Professional Development for Secondary Career and Technical Education: Implications for Change

Publication April 2010

Secondary-level career and technical education (CTE) is broadening its purpose from preparation for entry-level jobs to preparation for both employment and postsecondary education. This expanded purpose requires teachers who have a wider range of skills and knowledge than has been true in the past. This report examines the influences that are creating the context in which professional development for secondary CTE operates, the kinds of learning opportunities that secondary CTE teachers need to respond to this context, and the projects that the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) is conducting that are addressing the needs identified. Our focus is on professional development for teachers in the classroom, both those who enter the profession through traditional teacher preparation programs and those who are alternatively certified.

The context for professional development for secondary CTE teachers arises from the interaction of many factors, four of which are examined in Chapter 2: (1) the stages that teachers typically go through from the time they enter the classroom until they leave the profession; (2) standards that have been established for (a) what teachers should know and be able to do and (b) how professional development should be structured and delivered; (3) technological innovations that cause new occupations to emerge and others to become obsolete; and (4) the decline in the number of institutions offering four-year teacher education programs in CTE.

The influences identified in Chapter 2 interact to create a need for secondary CTE teachers who have the instructional and assessment skills and knowledge that are discussed in Chapter 3. To meet the expanded expectations of what secondary CTE should accomplish will require increased emphasis on the integration of academic and technical content using research-based instructional strategies. Three strategies that are especially applicable to CTE are project-based instruction, problem-based instruction, and cooperative learning. CTE instructors should also be able to plan standards-based instruction. That is, they should design their instruction so that their students are prepared to the levels specified in applicable academic, technical, and industry standards. CTE teachers and administrators should be able to analyze data from technical assessments in ways that assist them in modifying instruction and initiating other types of program improvement, such as curriculum revision and professional development. In addition to all of these skills, CTE teachers should be able to manage classrooms that are becoming increasingly diverse as students with a wide range of aspirations and abilities choose to take CTE courses.

The NRCCTE has five current projects that address some of the professional development needs discussed in Chapter 3. These projects are summarized in Chapter 4. The first of these is Math-in-CTE Technical Assistance. From its inception through the date of this report, this project has assisted 17 states, regional consortia, and large school districts to implement the Math-in-CTE model for enhancing instruction in the mathematics that is naturally embedded in CTE curriculum. The second examines methods of increasing the literacy skills of CTE students. The third project, conducted by NOCTI (National Occupational Competency Testing Institute), a member of the NRCCTE consortium, addresses the use of technical assessment data. In this project, CTE teachers and administrators were surveyed and asked if they use the results from technical skills assessments to improve instruction and programs. If they do, they were asked how they learned to use these data. The survey results are being used to design a professional development package that will be piloted, revised, and tested for effectiveness. The fourth project, conducted by the Academy for Educational Development (AED) in cooperation with the National Association of State Director of Career Education Consortium (NASDCTEc), assisted selected states as they developed workplans to improve the enrollment and retention of students in CTE programs that are nontraditional for their gender. AED is monitoring and providing ongoing assistance in the implementation of these workplans. The fifth project is directed at improving the preparation of alternatively certified teachers. The High Schools That Work (HSTW) Consortium of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) is developing four modules for an induction program. These modules involve professional development activities and support through a mentor in the teacher’s school, coaching from a professional development instructor, guidance from the teacher’s principal, and engagement through an electronic community of practice. Two modules have been field tested through an iterative research process that will be used with the remaining two. When all four modules have been completed, they will be further tested for feasibility and effectiveness.

We conclude Chapter 4 by raising three questions that should be asked to guide the planning and delivery of all professional development provided to secondary CTE teachers:

  1. What do teachers most need to learn to prepare students for both employment and further education?
  2. How can professional development experiences be structured to incorporate the characteristics that the literature identifies as essential to effective professional development?
  3. Are adequate resources available to provide the professional development that is needed?

The NRCCTE’s projects address only a fraction of the professional development needs of secondary CTE teachers. The improvement of pedagogic skills and updating of technical knowledge require an ongoing effort that must be shouldered by education, business, industry, government, and teachers, themselves. Through collaborative activities, all stakeholders can work to help teachers develop the skills and knowledge needed to prepare students to compete in a satisfying and productive manner within the increasingly competitive global workplace.

National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. (2010, April). Professional development for secondary career and technical education: Implications for change. Louisville, KY: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Louisville.

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