100 Years of Advancing CTE: John Fischer Shares His Journey

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.



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