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AFT leader pushes for strong career, technical education

Excellent career and technical education (CTE) programs are an irreplaceable bridge from high school to productive middle-class lives for many students, and Congress must recognize that fact by placing excellent CTE at the heart of its overall strategy for schools, a Connecticut teacher and AFT leader told a U.S. Senate panel on Feb. 26.

Janis Hochadel testifyingJanis Hochadel, president of the AFT-affiliated State Vocational Federation of Teachers, delivered her remarks at a Capitol Hill briefing on how CTE can help ensure college and career readiness for all students. She joined other participants in offering strong support for the Career Ready Act of 2015, which the AFT has endorsed. It is legislation that "emphasizes the importance of preparing students to be college and career ready upon graduating high school," said Hochadel, who has made a career in the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS), a statewide network of degree-granting technical high schools serving 11,000 students in 38 occupational areas.

Students attend these schools "specifically because they want to learn a hands-on career," Hochadel stressed. "With No Child Left Behind and the age of high-stakes testing, the system now had the challenge of ensuring students had grade-level knowledge and skills, and we had to accomplish this in half the time afforded a Local Education Agency down the street."

The schools have met the challenge. CTHSS students do at least as well as those in surrounding towns, but "these results come at a cost," the teacher warned. Trade instructors are still required to cover the same curriculum set by the state's Department of Labor and Industry Standards but have 12 percent less time with the students to accomplish this. These concerns are not limited to Connecticut: time and scheduling constraints, along with large class sizes and limited funding, were frequently cited challenges in a 2014 AFT national survey of career and technical education teachers.

"The CTHSS attracts many students who know they are not going on to a four-year college directly out of high school," Hochadel said. "These students want to learn a trade and be employable directly out of high school. They see our system as an opportunity to become middle-class tax-paying citizens at the age of 18. We need to view these students as CTE success stories, not anomalies."

The teacher said that educators working in these programs are more than willing to hold CTE accountable for results—but "accountability" must be correctly defined. "Why can't success include the percentage of students who graduate and work in their trade, or in a related trade? Can we measure the credentials students receive at graduation? Can we demonstrate the work-based learning experiences we provide? The CTHSS would excel under these measures."

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a sponsor of the Career Ready Act, also addressed the briefing. "There is a renaissance in CTE—not driven by policymakers but by CTE educators," he said. As Congress takes up major pieces of federal education law like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Perkins Act, a central question must be how to develop "a more robust effort to put CTE at the center of the palette."

[Mike Rose/photo by Michael Campbell]