those who are high achievers gravitate to and/or are placed in academic courses, while low achievers gravitate to and/or are placed in CTE courses

A Sputnik Moment for CTE?

Indiana career and technical educators have recently found themselves at the center of a growing conversation. As one of the few issues that Governor Mike Pence and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz openly agree upon, CTE’s role in the state’s ed reform dialogue could quickly elevate. At the same time, CTE is garnering national attention as well. President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union highlighted his goal of strengthening the country’s processes for preparing students for 21st-century careers. Even Harvard has entered the discussion with the Pathways to Prosperity report, release in the fall of 2012.

What does all of this mean for Indiana Career and Technical Educators?

As with most things, money tends to follow interest. There may be significant funding at the federal level if the President’s budget passes in tact. At the state level, the most recent legislative session saw the creation of the Governor’s Works Councils, with a $6 million budget to ensure that career and technical opportunities are aligned to workforce needs across the state. Endowment and philanthropic organizations are rallying behind the need to increase career and technical opportunities to ensure a skilled and thriving workforce in the future.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the increased focus on career and technical education could provide an impetus for a defining, “Sputnik moment” for CTE. Historically CTE has suffered a perception issue. This issue is inextricably tied to an overall perception issue within what may be termed the trade skills (manufacturing, engineering, etc.). Namely, that the opportunities available in these fields are low-skill and low-wage jobs. This is demonstrably not true but changing perceptions will be difficult. A study of CTE’s affect on Mathematics achievement last year identified the fall out of this misconception:

“those who are high achievers gravitate to and/or are placed in academic courses, while low achievers gravitate to and/or are placed in CTE courses.”
- Bozick and Dalton, 2012, p. 135.

If CTE programs can take advantage of the current momentum it may be the first step in changing that perception. Students, teachers, counselors and parents must be convinced that CTE provides rigorous, challenging curricula that leads to college and career readiness. Furthermore, CTE doesn’t just end in the workforce, but leads to multiple pathways of opportunities; be it 4-year baccalaureate programs, 2-year associate degrees, industry certifications, or work. CTE shouldn’t be solely the domain of the “low achievers,” as Bozick and Dalton suggest. Instead it should be an opportunity for all. From the highest performers who want to pursue the most challenging technical pathways, to the historically low performers who are simply looking for a niche.

This is a monumental task to be sure. Changing the national perception of CTE will not happen over night. However, this may be the time to begin the work. The focus is on CTE. Government, private industry, and philanthropies are all invested in its future. This could be the “Sputnik moment.”


Bozick, R. & Dalton, B. (2012). Balancing career and technical education with academic coursework: The consequences for mathematics achievement in high school. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35, 123-138.