Redefining the Well-Rounded Student

Jim Brazell
Jim Brazell
30 May
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ESSA Opens Door for CTE Expansion 

In the new world of ESSA, the definition of a well-rounded student is one who is college-ready and career-ready. The latest major policy change in K-12 education is the shift from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). With its passage into law on December 10, 2015, ESSA requires that all students be taught to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers.

Key ESSA reforms include: Holding all students to high academic standards that are aligned with entrance requirements for credit bearing coursework in the states’ higher education system as well as each state’s career and technical education (CTE) standards; and, empowering state and local decision makers to continue to refine their own systems for school improvement.

The combination of aligning CTE and academic standards and empowering local control opens the door for expansion of rigorous CTE programs of study. Since 2006, the Carl D. Perkins CTE Act has encouraged states to align secondary and postsecondary educational pathways; however, NCLB placed the emphasis on academic core subjects to the exclusion of CTE courses. ESSA opens the door for greater alignment and integration.

States such as Texas, Maryland, and Ohio, are models in embracing CTE as a transformational means of preparing students simultaneously for post secondary education and career readiness. These states are ahead of others in aligning CTE and academic standards and in sequencing CTE and academic courses into coherent plans of study. Rather than opposite sides of a vocational and academic continuum, model CTE states have balanced the two worlds and in the process redefined our notion of the well-rounded student.

Buttressing this progression, under ESSA, states may use funds to improve the instructional strategies of teachers, principals, or other school leaders to integrate career and technical education content into academic instructional practices. The use of funds may also include training on best practices to understand state and regional workforce needs and transitions to postsecondary education and the workforce.

As America transitions to this new definition of a well-rounded student, the area of uncertainty remains how to evaluate and measure career readiness. College readiness is generally defined as a student’s ability to enter college in credit bearing courses, rather than requiring remedial education. Depending on the state, 30-40 percent of college entrants require remedial education.

What CTE model states have learned is CTE is a means of motivating and deeply engaging students through applied learning– embedding academic content into CTE courses and also linking academic and CTE courses. The measure remains, in part, an academic benchmark; however, the means of instruction is broadened to include greater access for students to rigorous and relevant CTE courses and programs of study. Related to career readiness, measures may include industry certifications and credentials, postsecondary technical course credit, and scores assigned to work-related participation (apprenticeship, work-study, etc.).

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