Staff Reflects on the 2017 Spring Meeting Part 1

Last week, we held the 2017 Advance CTE Spring Meeting, which brought over 200 participants from across the country together to dive into all things CTE. From digging into new research to updates on federal policy, hear what our staff had to say as they reflected on this year’s meeting in this three-part series. 

Everyone working in the CTE field knows that we regularly face major communications challenges, often needing to combat negative misconceptions many still hold when it comes to our programs and pathways. Given the urgency and importance of these challenges, we dedicated much of Tuesday to digging into polling data and effective messaging around CTE for all students.

Tim Hodges kicked off Tuesday with a keynote exploring a wide array of Gallup’s data that made the case for high-quality CTE. For example, students and parents are increasingly unengaged in their schools, with only 50% of students strongly agreeing that they get to do what they do best every day.  What most stood out to me were the experiences of college graduates who were the most likely to be successful upon graduation (and engaged in their work) – having mentors, participating in internships where they applied their learning and long-term projects – are all hallmarks of high-quality CTE programs. The challenge is that too few students – in K-12 or in postsecondary – have access to these opportunities or even know about them.

Tim’s presentation perfectly set the stage for leaders from Edge Research to then share Advance CTE’s new communications research (released last month) on how to best engage parents and students around the value and promise of CTE.  The Edge team shared some of the most inspiring findings from the focus groups and national survey – like the fact that parents and students engaged in CTE are twice as likely to be “very satisfied” with their education compared to those not involved in CTE – and unpacked some lessons learned around messaging.

Later in the afternoon, I had the opportunity to jointly lead workshops for over 50 meeting participants with Katie Fitzgerald, where we dug into the big takeaways from the research, including “do’s and don’ts,” such as DO use consistent messages, DO leverage the student voice and story and DON’T market CTE as the “non-college” option given parents and students need to know CTE can be a path to postsecondary options, as well as careers.

These are big, thorny challenges that will not be solved over night or by any single person – and it will take a significant shift in how we all talk about CTE and its many benefits to learners.  But we are just getting started and Advance CTE is 100% committed to helping our members and partners strengthen their recruitment strategies and overall messaging around CTE to parents and students.

Kate Kreamer, Deputy Executive Director, Advance CTE

The Spring Meeting was an amazing opportunity for me to meet Advance CTE’s members! While I couldn’t meet everyone, the members I met were smart, insightful, and passionate about their work. I was continuously impressed by their desire to both dive into complex issues and discuss potential solutions regardless of topic area during informal conversations and breakout sessions alike. Whether members were looking at including work-based learning in their accountability systems, better understanding the role of school counselors in career guidance, or determining how to best meet the needs of rural students, they weren’t afraid to dig into the challenges and share successes. It was truly inspiring to see their commitment to continuous improvement and their dedication to student success. I’m excited to be joining the CTE community and look forward to engaging with more of our members virtually and in upcoming conferences and meetings!

Another highlight of the Spring Meeting was the vibrant discussion around CTE policy! Sessions throughout the meeting touched on the major pieces of federal legislation that intersect with CTE. On Tuesday, leaders from states that are building career readiness into their accountability systems under ESSA shared their stories and examples, which are particularly relevant as states finalize their ESSA plans. In a panel discussion on Thursday, national experts on higher education shared what they see as the opportunities in the Higher Education Act (HEA) to strengthen connections to CTE. The entire panel provided unique insights on the biggest debates ahead and also touched on the areas in which the law could better serve the needs of today’s post-secondary students, something that is at the forefront of my mind as we approach discussions around HEA reauthorization in the coming months. In a particularly timely session, Congressional staff participated in a panel about the new Perkins reauthorization bill and our members had the opportunity to get their questions answered! Each session provided me with a better understanding of the particular policy ideas and issues that are most pressing and important to our members. All in all, it was a tremendous learning experience and I can’t wait for the Fall Meeting!

Kathryn Zekus, Senior Associate, Federal Policy


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