CTE on the Campaign Trail

2014-11-Life-of-Pix-free-stock-photos-washington-dc-back-Marko-BerndtThe 2016 Presidential election has, unsurprisingly, begun nearly a full year before voters are expected to go to polling booths next November. As the primary season begins in earnest, candidates from both Parties have begun to touch on Career Technical Education (CTE) in a variety of ways.

Earlier this year the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), as part of the teacher union’s candidate endorsement process, had the current three Democratic candidates for President—Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)— fill out a candidate questionnaire on a wide array of education topics. Of particular note was a question pertaining to CTE and the federal government’s role in supporting high-quality CTE programs.

Bernie Sanders voiced incredibly strong support for CTE in response to this question saying, “[CTE] programs are vital pathways to middle-class, family-supporting jobs. I believe it is in our national and economic interest to ensure quality CTE programs are available to every American, and effectively aligned with the needs of the 21st century workforce. Accordingly, I strongly support fully-funding the Perkins CTE program. In addition, if elected, I would work to revolutionize our nation’s approach to workforce development and technical education to build effective, attainable pathways for young people to pursue middle class careers.”

Martin O’Malley gave a similarly compelling answer, pointing to his work as Governor of Maryland saying, “My administration would launch a new, comprehensive national program for CTE, starting in high schools, and in partnership with community colleges and employers. This builds on successful efforts launched by the Obama Administration, where schools partner with employers – who also provide financial support – to train students and workers for the positions they need to fill now. Our program will require greater federal investment, but we will see far greater returns – in good jobs created and filled, and in reduced spending on higher education. CTE training is an equal alternative to a four-year college degree, and we must treat it as such.”

AFT eventually ended up endorsing the former Secretary of State and First Lady, Hillary Clinton, who promised to lay out a clear CTE plan for her campaign in the coming months stating, “. . . I will lay out my ideas for a comprehensive proposal to train millions more workers over the next decade. I am exploring a number of options to incentivize CTE [sic] programs and help provide grants to train workers for the 21st century economy.”

Turning our attention to the Republican candidates for President, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), declared at a campaign event this past weekend at the Iowa State Fair that he plans to be “the vocational education president.” Emphasizing the importance of middle skilled jobs, he went on to say that “These are good paying jobs”— “a welder makes more than a political science major, and you borrow a lot less money and go to work a lot sooner.”

Throughout the day today, the Seventy Four, a new non-profit news website co-founded by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, hosted six of the Republican Candidates for President for 45 minute interviews exploring a broad swath of issues facing K-12 education today. While most of these interviews focused on hot-button topics such as the common core state standards, the role of teachers unions, school choice, parental involvement, and the appropriate role of the federal government in education, most of the candidates devoted some of their time to issues related to CTE.

Jeb Bush started things off speaking about his various education achievements as Governor of Florida. In particular he noted that student disengagement remains an enormous problem in high schools and that allowing students to “major” in secondary school, as they can in college, could be a way to address the “boredom” issue. He argued that if classwork were contextualized more effectively and delivered in an applied fashion, that students would be more engaged with their coursework. The former Florida Governor also spoke highly of the potential competency based education has in ensuring that students are learning and for holding schools and teachers accountability for that progression. Later on in the day, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal echoed these same sentiments.

Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP), was up next speaking about the need to support innovation to drive continuous improvement in education. Taking a page from her private sector experience, she focused a portion of her remarks on the need for employers to engage with schools and educators to deliver a high quality education for students. Internships and mentorships—something that HP supported in certain local school districts during her time as the CEO— were key elements of what she had to say on how to improve the U.S. education system.

Governor John Kasich followed, focusing his interview answers on many of his state’s educational programs and achievements, particularly in the urban areas of Ohio. He began by declaring that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education—a recurring theme throughout the day— does not work for the 21st century economy. Noting that students learn at different rates and in different ways, he championed “personalizing” the high school experience by contextualizing classwork to spur student excitement for their education. Further into his interview, Governor Kasich highlighted the importance of employer engagement with schools, pointing to a successful corporate-sponsored mentorship program in a school in Cincinnati which now boasts a 97 percent graduation rate.

Governor Scott Walker’s interview focused quite a bit on the role of teacher tenure and unions, as well as how technology has changed the way students learn. Walker went on to say that technology is an important catalyst for innovation in education and argued that it should be used in a way that tailors curriculum to students’ particular interests and needs as a way to personalize their learning experience—something that was vocally supported by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who participated right after.

Walker went on to say that education is both a moral and an economic obligation for the next President. Much like Senator Rubio this past weekend, the Wisconsin Governor spoke at length about the important role education should have in preparing students for middle skilled jobs. He pointed to the significant contributions community and technical colleges make to the available pool of talent in the U.S. and argued that they were essential to ensuring that the skills needs of employers are effectively met. He ended his remarks on an aspirational note, suggested that more students should consider postsecondary and career pathways that may not require a four-year degree.

All of the interviews have now been posted and can be viewed here. This October, the Seventy Four will be hosting the Democratic Presidential candidates for the same sort of conversation. Be sure to check back here when they take the stage and for more coverage of the wider 2016 field as they continue to talk about CTE within their respective platforms.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager


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