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Districts preparing students for careers, not just college

Career and technical education (CTE) can land students high-demand jobs after graduation

Traditionally, many school districts have focused on learning, testing, and meeting educational standards to prepare their students for college. Schools have cut many practical programs like shop class, which build valuable skills and work experience, and replaced them with advanced academic courses like AP Calculus. Many forward-thinking educators, however, are now renewing interest in helping their students obtain the necessary knowledge and experience for a career, not just college.

A study presented by Purdue University found that only 12 out of 50 states have a clearly defined engineering curriculum for K-12 students, and that only four of these states provide a “comprehensive” inclusion of engineering standards. Many times, it’s up to the district to implement a career and technical education (CTE) program that sets students up for career success right out of school.

Although focusing on academics has many benefits, CTE programs can help provide tangible skills and even industry certifications that will land students high-demand jobs after graduation. Many CTE programs focus on engineering, a field encompassing some of the most highly sought-after skills that set students up for jobs after graduation. Martha Flynn, CTE program specialist at Sarasota School District, is helping her district’s students get industry certification in computer-aided design. “Industry certification is important to our district because it demonstrates career readiness,” Flynn shares. With experience in 3D modeling and completion of the Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate exam, a sought-after professional industry certification, Sarasota’s students will be prepared for jobs in product design, manufacturing and more.

One challenge that some high schools face is the lack of instructors capable of teaching highly technical subjects, like computer-aided design. Even teachers who do have an industry background may find it challenging to keep up-to-date with rapidly evolving technology and capabilities. In fields like 3D printing, the applications and technology are moving so quickly that textbooks are not even a valid option for teaching these skills. Providing ongoing professional development for teachers along with up-to-date resources for students is a challenge that districts need to solve in order to provide practical CTE instruction

Schools districts may find it challenging to provide professional development for teachers while serving students. Turning to resources that satisfy both requirements creates a simple solution. Sarasota School District implemented online learning resources which were “aligned to help teachers and students,” according to Flynn. For teachers, professional development tools help them stay on top of the latest best practices. Integrated tracking makes managing their classes more efficient so teachers can focus on instruction. For students, interactive online learning resources create a more engaging learning experience than traditional textbooks. Flynn shares that “students like to see their results; it’s important to give them the immediate feedback to keep them engaged.”

The digital revolution in education is making CTE programs more accessible, engaging, and flexible. This evolution has helped educators rethink how they deliver their content and look toward the future to a classroom model that seamlessly integrates technology, mobile devices, and independent learning with face-to-face interaction and collaboration.

With the rising cost of higher education, forward-thinking school districts are helping to equip students to land skilled jobs out of high school. Finding the right balance between academic and practical programs is vital in order to bridge the gap between school and work. Revamping educational standards and creating more practical courses will expose students to different career opportunities, build valuable work experience, and better prepare them for post-graduation life.

Tony Glockler is CEO of SolidProfessor