growing complexity of modern professions that require higher levels of education, training, and workplace skills. For example, yesterday’s “auto mechanics” are today’s “automotive technicians,” and in addition to more conventional mechanical repairs, automotive programs now regularly offer instruction in the use of advanced computerized diagnostics equipment. Students enrolled at career and technical centers, which are usually public secondary schools, are required to meet the same academic requirements that apply to public high school students. To addition to state-required standards of learning that extend to public schools, many states have established career and technical programs-specific standards.

Career and technical education are often stigmatized, and there is a widespread perception that career and technical centers offer low-quality education, or that students who attend these schools are less qualified or less-aspired. Such assumptions linger, at least in part, on myths associated with the conventional “vocational” services of past decades.

Debates on career and technical education often overlap with ongoing discussions on academic “tracking” or grouping of students into tiered courses based on past academic performance or perceived ability. A career and technical program may look like an academic track, depending on its structure, academic requirements, and student demographics, in that certain types of students or certain educational outcomes may predominate. For example, lower-income students and minorities may be disproportionately represented in a program, or graduation rates and college-going rates may be markedly lower.

Critics of tracking may argue that such results more than likely reflect the particular structure and culture the education system rather than an accurate representation of the abilities and aspirations of the students enrolled in the programs.


B Brand.

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