Brave Dialogues to Advance CTE Without Limits

Without Limits: A Shared Vision for the Future of Career Technical Education (CTE Without Limits), calls on leaders in Career Technical Education (CTE) to identify and dismantle the institutional and systemic barriers that limit access, opportunity and outcomes for learners, particularly those who have been historically marginalized and excluded from high-quality CTE programs. While the field has come a long way from the days of tracking learners into terminal vocational programs that denied their full potential, CTE still has work to do to ensure each learner feels welcome in, is supported by, and has the means to succeed in the career preparation ecosystem. 

State CTE leaders have made commitments to advancing equity in CTE, most notably in their Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) plans. However, there is often a disconnect between these commitments and the data which show persistent opportunity gaps for learners with special population status, learners from low-income families and learners of color. In order to understand this disconnect, state CTE leaders and CTE practitioners must engage in brave dialogues about the systemic and structural challenges facing learners who have been historically marginalized and excluded in order to take bold steps in developing effective policies, programs and practices rooted in equity. 

Brave Dialogues: A Guide to Discussing Racial Equity in Career Technical Education is a resource designed to support state CTE leaders and practitioners in these efforts. Structured around a framework towards critical self-reflection, this guide asks participants to reflect on how they are positioned within organizations that have historically marginalized learners and consider ways they can actively dismantle the systems and structures that still persist today. As part of critical self-reflection, leaders critically examine the role of school programs, departments, hiring practices, enrichment courses and other school structures. In CTE, that may include examining entrance requirements for certain programs of study or whether all learners have equitable access to all programs of study offered by a school or district. 

The primary audience for this guide is state CTE leaders who are encouraged to use this as a resource with their staff and local practitioners including teachers, faculty, counselors, career advisors, principals, deans, instructional staff, work-based learning coordinators, learner support staff, etc. This guide can be used in various contexts including professional development; diversity, equity and inclusion training; exploration of opportunity gaps; data-driven decisionmaking and funding initiatives; and the Perkins V comprehensive local needs assessment. 

Participants in brave dialogues explore important concepts such as identity awareness, implicit bias, privilege, equity vs equality, structural racism, and how to approach policy and practice with an equity-minded lens. This guide recognizes that there is often great discomfort in discussing race, particularly racial inequities. Ultimately, the goal is for users of this guide to become better equipped and motivated to advance anti-racist CTE policies and practices. Anti-racist policies and practices are not race neutral; rather, they are crafted in recognition that historically, CTE — and education more broadly — has systematically perpetuated inequities among certain learner populations. Thus, anti-racist policies and practices are designed to actively dismantle those systems and create an environment where all learners have the resources and opportunities needed to thrive.

Advance CTE hopes this guide can support state CTE leaders in furthering their commitment to advancing equity in CTE. Through brave dialogues, CTE leaders can truly create a career preparation equity system without limits that is fully flexible and responsive to the diverse needs of each learner.

For more resources on access and equity in CTE, please visit the Learning that Works Resource Center.

Brian Robinson, Policy Associate

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