NCLB Rewrite Strengthens Career and Technical Education

While the House and Senate continue to iron out the details of revising No Child Left Behind, the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act initially signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, it’s worth taking a look at some of the provisions included in the new bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat and junior senator from Virginia, secured provisions in ECAA to strengthen career and technical education, or CTE. An amendment is included in the bill that designates CTE as a core academic subject on a par with English or math.

Kaine, who grew up working in his father’s welding shop, says this provision was important to him because “Unlike in Europe, CTE is not highly valued here. It’s been used historically to track students who weren’t considered college material. Again, this is unlike how it’s handled in other nations.”

[Related: Empowering Parents to Support Their Children’s Education]

A co-chair of the Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus, Kaine says it’s time to shift perspective and see not only CTE, but also computer science and foreign language as essential to a broad education. “Computer science, foreign languages, music–should all be seen not as electives, but as part of the core curriculum,” he said, and his amendment broadens the core to include these subjects. He sees success in CTE as part of success in STEM, and also says that “CTE involvement enhances student performance in core math and science subjects.”

School counselors

Also included in the ECAA is Kaine’s provision to ensure that school counselors have greater access to resources and information that will help them assist students in career and educational planning, even from as early as middle school. Kaine is looking for school counselors to receive training in two specific areas: the use of local workforce data; and in drafting individualized learning plans for non-disabled students (schools already draft individualized educational plans, or IEP’s, for students that have a diagnosed disability). Counselors trained in the use of data will be able to knowledgeably inform students about local growing industries. Even if students change their minds, which they’re sure to do, Kaine admits, they will have developed the habit of planning for the future and of considering certain important variables, such as whether or not the industry they are interested in is in decline or growing.

Industry credentials

Sen. Kaine also spoke of the amendment to ECAA that strengthens the Career Ready Act, bi-partisan legislation he introduced with U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Rob Portman, by encouraging states to create work-based learning opportunities through business partnerships, an area of particular focus for BE Smart and BLACK ENTERPRISE. Kaine emphasized the growing trend of high school curricula that include industry credentials–”This is a broader definition of success,” he said–which would be transportable from one state to another. “What is the outcome of high school? Is it just that you’re equipped for future education training, or that you have post-secondary industry credentials, that you’re equipped for a career; not just college.”

“It’s time to stop devaluing CTE,” Kaine asserted, noting that Pell grants can’t be used at industry programs that confer CTE credentials, though Pell grants can be used at for-profit schools; although high quality apprenticeship programs can provide a “lifetime economic return.”

Despite these positive developments, the future of ECAA remains uncertain. President Obama and others, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan and many civil and human rights groups, say the bill in its current form doesn’t do enough to provide safeguards for the country’s most vulnerable students. Let’s hope that the accountability provisions that the president and others are looking for can be inserted, and that Sen. Kaine’s sensible provisions will be left intact.