CTE and ESSA: The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

Two important events occurred in the last six months that could change the face of Career Technical Education (CTE) at schools across the country:

  • On December 10, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the reauthorization of the national education law.   
  • On May 9, Advance CTE—a national organization representing state leaders responsible for secondary, postsecondary, and adult CTE—released a collective vision proposing a transformation of the education system. CTE would become an essential strategy within a system where all learners are prepared for success in high-skill, in-demand careers. 

CTE advocates are still eagerly awaiting reauthorization of the major funding source of high school career and college readiness programming, the Perkins Act. While we wait, let’s ponder these questions: Does ESSA support states in carrying out the new vision proposed by Advance CTE? If so, how?   

First, the vision. Putting Learner Success First: A Shared Vision for the Future of CTE, calls on educators, policy makers, employers, and others to improve the total education system, not only CTE. Achieving the vision will require collaboration and support from partners who will conduct research, craft policy, and implement change.

Five principles guide Advance CTE’s vision, and each principle is accompanied by steps to attain that vision. This chart presents these principles and steps in the first column. The second column highlights ways that ESSA provides opportunities for states, districts, and schools to meet that vision:

Graphic: CTE and ESSA

ESSA provides many opportunities for education agencies to work toward Advance CTE’s vision. ESSA also gives states greater flexibility than the old Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Illustrating this newfound flexibility are five major implications for CTE under ESSA:

  • Under the previous law, there was minimal reference to career preparation but it is featured throughout ESSA.
  • ESSA’s focus on integrating CTE into academic content is well-aligned with the Perkins Act, which has required academic content in CTE for years.
  • ESSA introduces new flexibility to create pathways to teacher licensure for industry professionals.
  • For the first time, CTE is included in the definition of “well-rounded education,” so every time that phrase is used, it includes CTE.
  • For the first time, the law specifies CTE as something that can be included on state report cards, encouraging states to design accountability systems that include career readiness.

ESSA represents an opportunity for CTE to demonstrate how career-related programs and activities contribute to overall student success and a chance to share the resources available to other secondary programs. So, how will ESSA inform Perkins reauthorization? We’ll have to wait for that answer.