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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with Loretta Costin, Florida chancellor of career and adult education



Florida has pushed to increase the availability of career and technical education to high school students in the past few years. Career academies are supposed to target high wage, high skills jobs and give students a path to the work force or a college degree. At the same time, the state has pressed ahead with tougher high school graduation requirements, which to some appear to be at odds with career education. Loretta Costin, Florida chancellor of career and adult education, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the current state of affairs. 

This is a really important area right now, career and adult, because it seems like a lot of people are focusing on it and how it fits with the increasing graduation requirements that are being put on people. I'm really interested in hearing how you see the two things tying together.

You are right. Career and adult education has always been incredibly important to our citizens. It's even more so now I think because so many individuals ... are focused on making sure they or their students have the skills they need to be successful in whatever pathway they choose in terms of future careers and future employment. And when we're talking about our high school students, career and technical education plays a very important role because the goal of today's high school career and tech ed programs is to prepare students for post-secondary and careers, college and career. So it's focusing on making sure that students are prepared for both.

We like to say that today's CTE is not the old vocational education that I experienced when I was in high school, you may have, and others. It is much different than those shop classes or those home economics classes. ... We've moved into really focusing on what the careers are in the future that will allow an individual to meet their goals. So today's CTE courses, whether they are in the high schools or the colleges, are more rigorous and demand much higher skill levels. ... 

And you're right, there is a lot of interest particularly in the high schools because with the increased graduation requirements, which we support and believe are absolutely necessary, because again we know the research shows us that the good careers of the future will require at least one year of post-secondary education. And depending on what your career goal is, it might require more. ... We also recognize there are some students who may not be as successful in a traditional geometry classroom, but they would be very successful learning geometry in an applied setting. And so that is why career and tech ed is getting a lot of attention from students and parents, and it is doing a good job of meeting those needs. ... 

When I was covering schools 20 years ago I would visit robotics classes where kids would be doing physics, but not really knowing they were doing physics, and they could tell you anything you wanted to know. It seems to me being able to apply it would be valuable to anyone, and not just someone who is in a career program.

Absolutely. That has always been the key point of career and tech ed. Because it does allow the students to apply the academic concepts and therefore because they are applying them in an environment of a career that interests them, they are engaged. And you know that age-old question, that kids, probably you, ask -- "Why do I need to learn this? How does this help me?" -- Well, CTE answers that question for many, many students. It helps them understand why geometry is important. Or why biology is important. Or Algebra I or Algebra II. ... 

One of the things we are working on with our CTE instructors in the high schools, and also the academic instructors in the high schools, is bringing those teachers together. So for example the drafting teacher and the geometry teacher, bringing them together and helping them learn to work together to create common lesson plans. So when the geometry teacher is teaching geometry, she is using real life examples of why geometry is important. And when the drafting teacher is teaching drafting, they are pointing out to the young person that this is geometry. There will be a connection and that will assist the student in doing better in their academic courses and certainly on their end-of-course assessments.

Why does it seem then that sometimes the two are at odds? We hear high school people talking about wanting dual graduation tracks, or tiers of diplomas. Why can't they work together more closely, the way that you are suggesting?

We are seeing that more and more. Over the years in so many cases we get in our own little worlds ... and we focus on what we do and how we do it, and sometimes we don't look across the hall at the teacher across the hall who is maybe doing the same thing. But we are starting to see much more of that.

The career academy model, we have very strong career academies because we have very strong support for our career and professional education academies. The key thing there is that it is integrated, the academic and the CTE is integrated around that career theme. So we are starting to see much more of that collaboration and cooperation among the teachers. But not enough. What we continue to emphasize is that there needs to be more of that.

I have seen some career academies that get really strong business support. Others not so much so. Each time I look at that, I see the pros and cons of it. I see the business people really wanting to get involved in helping the schools. But I also see them trying to craft a curriculum that gets kids into their business. I wonder how you make sure when you get that participation you also don't let them run the school as a business.

I know what you mean. The first thing is, we work with the business community here in this division. We develop the program standards for all the programs in the state. So it doesn't matter if that drafting course or program is offered in Pensacola or Miami. There's a set of program standards. And it's all based on what the student needs to know and be able to do to become employed in the particular occupation. We've set it up in a career ladder, so it builds on each other. And we of course could not do that without our business and industry. ... At the local level, having business and industry support what is happening in that classroom is important. Particularly in terms of coming in and bringing the real world into that classroom. Also where we really need the help of business and industry is in providing workplace learning opportunities. ... Even unpaid internships, just to get them out of the classroom and into the workplace. That's a key component of all career and tech ed.

Some of our business partners will tell you quite clearly that they see the career and tech ed programs as a source of future employees. And that is great. That is what we want. ... But we have to be careful that we are responding to the needs of all business and industry, and not just to a couple of companies....

Should all schools be offering these programs? And what if the school you attend doesn't offer the program you want?

I believe all schools -- all high schools, all middle schools in Florida -- ought to offer some type of career ed. Almost all of them do. What we are seeing with districts in terms of the question of if the program you want is not in the school you are attending, a lot of districts are providing choice to students and they have magnet programs. ... 

Do you think they will continue to do this ... even as they continue to make the graduation requirements more stringent?

I think that there are several things that are contributing to the growth in the number of career academies we have in Florida. We now have 1,300 in round numbers ... CAPE academies in Florida that are serving a little over 100,000 students. And we have gotten national recognition for our CAPE legislation and CAPE model. The Harvard report that just came out from the Harvard School of Education, Pathways to Prosperity, Florida is noted for our career academies. And I think there are several things that are contributing to the growth of our CAPE academies.

One is, we have some results. This is the fourth year of our implementing the CAPE academies. We've got some results that are showing students that are in CAPE academies outperform and have less discipline problems, etc., than students who are not in a CAPE academy. And we have results that students who are in a CAPE academy and who earn an industry certification ... are outperforming the first two groups. ... I want to be sure to be clear that this is not a strong research study that has been done. This is just preliminary data. ...

When I share that information with superintendents and principals and groups of teachers, it gets a lot of interest.

The other two things I think are really contributing to academies ... are when a student who is in a registered CAPE academy graduates from high school with a standard high school diploma and earns one of these identified industry certifications, the school district gets additional funding. They get .3 additional FTE. And, for every student who earns an industry certification, it also factors into the school grade.

It sounds like this is something that is really important, but I am wondering about the other side. We are looking at budgets where schools are cutting things. How do you keep it together? How do schools maintain the programs that do all the positive things that you're talking about and at the same time try to meet class size and all that?

It's a struggle and it will continue to be a struggle for just those reasons that you have noted. There are two different opportunities that school districts have for career academies in the high schools. One is partnerships with business and industry. ... Florida does also receive federal funding from the Carl D. Perkins authorization. We get about $64 million. ...

[Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 10:16pm]


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