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Finding Ways for Both Career/Tech and Academics

The Academic Integration committee is exploring ways to expand the integration of academic standards and instruction with Career and Technical instruction. Academic subjects of Math, Science, English, and Social Studies are separate subjects with separately certified teachers. CTE as well exists as separate subjects with unique teacher certifications. In state regulation, these are separate parts of secondary schools possessing their own curriculum. In practice, there is often instructional overlap. For example, as math teachers seek context for using geometry, they assign students technical problems or when Automotive teachers stress measuring with precision. Yet, states set graduation requirements based on earning credit in separate subjects. There are no graduation requirements for simply identifying problems, researching knowledge, and applying skills to design and implement solutions. This tradition of defining learning and teaching in specialties conveys a message that school and particularly academic courses, are not relevant to the real world. 

Most educators believe there is a benefit in students acquiring foundation knowledge and engaging in real-world projects that develop technical skills and apply academic knowledge. The challenge is finding room for both in the time-based schools. Policy decisions often come down to either/or. For example, is it more important for a student to take that fourth credit of science or spend time learning graphic design skills in which a student shows interest and talent? Changing the status quo is also problematic, as no superintendent or politician wants to shift the balance of currently employed teachers.

I recall my own experience in high school experience many years ago with this either/or choice. I attended a small rural high school with a liberal arts university in the town. The population included many farm and rural students and the children of college faculty with expectations of attending college after high school. I took the most advanced academic subjects in high school, but as a “farm kid,” I also took agriculture courses. My career goal at the time was college and veterinary work so my course choice for both made sense. As I approached my senior year in high school, schedule conflicts did not allow me to enroll in Physics and the 4th-level course in Agriculture. Rather than having to choose, my teachers and the Principal found a creative solution. I was enrolled in both simultaneously. Each day, I decided which class to attend based on the work, making sure to take each graded test. I relied on friends and my brother who was in the agriculture class, to keep up with the content. I passed both courses and earned two credits from one class period. I am sure the school violated state regulations because I did not attend the total number of hours to earn the credits. However, this creative solution worked for me, and educators were willing to break the rules. 

There are many different models of academic integration that can enable students to acquire academic knowledge and technical skills. Integration can take many form, such as co-teaching, parallel courses, consulting teachers, and newly combined courses. State policy need to encourage more local creative solutions for students to acquire both, meet student needs, and not be forced to choose. This may mean changing current regulations and traditions. 

The committee is attempting to raise awareness of needs and offer ideas and support to make academic courses more relevant and Career and Technical courses rigorous in applying knowledge. Contact me if you are interested in learning more about this work on Academic CTE Integration. 

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