by Hans D. Stroo on September 9, 2016
“Given that 70% of jobs in Washington do not require a 4-year degree, what is your vision to ensure CAREER & TECHNICAL EDUCATION (CTE) classes are strongly supported in every high school in Washington to create career-connected learning that prepares kids for future opportunities in the workforce?”
That was the question put before the candidates for Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction during a lively forum held at the Davenport Grand in Spokane which closed off the annual conference of WA-ACTE (the Washington State Association for Career & Technical Education). Over 800 CTE teachers and administrators attended and underwent 5 days of professional development.
Career Tech Education (CTE) is a part of Washington State’s K-12 program that focuses on hands-on, career-connected learning. Every CTE class in Washington falls into one of 16 “career clusters” that include agriculture, construction, health sciences, manufacturing, and transportation. CTE provides applied learning experiences by embedding academic subjects (math, science, English) into a real-life context. Through CTE, Washington students develop leadership skills and explore careers while in middle and high school. Studies show it improves student performance in high school, college, and career.
The 2016 election is less than two months away, and the 2017 legislature is expected to reach landmark agreements around education funding. That being the case, the outcome of the race for OSPI and Governor are going to be important in regard to the future of Career Tech Education in Washington State.
So what did the candidates have to say?
superintendent of public instruction
Erin Jones is an award-winning educator who just left an administrative position in the Tacoma school district in order to focus on her campaign. Previously she served in administration in the Federal Way school district and as OSPI’s Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement. Her campaigns core values are 1) advocating for students and educators before the state and federal governments, 2) applying an educator’s lens to the executive leadership of OSPI, 3) providing opportunity for input and feedback on policy and practice, and 4) putting in place a strategic plan to ensure systems alignment.
Jones was orphaned at birth because of her multi-racial ancestry. She was adopted by two educators. Her father was a math teacher and her mother was a CTE teacher for the last 20 years of her career. “I watched my mom… have to fight for her program,” Jones recounted. “The math teachers were the ‘real teachers.’ And CTE teachers were the ‘other.’ I watched my mom fight for her spot… Now my high school has an entire wing devoted to CTE. And it’s powerful to see that transformation. That’s what I hope for every kid.”
Though she was born in Minnesota, Jones was raised in the Netherlands. “I had the gift of attending a school where CTE was a critical piece of [the curriculum,]” Jones told the audience of CTE teachers. “I got to weld as a 7th grader. And when I got into high school we all had to do a CTE class.”
Jones said that one of her core motivations for running was that “both as a mom… and a career educator” she has observed “a real disconnect between what happens in Olympia and what happens in the rest of our state.”
“When I think about what this work means to me,” Jones said, “number one: it means that not every kid should go to a 4-year college… We need to make a smoother transition and create smoother pathways.”
On multiple occasions, Jones returned to her core statement of intent which she says has animated her campaign. “My dream for public education,” she said, “is that we connect kids with their passions, whatever those happen to be. And give them the expertise and experience they need to turn those passions into a career.
“Children are not a test score,” Jones insisted. “You teachers are not test scores… We’ve got to get back to learning and teaching… [CTE] is all about that… If we can get away from that singular focus [on testing]… then we can get back to the variety of passions that our young people have.”
Jones told the audience that one of her goals as Superintendent of Public Instruction would be sharing the stories of the great work CTE is doing across Washington State. “I think our number one obligation as the state leader is to talk differently about [what success looks like],” she said. Jones stated that as a society “the people who typically drive Tesla cars are more valued than the person who built the Tesla cars. And that… is really problematic.
Rep. Chris Reykdal
Representative Chris Reykdal (D-22nd) has been part of the state legislature since 2010. Born in Snohomish, Reykdal began his career as a history teacher before becoming a fiscal analyst for the state Senate, and then an executive administrator for the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges. He launched his campaign for OSPI around three major themes: 1) fully funding basic education, 2) maintaining a highly accountable system of education, and 3) ensuring that local school districts remain in control of educational delivery even as the state has stepped up its graduation and testing requirements.
Reykdal told the audience about his own K-12 education where he took a variety of vocational courses (home economics, plastics, and woodshop). Society used to put more emphasis on CTE, Reykdal claimed, “because we thought of… the whole child, a well-rounded individual who wasn’t completely engineered to go to a university… But [instead] there was a place for every single one of us based on our passion. It’s why I’m so passionate about CTE.”
Reykdal cautioned against an education policy discussion that centered exclusively on overall funding levels. “Obviously we have to fully fund the system,” he stated. “But it’s not enough to just say ‘find 3.5 billion dollars and throw it at the existing formulas.’ If we do that, CTE will continue to subsidize other programs when it should be just the opposite, quite frankly.”
Reykdal drew on his 14 years of experience working in higher education to illustrate the dilemma around targeted CTE funding. “In higher education we take tuition-paying academic students and subsidize our professional-technical programs,” he told the audience. “Every higher ed. institution in the world has to do that to make the books balance. In K-12 it is just the opposite. We are taking CTE dollars targeted for your programs [and] materials… [and directing it] away at the district-level to subsidize more math, English, and reading.” He followed up this observation with a strong claim: “As Superintendent you will see me make the strongest defense we have ever had in the state of Washington for targeting CTE dollars specifically for CTE with no subsidization outside of the program.
Reykdal described a vision for individualized learning. To achieve that, he observed, “you have to honor the fact that some kids will sit in classrooms of 32 and take a lecture. But some kids need to be in a machining class of 16 or 17. The facilities are larger, the consumables are higher, the student-faculty ratios are different. Sometimes to get folks out of industry you have to pay a little more. We have to recognize that every student is different and they need what they need to be successful.” Reykdal claimed that his extensive background in public finance makes him uniquely qualified to implement his vision.
Speaking before an audience of CTE teachers, Rep. Reykdal described himself as “the only candidate out of 9 that has made [CTE] a pillar” of their OSPI campaign. “70 percent of all jobs, now and in the future will require more than a high school diploma and less than a baccalaureate degree. 7 out of 10 people need to produce. No disrespect to Superintendents and CEOs, but it turns out that the producers of the world are the ones who really get the technical skills and really create products, services, and customer satisfaction…. I think we’ve lost a little bit of that vision.”
Reykdal said that the required solution must be more ambitious than merely shifting funds around. “It’s a culture change. We’re up against something more than needing a few more dollars for this or a few more dollars for that. [OSPI] has to take a leadership role around the state with the business community, with the labor community, with policymakers and the governor… and talk about what the economy truly needs. We need to be out there as a voice for all students instead of this increasingly narrow voice for every student at university.”
Governor Jay Inslee
Governor Inslee connected with the conference from Olympia using Skype. He talked about the importance of CTE and highlighted a number of career-connected education programs that he wants to expand and replicate.
Inslee spoke positively about the Jobs for Washington’s Graduates program which is “keeping kids in school.” The Governor praised the program for getting at-risk youth “to see a vision for themselves in… technical career[s].”
Gov. Inslee also praised the work going on at Washington State’s fourteen Skill Centers. “Our Skill Centers are doing a tremendous job,” he said, “but we need to expand them. Every kid in the state of Washington ultimately ought to have meaningful access to a Skill Center. We are not there yet. I’m glad that we have won some funding. As Governor we have increased funding to allow modernization of our Skill Centers in Tri-Cities, Spokane, Bremerton, and other places. But we need to do more.” Inslee promised to pursue full funding and meaningful access for Skill Centers. “We ought to have 100% [as our] goal,” he said.
Inslee also directed attention to the good work being done by the Core Plus program, available in 30 locations serving 160 high schools. Core Plus is nonproprietary, industry-validated curriculum that coversknowledge, skills, and abilities across a range of specific industries. It was developed to this point by the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle, with funding from The Boeing Company. Inslee told the audience that his Administration has “been able to secure about a million dollars” for expanding Core Plus. He pointed to the programs ability to “engage private businesses to… provide a meaningful hands-on opportunity for students… I think there’s nothing better than connecting a student with someone actually doing the work.”
Overall, Gov. Inslee portrayed CTE as an important factor in creating student success. “Probably the single most effective way to get kids to understand and be inspired by math and science is to get them to understand how it’s connected to a career [and] a vision statement for themselves and their own lives.”
Challenger: bill Bryant
Businessman Bill Bryant is Governor Inslee’s Republican challenger. Bryant served two-terms on the Commission for the Port of Seattle starting in 2008. Relocating from Yakima to Seattle in 1992, Bryant founded Bryant Christie Inc., a company that works to expand market opportunities for Washington-grown food while cultivating new international markets and breaking down foreign trade barriers.
Bryant stood before the audience and told them that his “primary reason for running” was to help “[build] an education system that ensures every kid, regardless of where they grow up, has an equal chance to succeed.” Bryant said CTE was central to his vision for Washington State’s education system. “Every student should attend a school that gives them the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in life. I believe CTE is integral to that,” he said.
Bryant painted a dismal picture of the state of Washington’s K-12 system.“Far too many of our students are being graduated or leaving school unprepared for either career or college. Too many, about 20-25 percent, are not going to graduate high school on time or at all,” he said.
Bryant’s speech connected the underperfoming school system to workforce shortages and uneven economic growth. “We are not only failing a lot of kids… We are failing our economy.” Bryant saidWashington State’s economy is “suffering from a skills gap… We are projected to have 10,000 high-skilled jobs annually go unfilled [due to the skill gaps].”
“Folks between the Bainbridge and Bellevue corridor don’t even know it,” Bryant said, “but Washington has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. We are tied with Mississippi. Simply by closing the skills gap we could lower our unemployment rate… by almost two points. The resulting economic growth could create 160,000 jobs and generate several hundred million dollars in new tax revenue.”
Bryant declared “It’s time for us to have an honest conversation about which parts of our education system are working, and which parts must adapt to meet the needs of a more diverse student population.” He described the McCleary decision as “an opportunity to have that conversation. As Governor I want to change the McCleary conversation… Only after we decide what kind of public school system we want to build can we decide how much money is needed to build it… CTE is integral to a 21st century public education system. It is integral to the public education system I want to build.”
The 2016 General Election is Tuesday, November 8. The public officials Washington selects this year will have a long-lasting impact on our state’s education policy. Students and businesses need to be represented by leaders who understand the importance of making sure every student has access to rigorous, career-connected learning opportunities.