(This is the first story in a three-part series looking at career and technical education in Arizona.)
While Arizona is a leader in career and technical education, continued cuts in state funding remain a challenge for programs that helped 5,000 high school students statewide graduate last year with national-, state- or industry-recognized credentials.
For example, Desert View High School’s precision manufacturing program in Tucson “serves as a model CTE program for South Korea,” yet it could be in jeopardy because of recent legislative budget cuts to joint technical education districts, said Tina Norton, assistant superintendent and chief operations officer for Pima County Joint Technical Education District.
In Arizona, career and technical education programs are delivered through traditional high schools as well as joint technical education districts, or JTEDs. A JTED provide specialized CTE programs to students in its partner districts. There are 14 JTEDs in Arizona.
After losing two override elections, Saddle Mountain Unified School District recently cut career and technical to focus on core academics, said Diane McCarthy, director business partnerships, government, public policy and legislation for West-MEC.
“As for the legislative cuts that will take effect in FY 2016-17, they will be devastating to the CTE programs in Arizona,” Norton said this week.
Recent CTE conference
Two weeks ago, more than 1,100 Arizona educators examined gains made in the past 40 years, and what they’re still battling to achieve at the Association for Career and Technical Education of Arizona and Arizona Department of Education’s “CTE: A Revolution in Education” conference in Tucson.
Career and technical educators seek “a brighter future for our students and those that follow them,” said Pam Ferguson, executive director of ACTEAz.
Conference goers wore t-shirts that read “I AM CTE,” listened to Jaime Casap, Google’s Global Education Evangelist, talk about “Innovation and Iteration in Education,” honored 17 award winners and 16 scholarship recipients, and took part in ACTEAz’s Premier Series Courses for CTE educators and industry teachers that meet Arizona Department of Education certification requirements.
Among the conference’s more than 270 break-out sessions, educators took part in were Michael Brustein’s discussion of federal grant management, Maricopa Community College’s Dr. Maria Harper-Marinick’s session on designing effective pathways for student success to postsecondary education and Arizona State University’s Global Pathways Institute’s Bill Symonds presentation on preparing students for successful careers.
At the conference, ACTEAz past-president Dr. John Mulcahy told educators, “CTE isn’t one of the answers to what ails American education. It is the answer.”
“We know what needs to happen. Kids need to come to school every day,” said Mulcahy, also director of professional development for West-MEC. “It is — as we know — the first prerequisite to educational success. You can’t learn if you’re not present. CTE gets kids to school and keeps them in school.”
Mulcahy also noted CTE is the second strongest predictor of completing high school.
“Nothing – other than freshman GPA – has a greater impact on school engagement than concentrating in a CTE program. Nothing,” Mulcahy said.
Why is career and technical education important?
“Many students in CTE programs graduate with dual credit for college that they earned in their secondary CTE programs,” Doll said. “Most secondary CTE students will go on to additional post-secondary education.”
CTE students earn industry-recognized certifications that lead to gainful employment, have a lower dropout rate and score significantly higher in math and reading on standardized tests, Doll said.
“CTE students had an 89 percent score on 2013 AIMS math compared to Arizona’s average of 70 percent,” Doll said. “CTE students had 96 percent sore on 2013 AIMS reading compared to Arizona’s average of 75 percent.”
Career and technical education produces the skilled workforce needed for the growing local careers that Arizona Commerce Authority and businesses that partner with JTEDs have shown there is a need for, McCarthy said.
Joint Technical Education Districts in Arizona began in 1990 with East Valley Institute of Technology, most others started in the early 2000s and now there are 14 statewide after voters approved a JTED in Yuma County, McCarthy said.
Right now, JTEDs are building capacity, providing up-to-date equipment and items students need to learn skills essential to their fields, and are where many students see the relevance of what they’re learning in the classroom to their lives and careers, McCarthy said.
For example, students in cosmetology courses use what they’ve learned in math and chemistry to do their work well, McCarthy said.
“People forget that math is such an important component of everything we do in career and technical education,” McCarthy said. “People say STEM is important, well, career and technical education is applied STEM.”
Career and technical education engages students by tapping into their interests, said Tom Tyree, superintendent of schools in Yuma County where voters recently approved a tax to support the new Southwest Technical Education District of Yuma (STEDY).
“In the end, it comes down to figuring out how to engage students and that goes back to the old three Rs – not Reading, Writing and Arithmetic – but Rigor, Relevance and Relationships,” Tyree said.
Arizona like most other states has increased rigor, Tyree said.
“I don’t think the issue is rigor. I think it’s relevance,” Tyree said. “The great thing about career and technical education is that it’s very relevant learning, it’s really hands on and students can see the value in it and why they need to learn it.”
Strong relationships are built when career and technical educators and JTEDs work side-by side to help facilitate learning, Tyree said.
“When all those elements are contained in instruction, then I believe that’s when students really learn,” Tyree said.
Joint Technical Education Districts in Arizona began with East Valley Institute of Technology in 1990, most others started in the early 2000s and now there are 14 in the state after voters approved a JTED in Yuma County, McCarthy said.
Right now JTEDs are building capacity, providing up-to-date equipment and items students need to learn skills essential to their fields, and are the place where many students see the relevance to their career and lives of what they’re learning in the classroom, McCarthy said.
A JTED provides an opportunity for education to really partner with the business community to build a local workforce with the skills they need, Tyree said.
“Because they (businesses) were in on the ground floor so to speak and they have some real ownership in it, they see it as a real opportunity to really help them do what they need to do,” Tyree said.
That will also help attract new businesses and retain current businesses in Yuma County, Tyree said.
“The people in our community involved in attracting new business told us time and time again that when people were talking about locating in Yuma one of the questions they were repeatedly asked was ‘Do you have a JTED here?’” Tyree said.
As Yuma’s JTED grows over time, Tyree said he knows it will help keep talented, skilled young people in the community, Tyree said.
Students in third grade through high school learned this summer the essentials of device maintenance and how to help teachers use technology in their classroom instruction, Tyree said.
In Pima County, the precision manufacturing programs have helped more than 20 students land jobs at high-tech firms this past year, and the JTED works closely with the Southern Arizona Manufacturing Partners to continue to fill these much-needed positions, Norton said.
More than 200 of Pima County JTED’s former nursing services students are working at Tucson Medical Center, Norton said.
“While they were hired as Certified Nursing Assistants, Phlebotomists, and Patient Care Techs, many have taken advantage of TMC’s tuition assistance and have become registered nurses or moved into other higher tech/specialty positions,” Norton said.
Also, this past year nearly all of Pima County JTED’s EMT students earned their National Registry Certification, the one student who did not take the exam opted to join the military instead, Norton said.
“The majority of our Medical Assistant students have become certified and are working in clinics and physician offices,” Norton said. “Another large percentage of MA students who are not working after completing our program have chosen to start college full time.”
“Students who make the choice to enroll in today’s JTED programs, not only gain the highly sought after technical skills training required by business and industry today, but they also obtain industry certifications that lead to gainful employment immediately after high school graduation,” said Jeramy Plumb, superintendent of Mountain Institute JTED in Yavapai County.
Many JTED students earn multiple certifications and most of all of these programs also provide post-secondary education credits to promote their continued education beyond high school, Plumb said.
“Mountain Institute JTED students annually average between 75 and 80 percent pass rate on their respective industry certification exams,” Plumb said. “Many of the Students that leave MIJTED will take these certifications and use them to obtain employment to pay for the completion of their post-secondary education at the bachelors, masters, and doctorate levels. At the end of FY2015, CTE and JTED programs in Arizona will have issued industry certification to nearly 7000 graduating high school students.”
JTEDs in rural Arizona, including JTED Satellite programs are performing at exceptionally high levels and are providing the high quality technical skills training that mirrors the work of larger urban JTEDs, Plumb said.
“For the past three years, Mountain Institute JTED has also performed among the best of the JTEDs, with at least five of our programs leading the state in their respective End of Program Assessment tests each year,” Plumb said. At the end of FY2015, 13 of our seventeen programs were ranked in the top two performing programs when compared to the other JTED programs across the state.”
Students involved in career and technical education are experiencing great success, Plumb said.
For example, Mountain Institute JTED student Jacque Beltran, a high school junior, passed the FAA ground school certification exam at the end of her first year in the aviation program, which was the first step in obtaining her private pilot’s license, Plumb said. The board also recognized two automotive students who passed 6 of 7 and 7 of 7 ASE Certifications respectively, and a young man from Mayer High School who passed the coveted 6G welding certification provided by the American Welding Society, Plumb said.
The biggest challenge to career and technical education today is the old view that vocational education is for those kids who just can’t cut it academically, McCarthy and Tyree said.
“Think about an auto repair program, do those kids need to how to work a computer to work on a car? Of course they do,” McCarthy said. “The math and science are intense in every single thing we teach.”
In West-MEC’s aircraft maintenance program, students go to their high school in the morning then they come to West-MEC for four hours a day, five days a week for two-years, McCarthy said.
“That’s a 1,900-hour program, but at the end of it they come out with an FAA certificate,” McCarthy said. “We’re one of three high schools in the United States that has an FAA certified program. Those kids are coming out with jobs in the industry that they can work their whole lives.”
A key challenge is helping families understand that today’s career and technical education provides “absolutely stellar training and opportunity for employment” and is nothing like the old shop classes parents may have experienced, Doll said.
“Today we need people in advanced manufacturing like never before, but many Moms have a view of an old manufacturing shop from World War II with sparks flying around and dirt on the floor,” McCarthy said. “Well, today with CNC machines, you can go in there and eat off the floor.”
It’s the same with welding and other programs, McCarthy said, Moms may say “I don’t want my son doing that dirty job.” Well, you’ve got to understand that it’s not a dirty job anymore.”
Also, increased graduation requirements are making it more difficult for students to participate in high quality CTE programs, Norton said.
To help with that, West-MEC and other JTEDS have counseling divisions that work with high school counselors to let them know is another pathway for students who don’t plan to go to college.
“What we’re finding with our students is that they’re getting out into the workforce, and their employers are recognizing that they’re so well trained that their employers are sending them on for additional training at no cost to the kids,” McCarthy said.
Another challenge is the lack of flexibility in school/student scheduling, Plumb said.
“In past few months the State Board of Education has taken action to relieve these burdens by expanding our ability to offer Academic Credits through JTED and CTE programs and curriculum,” Plumb said. “These credits include fourth-year math, science, and economics. Even though the State Board of Education has approved these CTE programs to award academic credit, it is still a local governing board decision and many of our schools are reluctant to change current practices.”
Chino Valley High School was the first of Mountain Institute JTED’s seven schools to adopt academic credits in CTE last semester when they approved the awarding of fourth-year math credit for students who complete the drafting and design programs, Plumb said.
“We believe this will help ‘break the ice’ with our other member districts which will hopefully lead to expanded credit opportunities which in turn leads to more schedule flexibility for students,” Plumb said.
The one major challenge they all agreed on though is state funding for career and technical education.
“Funding is going to be a continuing challenge, unless we can turn things around,” Tyree said.
Click on the following headline to read Part 2: AZ budget cuts reduce career and technical education funding by 53 percent