‘Carl Perkins’ Is in the House

Today members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved the long anticipated reauthorization of the Perkins Act, now called the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.  Since 1984, the Perkins Act has supported high school career and college readiness by funding key aspects of career and technical education (CTE) including career counseling and career exploration activities, laboratories and equipment, and teacher professional development.

Since the last reauthorization in 2006, possible career choices have proliferated—from alternative energy production and information security technology to mobile app development and drone operation. In education, mobile technology has transformed the ways students engage in the classroom. Project-based instruction is on the rise, and “college for all” is no longer the education mantra.    

CTE bridges the gap between new careers and new ways of building skills for those careers. And the Perkins Act provides the support for this work.      

In a blog post last March, I suggested five changes that would strengthen the Perkins Act. Here is how the new House bill deals with those five. Here too is a wider look at other issues that were addressed or left out.   

Make CTE classes:

House Version of the New Perkins:

1. Rigorous and widely accessible. States and districts should demonstrate that they are providing high quality CTE instruction. And all students should be able to explore a wide range of careers through rigorous programs of study that teach marketable skills for college or careers.

  • Defines CTE as “a sequence of courses that provides individuals with content aligned with the challenging state academic standards adopted by a state and relevant technical knowledge and skills needed to prepare for further education and careers in current or emerging professions, especially in in-demand industry sectors or occupations.”
  • Gives states more flexibility to direct federal resources to CTE programs that equip students with the skills needed to fill available jobs in their states and communities
  • Increases from 10 percent to 15 percent the amount of federal funds states can set aside to assist eligible students in rural areas or areas with a significant number of CTE students

2. Based on local and regional employment needs. School districts should conduct local needs assessments before launching programs. This would make schools more responsive to local workforce priorities and encourage relationships between employers and schools.

  • Ensures that local businesses help develop CTE programs and performance goals to teach students the skills needed for current and future jobs   
  • Requires recipients to partner with local stakeholders for program performance reviews
  • Requires that local improvement plans  be developed in consultation with local stakeholders

3. Linked to real life job training. After graduation, students should be able to easily connect what they learned in high school CTE programs to college or to industry training and certification.

  • Promotes work-based learning and evaluates CTE providers’ ability to prepare students for the workforce
  • Defines work-based learning as “sustained interactions with industry or community professionals in real workplace settings, to the extent practical, or simulated environments at an educational institution that foster in-depth, first-hand engagement with the tasks required of a given career field, that are aligned to curriculum and instruction”

4. Focused on improved student outcomes. CTE programs should provide students with opportunities demonstrated, through research, to yield positive postsecondary results. States should enhance CTE program evaluations to ensure that schools offer high quality work-based learning, career development, and CTE classes integrated into each state’s and district’s academic requirements.

  • Replaces the “technical skill proficiency” program evaluation indicator with one determined by states to ensure that CTE programs prepare students to continue their educations or start their careers
  • Defines a program of study as a sequence of secondary and postsecondary coursework that, among other things, culminates when a recognized postsecondary credential is attained

5. Aligned with other federal education and employment programs. Aligning CTE with requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) would eliminate duplication among education agencies.

  • Aligns CTE’s sequence of courses with state academic standards, required by ESSA
  • Streamlines the application process for states, better aligning it with the submission process for WIOA

The proposed legislation would provide flexibility to states to address student access and program rigor and also align these programs with local communities’ workforce needs. 

It also increases CTE’s value to students by requiring that high school programs of study be aligned with a postsecondary credential (industry-recognized certificate or certification, a certificate of completion of an apprenticeship, a license recognized by the State involved or Federal Government, or a two or four-year degree).

While the bill introduces many needed changes, it falls short in some respects.

Its accountability system could create mismatches between academic and CTE achievement. For example, some districts do not allow students to take CTE courses until their sophomore year. But many CTE programs require Algebra 1, which most students take as freshmen. Under revised Perkins, a school’s CTE program could be evaluated based in part on students’ Algebra 1 achievement—before they were ever in CTE. 

Another concern is future funding for research on what works—and what doesn’t work—in CTE. The previous Perkins Act directly funded a national CTE research center as well as research and evaluation studies. In the current proposal, the research center is eliminated, but support for research and evaluation activities continue under national activities. As one of many requirements under national activities, there is a concern that research and evaluation will get short shrift. One way to address this issue is to create a set aside for research and evaluation within national activities.
in addition, the bill establishes a new, competitive evidence-based innovation fund. Innovation is important but must be balanced with the investment in rigorous research and evaluation. 

The House committee approved the bill today. Next up, the Senate.