Career and technical education attracting high achievers
According to the Grand Forks Public Schools Adequate Yearly Progress report, students who took two or more Career and Technical Education classes in the same field in the 2011-2012 school year scored better in math and reading than all students d...
According to the Grand Forks Public Schools Adequate Yearly Progress report, students who took two or more Career and Technical Education classes in the same field in the 2011-2012 school year scored better in math and reading than all students did as a whole.
CTE Director Eric Ripley said this is exactly what he wants: to fight the stigma that these classes are for students who can’t cut it in the world of academia.
But test scores aren’t important to junior Elizabeth Dessellier after she spent an entire class period drafting a house on a piece of paper. After her design is finished, she will use a computer program to calculate her monthly mortgage payment and adjust her floor plan to fit her theoretical budget. Next year, she’ll take another building trades class where she will actually take part in building a house and one day hopes to work as a professional in the field.
But Dessellier doesn’t act like it’s a big deal.
“We’ve made chairs, stools and shelving,” she said, pointing to examples in the spacious, open classroom.
CTE students at both Red River and Grand Forks Central high schools scored about 6 percent better in reading and about 11 percent better in math than students who weren’t CTE concentrators. Graduation rates were also up by about 2 percent for those same CTE students.
So, what does it mean?
Ripley said it’s because students want to be there.
“This is the class students get to choose to go to versus the one they have to go to,” he said. “It makes a big difference in students sticking with school.”
What makes this approach different is that it allows students to relate core knowledge to physical concepts. They’re applying chemistry to cooking classes or medical training and math to building a house.
Junior Chancler Devier said he likes his Building Trades II class because it’s “more relaxed.”
“It's cool to actually build stuff instead of doing math problems,” he said.
CTE classes are part of a federally funded program aimed at giving students real world skills they can apply in the workplace after graduating from high school. For example, students are able to become certified nursing assistants by working at nursing homes and passing an exit exam.
While the program has been around for about 40 years, Ripley said its recent facelift has made the classes more appealing to all students.
“It had the stigma of ‘You couldn’t do it in an academic world, so you had to get a skill to at least get a job out of high school,’” he said. “Now, our programs are working for all students. We’re there for any type of kid.”
Any student can take these elective classes, which are taught by instructors who have experience in that specific field. The auto repair instructors are actually former mechanics with education training.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” Ripley said.
While it isn’t a reality at the high schools in Grand Forks yet, students can get college credit for these types of classes at Northland Community and Technical College.
The college currently has “tech prep agreements” with many high schools in Minnesota, and Brian Huschle, dean of its East Grand Forks campus, said there are plans to coordinate with the high schools in Grand Forks.
“There’s obviously a benefit all around,” he said.
Keith Reitmeier, area manager for Job Service North Dakota in Grand Forks, said there are a lot of job opportunities in the area for students learning hands-on skills in CTE classes.
“It’s a job-seeker’s market right now,” he said. “I think if you just drive around town and you see all the building going on … somebody is putting them up.”
And these aren’t minimum wage gigs by any means.
Huschle wasn’t surprised CTE concentrators were getting better scores overall and said people in these sorts of fields usually end up getting associate degrees, but make more money than people with bachelor’s degrees.
According to the Job Service Center’s statewide statistics for 2011, electricians made an average of $48,210 per year, automotive technicians and mechanics made an average of $38,420 per year, welders made an average of $42,160 per year and first-line supervisors and construction trades workers made an average of $61,930 per year.
And the numbers have gone up since then.
“We've got a robust wage growth in North Dakota,” Reitmeier said.