A distinct difference exists between vocational schools and Career and Technical Education (CTE). The old vocational education model made students choose between preparation for a job and preparation for post-secondary education, while the CTE model provides the opportunity for students to prepare for both. CTE programs prepare students for admission to and success in college and career by providing them with a rigorous college preparatory program and industry skills that lead to certifications required for particular careers. Upon graduation, students in CTE schools leave with a high school diploma, an industry-recognized certification in a high-demand industry area, and acceptance to a college or other post-secondary institution.

The Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) partners with CTE schools and other public high schools to create an environment that enables traditionally underserved students to graduate prepared for success in college and careers. One CTE school we have partnered with is the High School for Energy and Technology (HSET) located in Bronx, New York. A 9th-12th grade school, HSET focuses on careers in engineering and building technology. At HSET, students will complete a four-year sequence, including the core basics, design, installation, service and maintenance of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration systems. Successful completion of this sequence requires all students take industry exams for certifications in HVAC and OSHA workplace safety. They will also take an industry certification exam from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
There are three components that lead to a successful CTE model: A college preparatory, standards-aligned instructional program along with a CTE course of study focused on high-demand careers; partnerships with industry and institutions of higher education that offer students opportunities for hands-on learning, mentoring and job shadowing; and student support that guides all students to successful completion of high school and provides the resources to help students carry out a post-secondary plan.

A Focus on Academics

In a knowledge-based economy, post-secondary education has become necessary for most careers; and research continues to show that people with post-secondary education earn more and live longer, healthier, and more satisfying lives than those who only have a high school diploma.

CTE schools today differ from traditional vocational schools in that they offer a rigorous college-going academic curriculum along with a CTE curriculum. This rigor is needed to ensure students are prepared with the skills to be successful in college, as well, the technical and career skills taught in a CTE program create pathways to higher order learning that will be useful to students in post-secondary settings. CTE schools help make abstract concepts accessible to students by providing just-in-time learning opportunities so that students learn academic content and skills in the context of concrete applications of problem solving or completing projects. As part of this process, students in CTE schools earn certifications that allow them to work in higher level jobs post-graduation.

Industry and Institutions of Higher Education Partnerships

Another vital component of CTE programs is developing partnerships with key organizations, including institutions of higher learning, industry and business, local employers, and the local community. These organizations can be instrumental in planning a CTE course of study that meets the needs of local industries, while offering students real world experiences. For instance, partners can provide mentoring, job shadowing, internships, and leadership development. HSET partnered with Honeywell to develop its CTE curriculum and currently partners with the Green Schools Alliance, which is a city-wide organization that runs several environmental programs and competitions; and SKILLS USA, an organization that offers structured programs on citizenship, leadership, employability, and technical and professional skills training, among others.

Student Support

CTE schools with strong student support have the mindset that relationships are important to student progress and achievement. HSET offers its students distributed counseling through regular advisories that focus on supporting students with academic and CTE courses, as well as college preparation, problem solving and monitoring. Since its inception, HSET students in advisories have gone through a series of experiences focused on literacy, social-emotional growth, school preparation, and college prep.

In addition to distributed counseling, CTE schools should offer a career and college counselor in the 11th and 12th grades to provide students with individual career and college counseling. With the appropriate support, students attend high school with the assumption that college going is in their future.

When CTE schools can provide students with certifications for particular fields that can lead to careers while they are preparing students for college, the result is students have options that lead to productive and satisfying lives.