A recent headline at hartfordbusiness.com caught our attention: “Vo-tech instructor shortage is manufacturing’s biggest test.” The story warned of a rising shortage of career and technical instructors to help prepare a new generation of talent to replace retiring workers at Connecticut manufacturing plants.
Hmm, we wondered, is this a regional blip or a national trend? It didn’t take much digging to unearth similar stories all over the country:
In California, “Supply lags booming demand for career technical teachers.” In Minnesota, “Where are all the career and technical educators?” and “Career and technical education shortage must be addressed with a sense of urgency.” In Michigan, “Shortage of qualified instructors a challenge for school CTE programs.” In North Dakota, “Career, tech ed struggle with teacher shortages.”
National indicators bear out the headlines. In a 2016 U.S. Department of Education listing, many states projected teacher shortages in career and technical (CTE) education, among other subject areas.
What’s Going On?
Several factors appear to be at play. Schools have been rolling out new, robust CTE programs—and student interest in CTE is growing. CTE is replacing traditional vocational–technical education, which has fallen out of favor. That’s because vo-tech typically did not prepare students for education after high school, which is now essential for most middle and high-skilled jobs. Today, the best CTE programs provide rigorous academics, applied learning experiences and, in some cases, recognized credentials. CTE also offers pathways to both postsecondary education and attractive careers in high-demand, fast-growing fields such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, engineering, environmental services, health informatics, information technology and finance.
The bench of qualified teachers is inadequate to meet this demand. As vo-tech programs declined, many postsecondary institutions eliminated teacher education programs focused on this specialty. To boost the supply of teachers, some states are offering alternative certification or relaxing CTE teacher licensing requirements, which may require specialized skills and even years of industry experience. Teacher salaries, meanwhile, don’t come close to compensating for this level of expertise, but lowering standards risks hurting students.
Looking to the Business Community for Solutions
Licensing changes alone will not be enough to staff up CTE programs. Instead, states are looking to new approaches and new collaboration with industry, which benefits from workforce preparation by CTE programs.
There seems to be overwhelming interest nationwide in closer collaboration with the business community. In a 2016 report by Advance CTE and the Council of Chief State School Officers, 98 percent of 47 state CTE directors surveyed said that increasing access to “industry experts”—people with both knowledge and experience in a specific industry and the knowledge, skills and abilities to support students and collaborate with teachers—is a key priority area today in high schools. Moreover, 100 percent said that it will be an increasing priority in the future. This report champions the role of industry in supporting CTE, and suggests that industry experts could serve as part-time or adjunct high school instructors, career advisors or counselors, mentors and career coaches, and advisors for school CTE organizations.
In California, a recent policy brief offers a similar set of solutions to the “severe” shortage of CTE teachers, where 67 percent of high schools with career pathways programs reported that recruiting and retaining instructors with appropriate credentials is challenging or very challenging. “Industry partners are crucial to addressing this shortage,” according to this policy brief. Among other recommended solutions: more funding for CTE teacher preparation, pathways to teaching for employees within industry sectors, pre-service and in-service CTE teacher preparation in industry, and industry mentorship to support new CTE teachers.
States and corporate organizations up for the challenge will need to tap into their repertoires of evidence--like state Vital Signs reports or local workforce data--to illuminate weak areas and build better strategies for connecting CTE teachers and industry partners with eager students.
Does your program offer professional development for STEM teachers? Are you ready to help teachers in Idaho? If so, the Idaho STEM Action Center might have a grant for you.
The Idaho STEM Action Center is the latest partner in our efforts to help states identify and expand the nation's best STEM education programs. It will join leading STEM organizations in states like Colorado, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan in using CTEq's rigorous STEMworks review process to find programs that are most likely to make a difference for America's youth.
As states gain more control over their education policies and purse strings, STEMworks helps them make the best decisions for their young people.
Here is the text of the Idaho announcement:
Idaho STEM Action Center announces grants for professional development programs
Change the Equation (CTEq) and the Idaho STEM Action Center are collaborating on an initiative to identify excellent teacher professional development programs in STEM. The STEM Action Center will recommend programs identified through this process for state professional development funds. Programs may apply for up to two years of funding: $75,000 in the first year and $50,000 in the second.
Apply before 3pm Mountain Time on October 4, 2016.
Programs must apply through CTEq’s STEMworks application portal. Reviewers will judge applications against Change the Equation’s rigorous Design Principles for effectiveness as well as additional state-specific criteria to assess programs’ readiness to address needs specific to Idaho.
Programs that meet the Design Principles will appear in CTEq’s nationally-recognized STEMworks honor roll of effective STEM education programs. Businesses leaders, funders, and STEM advocates regularly tap the STEMworks database for high-quality STEM programs most likely to help maximize their impact on STEM education.
Programs that meet both the STEMworks threshold and Idaho’s state-specific requirements will be considered for state funding
Register for an Informational Webinar [link pending] on STEMworks and the Application Process
On September 2 at 2:00 Mountain Time, CTEq and the Idaho STEM Action Center will host a free one-hour webinar to introduce prospective applicants to the application process.
Visit the STEMworks website to read about the individual STEMworks programs included and more about the database itself.
If we want better teachers, then we need better incentives to teach. That is one big takeaway from a new study of teachers’ skills in 23 developed nations. Here are the study’s findings in a nutshell:
At a time when the STEM jobs pay high salaries to those with strong math skills, it can be hard to attract more people with strong math skills to the classroom. That problem, in turn, depresses U.S. students’ performance in math. Higher salaries or other incentives might help right the ship. So can programs like UTeach, which encourages STEM majors to pursue teaching.
That said, we should not turn our backs on the millions of committed teachers we already have. Professional development programs like Intel Math can boost teachers' grasp of math, even if they came to the job with wobbly skills.
(Hat tip: Education Week.)
Let me turn the tables on Teacher Appreciation week for a moment to express appreciation to my students who challenged, delighted, inspired and ultimately helped me become a better high school math teacher. I remain humbled by my students who made me realize that I still had much to learn despite my degrees and accumulated experience.
There was my seventh-grader, so advanced that he came to the high school for his math classes. Never mind that he had a deep understanding of mathematics and an instinctive inquisitiveness that put him at the top of class despite the age difference. His parents were getting a divorce that year and, in his anger about the situation, he stopped caring about school, about math, about most everything other than being surly. Nothing had prepared me, a newly-minted teacher, to know how to reach him and help him separate his incredible mathematical talent from his inner turmoil. In time, he regained control over one portion of his life—his mathematical achievement. In the meantime, I witnessed first-hand the profound impact students’ personal lives can have on their learning.
There was the young woman who diligently came in after school on a regular basis for individualized tutoring on her math homework. Though I was unable to help her earn a decent grade in the course, she thanked me during a chance meeting some forty years later for never giving up on her, never making her feel inadequate, always looking for new ways to explain concepts, and never tiring of trying to help her understand.
Then there was my tenth grader, a gentle, hard-of-hearing soul who was adept at lip reading. “Just make certain he can always see your face,” was the extent of the advice school administrators gave me. No mention about where we should seat him so that he could read lips of his classmates around the room. There was nothing in my teacher preparation or professional development courses that I could draw on, and no observer to help me adjust my teaching style to help this earnest young man literally read my lips. To make matters worse, it was a geometry class with blackboards on three walls. There was lots of moving around as students and I pointed to this or that on a blackboard. To this day, I send occasional telepathic apologies to him knowing that I didn’t serve him as well as I would have liked. But he never betrayed frustration or disappointment, just a dogged determination to do the best that he could.
There are many more stories I could tell. But I hope that these three illustrate that those in one of the hardest jobs in the world need support as well as appreciation!
When I sat down to think about great teachers who impacted my life, one instantly came to mind. And maybe it’s because I never told her how much she impacted me when I still could.
High school was a culture shock. I grew up in a majority black neighborhood and went to public schools with primarily black children for most of my academic career. But I was always a bright, overachieving student. My parents thought I might even be bright enough to get accepted to The Potomac School, an independent K-12 school in McLean, VA. Maybe I should have felt proud to attend one of the top ranking private schools in the nation. But I didn’t. I just felt frustrated that so few people of color taught or attended school there and I struggled to adapt socially.
With 10th grade came the apex of my discomfort attending a predominately white school and probably the zenith of general teenaged angst (apparently, I wore a lot of black). Historically, it’s also the hardest year academically at Potomac. And that’s when I met her. Mrs. Faye Kronisch taught my 10th grade English class. Her curriculum set the stage for each student to master persuasive essay writing through guided critical literature reading and analysis. I remember learning the ins and outs of Shakespearean sonnets, the elements of poems and prose, and the gothic and Romantic influences on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We’d end each unit of the syllabus with combinations of creative writing projects and persuasive essays based on our interpretation of the texts.
In the beginning, I struggled. I always excelled in English but lost some confidence in my abilities after a year at Potomac. It felt like all the other children had some secret storage shelter of knowledge that I didn’t. Maybe Mrs. Kronisch could feel that from me, so she pushed me even harder. A fierce editor, Mrs. Kronisch made sure each paper came back more red than the last as her list of demands grew. I didn't even know that many types of errors existed. I remember that I’d fix one thing she asked me to work on just for her to ding me on a new thing (or three!).
Possibly sensing my frustration, Mrs. Kronisch held me after class one day. She acknowledged that I might be facing challenges outside her classroom. Then she told me I could still do better in that masterful way that neither praises nor offends. She made sure to mention her years teaching in a school not far from my home as if to say I know where you come from and it doesn’t matter. Mrs. Kronisch didn’t let me use excuses. She wasn’t going to ease up or feel sorry for me. And she helped me realize my ethnicity and my socioeconomic status could be crutches or propellers. Propelling forward in her class—and in life—wasn’t about natural ability or secret storage shelters of knowledge. It was about choice. If I worked harder I would see the pay off.
She embodied our school motto labor omnia vincit or work conquers all and convinced her students to do the same. I know I wasn’t the only student she pushed but I am honored that she believed in me enough to do so. Under her watchful eye, I performed wonderfully in 10th grade English and kept that determined work ethic for the rest of high school (I also started wearing brighter colors).
Thank you to Mrs. Kronisch (1950-2010) and all the teachers like her that push you beyond your possible.
Photo courtesy of The Potomac School.