CTE Classes Are No Joke—If Taken Like They’re Meant To Be

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In 2019, the Washington State Legislature delinked graduation from state standardized testing and provided students with multiple pathways to graduation by passing House Bill (HB) 1599. Language from HB 1599 would permit any two credits of CTE to qualify for a CTE graduation pathway, allowing for mix and match of CTE credits across CTE program areas. While Washington is correct in delinking graduation from standardized testing, the state is doing students a disservice by refusing to acknowledge the cohesion that is established when students take CTE classes in a row.

According to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Education (OSPI), CTE pathways are aligned with rigorous industry and academic standards that correspond with intensive courses and training opportunities to prepare students for a chosen career. “CTE students graduate from high school with career goals, job skills, and leadership skills knowing exactly where they will go next to further their academic and hands-on education and training,” said OSPI’s website.

There’s a reason why CTE pathways exist: to offer a collection of courses and training opportunities that prepare students for a chosen career. Given that a high school diploma is intended to “better prepare [students] to meet 21st-century demands in their working and personal lives,” it is folly to not include proven CTE pathways in the CTE graduation pathway requirement.

For example, take a student who took Floral 1 and learned the basic procedures for handling fresh flowers. The student then took Marketing 1, thus meeting the CTE pathway graduation requirement. Would you say they’ve graduated with the job skills needed for quality-postsecondary hands-on education and training? Of course not!

Clearly, CTE courses were intended for students to be taken in sequence in one CTE pathway. Only by gaining a critical mass of knowledge around a certain subject would students be competitive candidates (or candidates at all) for any postsecondary training and education, career, or apprenticeship in that field.

If the student had taken the floral class in sequence (e.g., take Floral I through Floral IV — or at least through Floral II for graduation requirements), they would’ve been prepared with a deeper and more robust skill set.

In our fight to provide multiple graduation pathways and democratize access to the high school diploma, we have stepped on CTE pathways to the point that students who exit are not prepared.

Some argue that the combination of Floral I and Marketing I is a combination that prepares students to be entrepreneurial and design their own careers. However, sequenced CTE courses already consider that. Floral I is the basics, Floral II incorporates retail business and management. Floral III and IV involves running the schools Floral Shop, where skills gained include managing cash transactions, taking orders, inventory, customer service, and more. CTE pathways are already multi-faceted and interdisciplinary.

Allowing two random CTE courses to be a free pass to graduation blatantly sacrifices high expectations, comprehensive CTE programs, and a prepared workforce. We are creating a graduation pathway that sets students up to fail, and which disproportionately affects at-risk students — because time and time again, the education system directs those students to the path of least resistance.

Thus, it is paramount that the Washington State Board of Education amend the proposed rules around the CTE Graduation Pathway in HB 1599 so CTE courses are required to be taken in a sequential progression. Only then can we ensure all students are held to high expectations and progress towards post-secondary goals in a meaningful way.