Would CTE fit your needs? Take a look

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

These questions and answers were developed with the help of the School District’s Office of Career and Technical Education.

Is CTE a good idea for me?

CTE, or career and technical education, used to be called vocational education. The varied programs available now are designed to prepare students for jobs in today’s economy. In addition to traditional trades that are still in demand, such as plumbing, welding, and auto repair, CTE programs now include such fields as health-related technologies, computer systems networking, game design, and culinary arts. Typically, students spend 1,080 hours of learning time in their specialties. Classes are taught by teachers with experience in the field, and students also may get part of their training through industry internships and apprenticeships. Successful CTE students can graduate from high school with certifications and contacts that can lead directly to employment.

If I take CTE, does that mean I won’t be prepared for college?

Quite the contrary. CTE students take all the academic coursework required for high school graduation in addition to their specialties, and they can often be better prepared for college. Studies show that CTE students graduate at higher rates than non-CTE students, which is probably the result of the focus on employable skills and hands-on learning.

Do CTE students attend college?

Many do. Most CTE career areas require at least some post-secondary training. CTE graduates can and do enroll in four-year colleges, community colleges, and trade schools.

Will CTE prepare me for well-paying jobs?

Many of the CTE specialties are in demand now. Some traditional trades, including plumbers, welders, and electricians, are experiencing worker shortages and pay well for highly trained people.

How do I choose a program? How do I know whether it is rigorous and legitimate?

Talk to your counselor during 7th and 8th grades about your interest. All CTE programs have admission guidelines, and competition is stiff. But 25 District high schools, including nearly all neighborhood schools, have at least one CTE program. This guide, as well as the District’s online high school directory, outlines what specialties are available at what schools (see page 13).

Can I find CTE programs in charter schools?

Only one charter high school, Universal Audenried in South Philadelphia, has state-certified CTE programs, in health-related technology and culinary and automotive trades. It also offers cinematography and video production. Don’t assume from a charter school’s name that it has a CTE focus or a certified CTE program, even though it may offer work-study or internship placements in certain fields.

What questions should I ask before enrolling in a CTE program?

Important questions include: Who is the teacher, and what is their experience in the field? Of those who enroll, how many pass their state competency exams? Can I earn college credits? Will I get to go to work-based settings? What partnerships are offered with employers? What kinds of internships, part-time jobs, or other work experiences might be available for summer or after school? What industry certifications can I get? Ask the principal: How do you view CTE and what do you do to support it?

What are industry certifications, and how do students earn them?

Students can earn industry certifications by passing a test showing that they have mastered the skills at the standards required to work in the field. The industries design the tests. These credentials may allow students to enter the occupation right after graduation. In most programs, each student can obtain multiple certifications. For instance, students in health-related fields can be certified in CPR and in the use of defibrillators, among other competencies. Philadelphia’s CTE students earned more than 3,800 industry certifications in 2016-17. The costs for industry certifications are fully covered by the District.

What is NOCTI?

The acronym for this test stands for National Occupational Competency Training Institute. Pennsylvania requires that students who have completed a three-year, 1,080-hour program take this exam in their senior year for the program to maintain good standing and continue to qualify for federal Perkins funds. The NOCTI exam has a theoretical component, administered online, and a hands-on, practical component. About 70 percent of students who take the NOCTI in Philadelphia pass it. Potential employers consider industry certifications more important than NOCTI scores, although students who score advanced on NOCTI can get an additional state credential and benefit when applying to post-secondary schools.

Is it possible to earn college credits through CTE?

Yes. For most programs, this comes through the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Students Occupationally and Academically Ready (SOAR) program. Students can earn up to 11 college credits at participating institutions across Pennsylvania, depending on the field. Every field allows for at least some college credits with one or more state institutions. Students can also get post-graduate internships and industry apprenticeships through SOAR.

How are CTE classrooms different?

These spaces have two main areas: theory and practical. The theory area, for traditional teacher-led lessons, looks like a typical classroom, with desks, chairs, and a whiteboard. The lab or shop area will have the needed industry-standard equipment so that students can apply the skills learned in theory lessons to simulated work situations. Plus, CTE students often do much of their coursework through internships at industry sites.

What if my interests change? Can I switch programs?

Students can and do change their minds. Those enrolled in a CTE school who want a change must switch to another specialty in that school. If they are in a neighborhood school and do not switch to another CTE program, their CTE courses count as electives. Students can also switch into a program during junior or even senior year, and if they master 50 percent of the field’s “competencies,” they can take certification tests.