100 Years of Advancing CTE: John Fischer Shares His Journey

August 3rd, 2020

John Fischer has served as the President of the Advance CTE Board of Directors, State CTE Director and Deputy Secretary in Vermont, and most recently as Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We talked to Fischer about his reflections on education and specifically Career Technical Education (CTE) over the past 40 years.

How did you begin working in CTE? How and why have you connected with and stayed involved with Advance CTE throughout your career?

During my tenure at the community college level, I engaged with the Carl Perkins Act during the reauthorizations in 1984, 1990 and 1998 before I moved to K-12 state administration. During the 2006 Perkins implementation, I became the state CTE director and engaged with Advance CTE (then NASDCTEc). I was at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation during the 2015 reauthorization and fortunate to once again engage Advance CTE to support states in planning and implementation of Perkins V. This organization proved to be and still is one of the most valuable partnerships I have experienced in over 40 years in all sectors of education, workforce, and philanthropy.

What did Career Technical Education (CTE) look like at the start of your career, and how has it changed over time?

In the 1980s, the “voc-ed” model persisted, meaning that there was an opportunity to raise the rigor of the programming and to better connect CTE with traditional high school academic programming on one end, and state-level workforce and economic development plans on the other end – a process that took about 15 years and continues in some ways today.

What role has Advance CTE played in that evolution?

Advance CTE has been instrumental in influencing the federal conversation and moving the conversation beyond the old way of doing things. The organization’s influence was especially meaningful during Perkins [V] reauthorization, framing the narrative and helping states make changes to the way they implemented CTE.

How do you envision the future of CTE?

In the 1980s and 1990s, there were changes in workforce demands brought on by rapid technological changes, for example, the shift from minicomputers to, eventually, microprocessors & desktop computers, which changed occupational areas students could learn about – different types of manufacturing, electronics, robotics and computer repair. We’re entering a similar cycle now with the advancements in artificial intelligence and automation. This will stress the educational system and workforce training system to meet employer demand. But, just as happened a few decades ago, this type of challenge pushes CTE programs in a positive direction. We will need to continue to address equity issues, access and opportunities in CTE across the country.

What advice do you have for future CTE leaders?

Educators must continue to break down silos and work across systems, building relationships with parents, the community, employers and government to advance policy and funding. State governments need to lead by example by co-designing education programs addressing in-demand careers.



100 Years of Advancing CTE: Dr. Ann Benson’s Impact on CTE

July 1st, 2020

Ann Benson has a long and impressive Career Technical Education (CTE) journey, which began in a home economics class in Oklahoma during her freshman year of high school. Her passion continued and she was inspired to go on to pursue both a bachelor’s teaching certificate and a master’s degree in home economics. She taught home economics, as it was called then, for four years before joining the Oklahoma Department of Vocational and Technical Education as a Curriculum Specialist in 1972, working on curriculum development for three years. From there, Benson became the first director of a multistate consortium, the Mid-America Vocational Curriculum Consortium, leading a working group of a dozen or so states to develop mutually needed instructional materials. Benson continued to hold increasingly important leadership positions in the CTE field, and in 1999, she was named State CTE Director in Oklahoma, a position she held for four years. 

In Benson’s early days, CTE was very traditional, with instruction focused on just a few skill areas, such as home economics and agriculture. Over time, Benson witnessed CTE’s evolution in her state to include a greater emphasis across all clusters on career preparation and better integration with academics. Benson credits the creation of Oklahoma’s first-class area technical centers – and a commitment to the maintenance and evolution of that status – as a major reason CTE enjoys a widely held, positive image in her state.

When reminiscing on her decades-long history with Advance CTE (which of course was called the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium at the time), Benson reflected fondly on the sense of congeniality at the first meeting she attended when she was starting the multistate consortium in the 1970s. Benson remembers that during her tenure, she was often the only woman in the room among CTE leaders from each state, leading the way for future female State Directors. Benson served as a respected leader in the State Director community, serving as the president of the Board of Directors, and also led a project to engage state CTE leaders in the development and launch of Career Clusters in the early 2000s, a framework that we still use to this day. Benson recognized that across her CTE career, Advance CTE has consistently been a leader, and served as a voice and advocate for CTE on Capitol Hill.

Benson looks forward to a future of CTE with well-trained educators, and a system of high-quality programs that connect learners to high-wage and in-demand careers.

100 Years of Advancing CTE: CTE Student, Administrator and Champion!

April 15th, 2020

We are celebrating 100 years of Advance CTE! Throughout the year, we’ll feature interviews with past State CTE Directors, Board of Directors members, partners, CTE leaders and more. 

Rich Katt, Career Education and Workforce Policy Consultant began his journey in Career Technical Education (CTE) decades ago as a student in high school. After graduating, he became an educator for six years. Following this, Rich went on to serve as a Career Technical Student Organization (CTSO) state advisor, then a CTE program director, and ultimately the State CTE Director in Nebraska. An impassioned advocate for CTE’s impact, Rich traces his inspiration back to mentors like Ann Benson of Oklahoma, individuals he considers pillars of the CTE leadership. Although he recently entered retirement, Rich remains heavily involved in the CTE community and is committed to empowering future leaders in the community. Learn more in the interview below.

What did CTE look like when you entered the field?
I started off as a product of CTE and then became a teacher. At this point, we were really under the vocational education system and driven by the traditional disciplines.

One of the most significant things Advance CTE did back then was implementing the Career Cluster Model. I am not sure we State Directors knew exactly what to do with the clusters when they first came out, but thanks to some strong leadership and great conversation it became apparent that the model really was a framing structure for us to make CTE more relevant and to broaden our instructional base. This has been one of the significant changes that have really expanded the field’s perspective and created a much tighter alignment with workforce needs and economic priorities, both on the state and national levels.

How has Advance CTE’s role evolved?
When I started, Advance CTE was more like a convener. I think the organization saw its role as getting the State Directors together and then seeing what they wanted to talk about. What it has morphed into under Kim’s [Kimberly Green, Executive Director] and the Board of Directors leadership is to say, we are going to position this organization to be the CTE organization, the one that produces the resources that are needed, the one that guides and develops policy and law. This is a much stronger leadership position than what we had back when I started.

There was an absolute need for Advance CTE to provide this leadership, too. I think it really brought us around a more central mission and vision for what CTE needs to be, and the net result is a more coherent CTE system on the national level.

What is your vision for where CTE is going, where do you want it to go?
Career Technical Education can deliver more than its history. I think in some cases some of our curriculum probably focuses too much on the past and knowledge that I can google. So the question is how do we make it more relevant? I think that is the kingpin that we can really tie ourselves to, the relevance of how students use this.

That is one piece of it. I think the other piece is continuing to be relevant in terms of our alignment to jobs of the future. This means partnering with businesses and industry even more than we have to talk about what are the needed skill-sets, and what do we need to have students know and be able to do as they exit CTE. If we could position them for lifelong learning and to understand how to transfer knowledge and skills to what they are immediately asked to do in the job, then I think we’ve accomplished something. So it is a shift in the mindset that we aren’t done pursuing.

What CTE does is really lite the fire and start the process of lifelong learning. We are going to teach you how to learn, so that you can continue to do that on that job and be even more successful as an employee, manager, entrepreneur, or whatever you choose to do.

100 Years of Advancing CTE: Pradeep Kotamraju Commends Advance CTE’s Leadership in CTE

February 26th, 2020

We are celebrating 100 years of Advance CTE! Throughout the year, we’ll feature interviews with past State CTE Directors, Board of Directors members, partners, CTE leaders and more. This month, learn more about how Pradeep Kotamraju, Division Director, Career and College Transition Division, California Department of Education, former Board of Directors President, views CTE’s past and future.

When did you begin working in CTE and how did you become affiliated with Advance CTE?
My work in CTE started in 2001, focusing on the data and accountability. During this time, I was a part of the National Leadership Institute and their priority was centered around CTE. Although I had heard about Kimberly Green [Executive Director of Advance CTE] several times before, I really did not get involved with Advance CTE until around 2004 — when I essentially was placed in charge of running Perkins in Minnesota.

Since then, I have worked with Advance CTE in various capacities: as a State CTE Director, member of the Board of Directors and as Board President. I also participated in the reconfiguration of the organization from the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium to what is known as today, Advance CTE.

What was the shape of CTE in the early 2000s and how has the field evolved since?
I think CTE is in a much better place since that time. It was still thought of as something on the side. Keep in mind that around then, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reared its head and that sort of took up a lot of oxygen. As a result of that, discussions around CTE at the state policy level became very difficult. The only place we had some meaningful discussions was at Advance CTE.

CTE was seen as a separate system. There were some movements to have it included in larger state efforts but that really did not come about until Perkins IV. To a large extent, CTE at that time, I would argue, was really focused only on Perkins. What Advance CTE has really done a great job on is moving the discussion away from Perkins and to talking about CTE outside of funding.

How has Advance CTE’s role evolved since you initially came across the organization to when you were president of the board?
Advance CTE’s role has evolved like everything else in CTE, and you have to commend Kimberly for her leadership and effort to grow the organization along with the times. I would say one of the most important things Advance CTE did was essentially move the discussion away from Perkins as a funding source or program to looking at it as a strategy towards something – whether it is high school graduation, acquiring certain skills or moving to postsecondary or workforce. This shift really broadened the scope of discussions centered on CTE.

The other thing I think that Advance CTE contributed to is, we now talk about other federal and state legislation, and we also talk about postsecondary. Early on in my career, I worked on the postsecondary side and at this time postsecondary kind of felt like an outsider because there were very few discussions regarding this component of the system. But Kimberly and others made tremendous strides to be inclusive of the postsecondary side. In fact, the last few meetings that I went to I did not feel the distinction between the secondary and postsecondary.

Lastly, in the early days, Advance CTE focused exclusively on State Directors. That focus is still there but now there are also many other associate members, members from community-based organizations who see the value in CTE and have been included in the collective effort to strengthen its benefits to students.

100 Years of Advancing CTE: Marie Barry Reflects on CTE’s Past and Future

January 7th, 2020

We are celebrating 100 years of Advance CTE! Throughout the year, we’ll feature interviews with past State CTE Directors, Board of Directors members, partners, CTE leaders and more. This month, learn more about how Marie Barry, former State CTE Director in New Jersey, former Board of Directors President and a consultant with Advance CTE, views CTE’s past and future. 

Why Career Technical Education? 
My background is in vocational rehabilitation counseling and career development. Prior to becoming New Jersey’s State CTE Director, I spent time at the postsecondary level helping students and adults develop their career options and interests. I entered the policy arena after because I was consistently recognizing gaps that students were falling through and wanted to take a proactive stance in addressing those gaps.

At the core, I’ve been committed to uplifting students and guiding them to a career that brings meaning and purpose to what they do.

How has the CTE field evolved since you began working in it, and similarly, how has the public understanding of CTE kept pace with this change?
CTE was certainly more anecdotal back then. Educators and professionals in the field largely relied on examples and success stories to communicate the impact of CTE. But with guidance from Advance CTE, there was a push for state leaders across the country to begin doing more than tell stories and to use data to drive conversations around CTE.

Also in the past, the CTE field was very much situated around the vocational model. This allowed classes like home economics and woodwork to develop into the cornerstone of the field’s identity and the public’s understanding of what CTE offered. Now, of course, CTE provides students opportunities to develop in-demand skills, like advanced manufacturing, and obtain high-paying jobs.

Although I still think we have some ways to go to detach from the field’s early stigma, I believe that the public is really beginning to understand the immense capacity of CTE.

With changes in the field, how has Advance CTE’s role shifted as well?
Advance CTE has absolutely grown in terms of its values and its reputation. Most notably, there has been a shift in the organization’s pasture and approach. A decade ago, Advance CTE was mostly in a defensive position, having to really explain to everyone why the field even existed. Now, the organization’s role has morphed and transcended to driving changes in the field through data and best practices.

Also, because the organization has never settled for the status quo, there has always been a mindset around continuous improvement and incorporating more partners to collaborate across education systems.

What do you envision the future of CTE to look like?
When I think about the future of CTE, I think that we will continue to move to a place where we honor all careers and pathways that provide a high-quality standard of living for students. I think more schools and students will also begin to take advantage of its benefits and there really won’t be a difference between the traditional academic experience and the CTE experience — it’ll just be blended in with the education experience.

CTE won’t just be a terminal pathway, but one that supports the life-long learning process and continuously provides students and adults meaningful opportunities to succeed.

Do you have any advice for future CTE leaders?
My advice in this space is that we need to be innovative, open and aware that change in the context of our work is constant. As the world around us changes, future leaders in CTE are going to be as nimble and flexible to keep pace and be proactive. Deep mindset around continuous improvements.

Also, something that helped my development in the CTE space was a focus around being an effective communicator as well as an effective connector. Given the breadth of CTE’s impact on the student experience, leaders in this space cannot operate in silos and distinct from other interconnected systems across the education continuum. As such, CTE leaders need to make connections and actively be apart of those connections.