Expert opinion

The public wants more career and technical education. It’s in Mitch McConnell’s hands.

by Dan Brown

Complicating matters is that key CTE stakeholders are urging the Senate to make an important tweak to the Perkins bill, to distinguish between CTE “explorers” and “concentrators." 

According to the just-released PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, the American people can actually agree on something: they support career and technical education (CTE). And fortunately, there’s a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and sitting in the Senate, that can strengthen access to these important, popular programs. 

The 2017 House Perkins Reauthorization bill (see a summary of H.R.2353) passed in June with bipartisan votes to support CTE programs in American public schools. Now it’s on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk where it could be brought to the floor ... or wither and die. 

Complicating matters is that key CTE stakeholders are urging the Senate to make an important tweak to the bill, to distinguish in the all-important data collection between CTE “explorers,” or dilettantes take a course or two in a variety of programs, and “concentrators," who essentially specialize in a single career-focused program, like culinary arts. Leading CTE organizations detailed this crucial proposed change in a letter to leaders of both parties in Congress. 

Can Congress get this done? The public would certainly celebrate if it could, even if CTE isn’t a headline issue like health care or taxes. The annual PDK poll, now in its 49th year, reveals overwhelming public support for CTE:

  • 82% of Americans support job or career skills classes even if it means some students might spend less time on traditional academics.
  • 86% said schools should offer certificate or licensing programs that qualify students for employment upon graduation.
  • 82% percent see technology and engineering classes as extremely or very important elements of school quality.

Joshua P. Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International, explained.  “Taken as a whole, the American public is saying it thinks public education has tilted too far in pushing or emphasizing academics to the detriment of vocational or career skills classes.” 

Straightforward action from the Senate on reauthorizing the Perkins Act would provide a concrete step towards righting this tilt. 

Dan Brown

Dan Brown (@DanBrownTeacher) is codirector of Educators Rising, a career and technical student organization for aspiring teachers. Educators Rising is a division of PDK International.

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