The United States’ career and technical education (CTE) system is underperforming, but we have an opportunity in the current educational and economic upheaval to improve it. That’s the perspective of internationally-known CTE expert Bob Schwartz, who shared his insights with the National Center on Education and the Economy.
Schwartz is an emeritus professor at Harvard University, co-founder of the Pathways to Prosperity network of U.S. states working together to strengthen CTE, and a member of the NCEE International Advisory Board. Along with his wife Nancy Hoffman, a senior advisor at Jobs for the Future, he has studied and written about CTE across the globe. The two co-authored Gold Standard: The Swiss Vocational Education and Training System, supported by NCEE, which was later incorporated into the book Vocational Education and Training for a Global Economy, edited by NCEE’s Marc Tucker.
In his latest Global Ed Talk, NCEE CEO Anthony Mackay speaks with Schwartz about what America needs to do to update its CTE system to match leading countries around the world.
There are some very good CTE programs around the U.S., Schwartz says, but they are not part of broader systems and are often seen as less rigorous than academic programs.
“Because of our history, CTE has too often in the U.S. been seen as something for ‘other people’s kids,’” Schwartz tells Mackay. “It’s not had the kind of status that the strongest vocational education and training programs around the world have with parents and policymakers.”
Successful vocational programs fall under two types, according to Schwartz. They can either be a dual approach, such as in Switzerland where more than half of all high school students do an apprenticeship that splits their time between the classroom and the workplace, or a school-based program, as is used in Singapore where career training is provided in state-of-the-art simulated workplaces. The best programs, he adds, both involve companies early in their design and are driven by current economic demands.
Community colleges should be the go-to place for career credentials and certifications after high school, Schwartz said.
“If you look at the skills and experiences that kids have coming out of the Singapore system, the Swiss system, and you try to compare that with the U.S., the logical comparison is not with high school because our CTE programs are so limited, but with our community colleges,” he says.
Most high school CTE programs don’t provide graduates with enough of the skills valued by employers in order for them to be able to go straight into a career.
Also in the interview, Schwartz reflects on the first decade of the Pathways to Prosperity Network to revamp CTE to be better aligned to high growth, high demand sectors of the economy.