Discussion: (0 comments)
There are no comments available.
A public policy blog from AEI
View related content: Education
One of the most interesting possibilities of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is its potential to influence high school-level career and technical education (CTE) programming.
This relatively new federal law caused states to create new education accountability systems; it essentially compelled state governments to reconsider what makes for a successful school and how to measure it.
Accountability systems have been around for decades. But because of strict rules in previous state and federal laws, and because it can be difficult to create indicators that track what we care about (how do you assess whether schools are forming healthy, happy, curious students?), these systems have generally focused on narrow measures of success. We’ve prioritized things like scores on reading and math tests and high school graduation rates — things that are easy to quantify and explain.
But ESSA freed states up, giving them more leeway when it comes to establishing priorities and defining success. Early signs show that states are using this new flexibility to allow districts to elevate CTE. And that could lead to more CTE-focused schools, CTE courses, and CTE course-taking by students. A new study by Advance CTE and Education Strategy Group finds that the state accountability plans submitted to the federal government use a number of approaches to promote career-focused education.
For example, 49 states have at least one strategy to expand career readiness, and, importantly, 35 states will now use at least one career-focused measure in their high school accountability systems, a significant increase over past accountability systems. As the authors wrote, “There is no question that more states are planning to leverage ESSA to advance career readiness than in the past. . . . This is a significant shift in state policymaking that, if implemented equitably and in high-quality ways, has the potential to benefit millions of students.” (The authors, however, believe states could’ve done even more to use ESSA to advance their career-readiness systems.)
In simple terms, if schools are judged by how many of their students go to college, they will, reasonably, try to get more kids to go to college. That can mean energetically encouraging all students to apply to college, dedicating scarce resources to pay for students’ SAT fees, increasing Advanced Placement courses, and so on. But if schools can be deemed successful for preparing more students for work — for instance, by having students take clusters of CTE courses, getting graduates into apprenticeships, or increasing students’ acquisition of career certifications — that could lead to changes in local budget and policy decisions.
If it does work out this way, this will serve as a prime example of how scaling back federal policy can lead to more state and local innovation. But, even more interestingly, we may look back and say that the pre-ESSA environment was inhibiting schools from reflecting the priorities of students and employers — that it was preventing the supply of CTE from matching the demand. That is, federal and state rules, designed with the best of intentions, were standing in the way of schools’ potential efforts to prepare young people for work and to address the skills gap. Perhaps a more flexible policy environment will enable practitioners to attune to the field — and as Steven Malanga’s recent article “Vocational Ed, Reborn” in City Journal describes, there’s civil-society energy waiting to be tapped for just this purpose.
We don’t yet know how this will play out, but we should keep our eyes on at least four things.
Ultimately, answers to these questions will mostly hinge on implementation — how local leaders and practitioners respond through policy and programming to ESSA’s possibilities. And, as I’ve written previously, we have evidence that governors and state legislators are interested in advancing CTE. But it shouldn’t be lost on us that this new environment, which might prove especially fertile for CTE growth, seems to have been stimulated by a federal effort at decentralization.
There are no comments available.
1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
© 2018 American Enterprise Institute