JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Education leaders and educators from 14 states gathered here this week for the nonprofit Southern Regional Education Boards annual Technology Centers That Work forum to work toward major improvements in career/technology centers that high school students attend part-time.
"I do not think the model of technology centers in the past will necessarily be your model for the future," said Gene Bottoms, SREB’s senior vice president and the founder of the Technology Centers That Work (TCTW) school improvement program. "We’re about preparing high school students for advanced training and for college. Your time is now."
The nation’s career/technology centers — which high school students attend for portions of the school day or year — need to improve to meet the needs of students, their families, the workplace and the changing economy, Bottoms told an audience at the Omni Hotel on January 13.
SREB surveys show that 70 percent of TCTW students in 2008 reported their intention to attend college or advanced career training, yet 83 percent of teachers said their main goal is to help students merely prepare for work. While many students who attend career/technology centers now enroll in some type of postsecondary education after graduation, only half of teachers in TCTW centers said one of their key goals is to help students avoid remedial courses in college.
Still, Bottoms praised many career/technology centers that are making progress to improve programs, add academic rigor, and prepare more students for college and career training — including schools whose leaders spoke at the TCTW conference.
Mark American Horse of the Central Technology Center in Drumright, Oklahoma — the American Career and Technical Education Association national teacher of the year — told participants about his innovative literacy instruction in criminal justice classes. Each student keeps a giant notebook that includes daily journal entries on classroom topics, descriptions of their reading in class, and reflective assignments and projects. He allows students to answer questions and conduct interviews with law enforcement experts via text messages on cell telephones. He produces a class newsletter to keep students and parents informed about classroom discussions and themes, and to promote literacy, among many other innovative activities. His classes also conduct simulation exercises with law enforcement agencies on unraveling terrorist networks and potential attacks.
SREB’s Dick Blais shared the details of blended career and academic courses that SREB is developing in conjunction with states across the region and nation — including courses on "green" renewable technology, biotechnology systems, aerospace technology, cyberinfrastructure, geospacial technology, design science and technology, education and training, and many more. Some current technology-oriented jobs cannot be filled in the United States even with high unemployment rates in many states, said Blais, the director for Curriculum and Instructional Professional Development for CT Studies. These courses will teach students in "careers that are not traditional to what we know in our career/technology centers," he said.
SREB is collaborating with state CT education officials, postsecondary education leaders and faculty members, and state workplace development leaders "to build a system to assure the future prosperity of the state," Blais said. Curricula are being developed for many courses now, teachers will be trained for field testing by summer 2011, and the first field tests of courses will begin in fall 2011. "I’m excited about this project because I think it helps us define our future," Blais told CT center educators here.
Taryn Rafferty, the pre-veterinary science instructor at Hunterdon County Polytech Career Academy in Flemington, New Jersey, spoke on January 14 of how she uses videos and other technology to make lessons come alive. "All of a sudden, boom, it’s not English anymore … not those traditional subjects that they hate at their home schools," she said, adding that her students’ work is "phenomenal."
Patrick O’Neill, the director of the Aiken County Career and Technology Center in Warrenville, South Carolina, and math integration specialist Nicole Mack spoke of their efforts to improve math instruction. O’Neill said a local manufacturing plant was not hiring many of the center’s graduates because they were not passing a basic math exam required for employment. Also, math scores kept some graduates from enrolling at nearby Aiken Technical College. The news pushed center leaders to revise the math curricula and to use federal Perkins Act funds to hire Mack to assist the teachers in implementing higher-level math into career courses. Mack now helps teachers by teaching and developing model lessons aligned with both industry and state academic standards, helping teachers create "smart" lessons that use videos, and more.
Allison Larson, the supervisor of curriculum at the Reading Muhlenberg Center and Technology Center in Reading, Pennsylvania, discussed how she has helped her school develop a literacy and numeracy plan to raise achievement. Already, the school has surpassed its own achievement goals by providing instructional coaches to work with teachers on implementing more rigorous and interactive academic lessons aligned with state standards into various career courses. They’re "really upping our standards," she said.
For more information about TCTW, contact SREB Communications.
The Southern Regional Education Board, or SREB, based in Atlanta, was created in 1948 by Southern governors and legislatures to help leaders in education and government work cooperatively to advance education and improve the social and economic life of the region. SREB has 16 member states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. More information is available online at www.sreb.org.