RALEIGH — Improved Career and Technical Education programs could help lower North Carolina’s public school dropout rate while helping more students prepare for the workforce. Those are key findings in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.
“Rather than throw money at short-term dropout prevention initiatives that appear to have little impact, North Carolina should address its school dropout crisis by refocusing on career and technical education in middle and high school,” said report author Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. “This report recommends that the state’s public schools consider CTE the state’s primary dropout prevention effort.”
An increased focus on CTE makes sense for the North Carolina economy, Stoops said. “The state Employment Security Commission predicts most job growth through 2016 will occur in occupations that require a high school diploma and some on-the-job training,” he said. “Only a handful of fast-growing occupations require a four-year college degree.”
This data often leads policymakers to push for more funding for community colleges and job-training initiatives, Stoops said.
“The implicit argument is that these ‘investments’ are required because primary and secondary schools fail to provide high school graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the workforce,” he said. “A stronger K-12 system would substantially reduce public and private resources required to train North Carolina’s future workforce.”
All students need sufficient skills in reading, writing, interpersonal communication, arithmetic, and problem solving, Stoops said. Many of the state’s fastest-growing jobs will also require more specialized skills.
“Given the demand for these workers, North Carolina’s public schools will need to offer more intensive and extensive programs in allied health, management, business, accounting, sales, food service, and various trades in order to meet the demands of the job market,” Stoops said. “Institutions of higher education will play a role, but elementary and secondary public schools will have, by far, the heaviest burden in preparing North Carolina’s future workforce.”
Despite the state’s training needs, U.S. Department of Education data show that North Carolina devotes a relatively small share of its resources to vocational schools, Stoops said. “In 2006-07, just 0.4 percent of the state’s public schools were vocational schools, compared to a national average of 1.3 percent,” he said. “Student enrollment in vocational schools made up just 0.01 percent of the state’s total student enrollment. Mississippi, Kentucky, and Alabama are among the states with much higher percentages of vocational schools.”
North Carolina needs more students taking advanced CTE classes, Stoops said. “More than 550,000 students took at least one of these classes in 2005-06, but that number is misleading,” he said. “Compared to introductory CTE courses, there is significant enrollment attrition in more advanced courses. To meet the needs of the economy, our public schools will have to have students do more than just ‘try out’ CTE courses. Schools will have to graduate more students with advanced skills in career and technical fields.”
Improvements would have to address the availability of advanced courses and qualified faculty, along with the close relationships between public schools and community colleges, Stoops said.
Distribution of students within particular programs also needs attention, he said. “Forty percent of all CTE students enroll in business and information technology education, while just 4 percent enroll in health occupations,” Stoops said. “That last number is particularly problematic, since the state will need an additional 73,440 registered nurses, home health aides, personal care aides, and nursing aides by 2016.”
Just 10 percent of CTE students enroll in trade and industrial education, Stoops said. “That’s bad news when you consider the number of new construction laborers, carpenters, electricians, automotive service technicians and mechanics, and plumbers the state will need,” he said. “North Carolina’s economy will need at least 33,000 additional skilled tradesmen by 2016.”
Stoops offers nine recommendations for improving Career and Technical Education, including: new middle school courses, private-sector help in designing programs, increased advanced course offerings, and a “reconceptualized” career and technical education. Increased school choice and an end to the state’s charter school cap could also lead to more CTE options, he said.
North Carolina’s future depends on addressing these issues well, Stoops said. “The looming problem for this state’s economy is that many occupational groups will not be able to find high school graduates with advanced, intensive training in their field.”
Terry Stoops’ Spotlight report, “Career and Technical Education: Meeting the needs of the 21st century economy isn’t rocket science,” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].