Innovations in Career and Technical Education

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Awareness Month, an annual event that highlights accomplishments in CTE. This year, the focus is on classroom innovators. But what does it mean to be innovative in a CTE classroom? Although there is no quantifiable indicator, a few themes are trending.

Authentic Learning. This strategy is gaining traction in CTE and non-CTE classrooms alike: helping a student connect and apply content in real-world scenarios to make learning relevant. The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) recently highlighted an example in a case study of Dozier-Libby Medical High School (DLMHS) in California, a Linked Learning school focused on health careers (Friedlaender, 2014, p. 26). In ninth grade, students at DLMHS focus on health, nutrition, and fitness as part of the interdisciplinary curriculum. In English, for example, students read a book about the food industry. In health, they learn about nutrition, how to analyze what's in food, and even how to create a menu. In biology, they conduct experiments on rats to assess the impact of junk food.

Students then identify a single problem, such as heart disease, and apply what they learned in all of their different classes to develop public awareness materials. Settings like DLMHS that connect academic standards—like English and science—with career-related knowledge help students understand how, when, and why a concept is applied in real-world situations. Students tend to be more engaged in learning and stay in school. At DLMHS, 97 percent of students graduate and 96 percent complete the state's A-G requirements, course requirements for entry into the California State University and University of California systems (Friedlaender, p. 8).

Work-Based Learning. This approach takes authentic learning one step further, getting at the heart of what high-quality CTE is all about: connecting academic and career knowledge and skills and applying them to practical workplace experiences. Students at the National Finance Academy at Woodrow Wilson High School in Texas are doing just that in a program called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA. VITA is an IRS program that offers free tax help to low-income individuals who are disabled, elderly, or limited English proficient. The IRS certifies volunteers who then help individuals with income tax returns and electronic filing.

Twenty students at Woodrow Wilson became certified this year, learning about ethics, tax laws, and regulations as part of the training. Students and educators at the school say the program, "Goes in a little bit deeper than what they learn in class," applying classroom learning in computer skills, economics, and mathematics (Boardman, 2015). The students provide assistance in the evenings, by appointment in both English and Spanish, through the end of tax season—just like accountants all over the nation each winter.

Engagement With Business and Industry. Business engagement comes in many different forms, from speakers in the classroom to internships for students, externships for teachers, and even financial investments. New York's Pathways in Technology Early College High School, known as P-TECH, is one of the most recognized examples of business engagement at the school level. P-TECH encompasses a number of promising strategies—early college high school, career pathways, and K–12, higher education, and workforce collaboration. P-TECH is a partnership that includes the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York, New York City College of Technology, and IBM. The model is designed around building a STEM pathway, spanning Grades 9–14. Students at P-TECH earn a high school diploma and an associate degree, and in exchange, their graduates have first dibs at jobs with IBM. Although in its infancy, the P-TECH model has spread across New York, Connecticut, Chicago, and even abroad, to Australia. Although P-TECH is certainly on one end of the business engagement spectrum, it highlights the power of collaborating with business and industry in the classroom to better prepare students for careers.

These strategies—authentic learning, work-based learning, and business and industry engagement—are just three examples of the innovative ways that CTE helps put students on a path toward a successful, rewarding college and career experience after high school.

What do you think it means to be innovative in a CTE classroom? Share your ideas in the comments section below or Tweet us at @CCRSCenter

Lori Meyer is an independent consultant specializing in building knowledge and understanding of the relationship between education research, policy, and practice.

Photo credit: Flickr (this image was not altered or edited).

External Links icon


Boardman, A. (2015, February 6). Woodrow Wilson students receive certification to help with IRS filing. The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved from

Friedlaender, D. (2014). Student-centered learning: Dozier-Libbey Medical High School. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.

Litow, S. S. (2014, June 12). Australian PM visit signals global validation for P-TECH model. IBM Citizen. Retrieved from

Skilling Australia Foundation. (2015). P-TECH Australia. Retrieved from

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