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Poco Windy #19: Career-Technical-Education: Get Yourself a Front Row Seat

Remember when luck starts to change and your sports team makes an unbelievable comeback? An incredible comeback? A wildly impossible comeback? If you are a sports fan, memorable comebacks may come to mind. The 2001 Cleveland Indians come back from a 12 run deficit after the 7th inning! Or an older Michael Jordan returns to the NBA from retirement in 1995 after three NBA titles to win yet another NBA title. Or the St. Louis Blues NHL team, in 31st place in January 2019, winning the coveted Stanley Cup by June going from worst to first in the NHL! Comebacks....

You may also remember, experienced, or have heard of the rather recent comeback - that of high school vocational education, more recently called career-technical education (CTE). Yes, it too is making a comeback. Once upon a time, vocational education used to be wood shop, home economics, maybe welding or typing. Remember typing? In rural areas, you might also have some type of agriculture. In cities, you may have had auto mechanics.

Whatever it was then, vocational education, or years later tech prep. Today, it’s called CTE – now in New Mexico featuring topics like cybersecurity, renewable energy, and teaching. Yes, teaching (who would have thought?!) and currently thirteen other career tracks such as hospitality, health care, and precision agriculture. New Mexico, as elsewhere in the United States has seen those CTE cycles in the 1970s, again in the late 80s, and again in the early 2000s. The most recent comeback is of course different, hopefully learning big lessons from the cycles of yesteryear.

Lessons? Yes. Here are the big ones: One (you’ve heard it before): not all high school graduates need a four-year college degree. Two: high schools have typically, seriously underinvested in CTE equipment, up-to-date textbooks (now digital texts on tablets), and operating supplies. They have no asset management plans for equipment maintenance and replacement and little or no expenditures on CTE supplies. You’ve got it - out-of-date equipment, badly dated instructional materials, no plan, few if any supplies. The result? Programs that haven’t kept up with industry needs - the very industries who are expected to hire CTE program graduates.

Here’s the deal - CTE requires vast amounts of supply money, more than any other type of high school class (science labs may be an exception). Kids need to practice on current technical equipment. Lots of practice. And the equipment needs to be nearly the latest. Instructors need to be instructing and not constantly fund raising for supply money, new equipment, or equipment repair. The best programs also feature work-based learning, internships, and project-based learning opportunities. Where available, maybe apprenticeships, too - all to work in that critical mentoring part of the training experience. Add some soft skill training like work place conduct, work habit modeling, and effective face-to-face communication. Add active partnerships with industry and you’ve got an enviable, popular CTE program. Can high schools still do this - alone? On their own? Let’s talk about it next time when we also move into renewable energy CTE training - New Mexico wind.

This is the home of Region IX CTE. Grab a front-row seat each week as REC IX presents another in a new series of CTE blogs. Thanks for stopping by this week.

By James Miller