Integrating Academics and CTE

Career and Technical Education (CTE) has been in a decades-long process of reform, which has led to the kinds of outcomes described in our earlier blog. Today, many state and local initiatives have already taken great strides to explicitly integrate literacy and math strategies into CTE programs. However, intensive efforts to integrate math and literacy strategies in the CTE classroom are not yet widely or consistently implemented. In some states and localities, the effort of “integration” is limited to reporting student achievement on those state tests, or providing tools such as curriculum cross-walks that indicate where the technical curriculum calls for the demonstration of mathematical, reading, writing, or vocabulary skills.

 Common challenges and systemic disincentives have often prevented collaboration between CTE and academic teachers:

  • Traditional approaches to curriculum content instruction
  • Lack of understanding about the potential value of contextualized learning by academic teachers;
  • Low awareness of the rigor present in many CTE programs;
  • Little expectation by administrators for academic/CTE teacher collaboration;
  • Lack of time set-aside for collaborative curriculum development; and
  • Limited involvement of CTE in local and state Common Core implementation discussions.

The adoption of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts provides an opportunity to overcome these challenges and increase integration and collaboration. State implementation of the standards impacts curriculum, instructional materials, professional development, and assessment, calling on educators to rethink how to support student achievement in literacy and mathematics across all curricular areas. For example, asking students to comprehend and interpret complex language from a technical instruction manual allows for contextual applications of language and literacy. Both the math and literacy studies described below demonstrate that, with structured and sustained professional development focused on either math or literacy, CTE teachers can successfully impact the reading and math knowledge and skills of their students.

Additionally, implementation of the Common Core offers new opportunities for CTE educators to share their expertise around project-based learning and the application of content with their colleagues in mathematics and English departments. For example, some schools teaching Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Biomedical Sciences have used the courses’ engaging, hands-on approach in helping students better understand and master the competencies of a beginning Biology course. Similarly, a lesson plan from a CTE construction course provides an excellent opportunity for students to apply geometry to real-life situations.

Florida’s Volusia County School District provides an example of a systemic approach to integration. The district has developed an extensive academic/CTE teacher collaboration model to supports its Career Connections programs. Teachers are brought together in structured curriculum consultation and curriculum development activities to create modules of connected learning. This process addresses all the structural and perception barriers that impede effective collaboration. [1] On the national level, the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education and Achieve are working together to focus on the integration of the Common Core with career and technical education.CTE and mathematics educators are co-developing a new set of math tasks for CTE courses that are specifically aligned to the Common Core. [2]

Math-in-CTE, Literacy-in-CTE

Given that many CTE programs have already been working to integrate math and literacy components into their CTE instruction, CTE may, in fact, be one of the most fertile grounds for implementation of the Common Core outside of the core academic classroom.

Hans K. Meeder is President of the Meeder Consulting Group, LLC, and has previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Education in the U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education. Matt Fleck is a consultant with Meeder Consulting Group and former Director of Indiana State CTE.

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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