Re-energizing a Perkins Act Reauthorization: Law Should Better Reflect Innovations in Career and Technical Education

Published mar. 21, 2013

February was National Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, so it seems appropriate to acknowledge and continue this celebration of college and career readiness by renewing our call for the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the federal grant that provides critical funding for these programs in public high schools and two-year colleges. What CTE Month highlighted this year is the national urgent need to prepare students to earn postsecondary credentials and develop the work skills needed to succeed in today’s careers.

However, federal CTE legislation, which has not been reauthorized since 2006, is lagging behind practice and needs to catch up. Communities and states across the country are implementing dynamic CTE programs that are launching students along a pathway toward college and career success. This work needs to move from programmatic to systemic, and be scaled nationwide, to truly have the impact that our students and employers need. A strong, timely Perkins Act reauthorization can encourage just that.

A reauthorized Perkins Act could address a number of challenges facing states, school districts, postsecondary institutions, and business partnerships. These include:

  1. Making a relatively small funding stream effective at leveraging improved outcomes, including for low-income and underrepresented populations
  2. A need for reliable, meaningful, and comparable outcome data across education and workforce, and better data procedures across systems
  3. A need to improve secondary through postsecondary transitions and momentum into postsecondary, using evidence-based strategies
  4. Ensuring relevance to high-demand, well-paying, and growing career opportunities
  5. Adequacy of educator and guidance/career counselor preparation, professional development, and staffing
  6. Coordination with other federal legislation, including the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Higher Education Act, Adult Education, and others

JFF strongly believes that the solutions to these challenges should come from the evidence base being developed in states and districts around the country. Our Pathways to Prosperity Network reflects the importance of integrating CTE with academics and ensuring a continuum of employer-led, work-based learning experiences. The Network’s nine states (and growing) are developing regional 9-14 career pathways and implementing career academies that bridge through postsecondary education.

From our work with many career-focused early college high schools, we’ve learned the importance of momentum into college, student supports, accelerated learning, and college/career navigation for low-income or first-generation college-going students. And our work on career pathways for adults has taught us about the importance of teaching academic skills within the context of technical courses to make the learning more engaging and meaningful, and the importance of helping adults attain stackable credentials so that they can re-enter the labor market quickly.

From these efforts, we know that strong CTE programs share some key components. Namely, they:

  • Establish an expectation of postsecondary success
  • Clearly articulate pathways to postsecondary credential attainment
  • Ensure curricula are aligned with the Common Core and other standards, as well as work readiness and occupational skills and credentials
  • Make efficient use of time and resources
  • Promote acceleration including opportunities for dual enrollment and/or early college in high school
  • Establish strong secondary/postsecondary partnerships focused on student momentum and supports
  • Provide comprehensive career counseling and academic advisement
  • Provide work-based learning experiences that foster career readiness and employability

Based on the results of our work with partners to date, JFF believes that Perkins reauthorization can significantly improve the quality and outcomes of CTE pathways nationwide by encouraging:

  • Rigor and strong program accountability
  • CTE pathways to postsecondary and career success
  • Alignment and coordination of systems
  • Strategic partnerships and collaboration
  • Scale up of evidence-based innovative pathways and program designs, and invention of new promising pathways and designs

While the policies in the current Perkins Act may allow some of these strategies to be implemented, they do not adequately encourage them. Reauthorization of Perkins presents an important opportunity to support state and local innovation and the scaling of what works.

There is little else in the country that lends itself to bipartisan cooperation than promoting effective education for young people to meet the urgent needs of employers, our economy, our communities, and students themselves. We hope others around the country will join in a call for reauthorization so that we can keep the celebration of innovation and effective CTE going, not just for one month, but year-round.