Career and Technical Education Teachers: Strengthening Policies and Improving Instruction

High-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs are essential in improving college and career readiness for all students. High-quality CTE is not traditional vocational education or a tracking system. Instead, it provides all students, including those headed for four-year colleges, with rigorous academic instruction integrated with project-based learning and skill development. Policymakers across the country should invest in high-quality CTE to truly improve students’ college and career readiness.

CTE’s success depends largely on the quality of CTE teachers and their commitment to helping all students, even those not enrolled in CTE programs. But even though CTE teachers can collaborate with core academic teachers to implement college- and career-ready standards, state and federal education reforms have paid insufficient attention to CTE teachers’ valuable skills and specific professional learning needs. The recent brief from the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) -- 21st Century Educators: Developing and Supporting Great CTE Teachers -- provides an overview of current human capital management policies for CTE teachers  some promising practices for capitalizing on CTE’s power to promote college and career readiness.    

Human capital management policies have a major impact on the quality of CTE overall. Such policies range from preparation, certification, recruitment, and retention to evaluation, compensation, professional development, and the educator environment. Using a systems lens helps improve policy alignment and coherence. Conversely, a piecemeal approach to these policies is unlikely to produce the coherent, sustained level of support that educators need.  

Policymakers can leverage human capital management policies to improve the quality of CTE in several ways:

  • Certification and licensure policies can have a major impact on how well prepared incoming CTE teachers are for classroom instruction and help address current CTE teacher shortages. But these policies require each CTE teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree —a potential barrier for CTE teachers who have critical work experience in fields that do not typically require such degrees. States and districts can revise certification requirements, provide pathways to renewable licenses that include work towards a bachelor’s degree, or implement comprehensive induction programs to improve recruitment and retention of effective CTE teachers.  
  • Evaluation policies must provide teachers with valuable and timely performance feedback by evaluators with adequate understanding of CTE. Generic student growth measures alone don’t adequately describe CTE teachers’ impact on student learning. States and districts can provide descriptive examples of what practice standards look like in different CTE fields or utilize peer evaluators to improve practice feedback. States and districts may also use student learning objectives (SLOs) to describe CTE teachers’ impact on student growth and achievement.
  • One of most powerful supports for improving all students’ college and career readiness is collaboration between CTE teachers and core academic content teachers. While seat-based professional development may help CTE teachers stay up-to-date in their industry or field, collaboration-based job-embedded professional development can help all teachers improve. Collaboration may also allow students to more effectively earn academic credits and meet graduation requirements through CTE coursework. The career academy model highlighted in the brief is one way to promote such collaboration. 

To learn more about the GTL Center’s work on CTE teachers or ask questions about this brief, please contact the GTL Center at

Catherine Jacques is a research associate at the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders. She can be reached at or 202-403-6323. 

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