If you walk into a typical American high school and stand outside a classroom where technical subjects are taught, chances are that everything looks like it is humming along beautifully. Eager students come into the classroom in time for their classes to begin, where a knowledgeable and experienced teacher takes up a position at the front of the classroom. And in communities with sufficient funding, everyone is able to start working on computers and other equipment that facilitate the learning process.

And in case you missed it, it might interest you to know that US News and World Report is now publishing a ranked list of what its editors have decided are America’s 250 best STEM high schools. The high school that received the magazine’s top ranking is High Technology High School in Lincroft, NJ. According to US News, High Technology High School received its #1 ranking because it offers classes in civil engineering and architecture, computer-integrated manufacturing and digital electronics. Plus, the school’s students can earn college credit while they are in high school, thanks to cooperative programs with the Rochester Institute of Technology, Georgian Court University and Brookdale Community College in New Jersey. If you review the rest of the US News descriptions of top STEM high schools, you will discover that many of them offer similar programs.

The fact that US News is ranking STEM high schools shows that STEM education is definitely on the radar of students who want to enter engineering and other technical fields, and of their families too. But are things really going that well in the realm of CTE education in all of America’s secondary schools? And can we be optimistic about the future of CTE? According to recent research from the student Research Foundation, the situation is not as rosy as it seems.

The Most Troubling Statistic

A 2018 survey of 796 CTE teachers conducted by the Student Research Foundation found that 37% of them plan to leave the teaching profession within the next five years. Almost as troubling is the fact that there are already acute shortages of teachers in key technical fields. According to “CTE Research and Faculty Shortages,” a report from the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Educational Consortium, these are the areas where the shortage is especially acute:

  • An 81% shortage of teachers of manufacturing skills
  • A 73% shortage of teachers in IT
  • A 71% shortage of teachers in health sciences
  • And a 71% shortage of teachers across all STEM areas

Where Do Today’s STEM Teachers Come From?

Additionally, the 2018 survey of 796 CTE teachers conducted by the Student Research Foundation also found that:

  • 93% of STEM teachers have worked in the fields that they teach
  • 52% have moved from industry to the classroom
  • 86% earned bachelor’s degrees or higher in their fields

What Influences CTE Teachers to Stay on the Job or Leave?

That same study found that CTE teachers who are satisfied with their teaching positions cite the following reasons:

  • 83% are satisfied with the subjects they teach
  • 70% are satisfied because of the students they teach

And here is what frustrates CTE teachers the most:

  • 45% are frustrated by insufficient facilities and resources
  • 48% because of the quality of external collaborations
  • 52% because of the degree of testing that is required in their classrooms
  • 57% because of their salaries and benefits

What Are the Most Acute Needs in Today’s CTE Classrooms?

According to “The State of Career Technical Education: Increasing Access to Industry Experts in High School” (Advance CTE, December 2016) and “What Career and Technical Education Teachers Really Want for Professional Learning” (Cherise Moore, Catherine Green and Kaylie Clark, AIR, 2015):

  • 76% of CTE state directors see a lack of funding for salaries and incentives as barriers to recruiting industry experts to teach
  • 63% of CTE administrators and teachers want professional development help on motivating students
  • 60% of CTE teachers say improving business/industry engagement should be a top priority
  • 47% of CTE administrators and teachers want multiple measures for assessing student progress and achievement

What Will Motivate Teachers to Stay . . . and Attract New Teachers to the Classroom?

One cause for optimism is that the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act was reauthorized by Congress in 2018. The law, first passed in 1984, has been updated regularly every few years since. In its current iteration, it even has a new name: The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. It earmarks $1.2 billion in Federal funds for career and technical education.

Given the emphasis that our government and society place on keeping America competitive against other countries and their technology, it seems unlikely that anyone will tinker with the law or cut the amount of funding it provides. In fact, President Trump signed the most recent version of the law as soon as it arrived on his desk.

Will the funding it provides stimulate CTE and STEM learning and attract new STEM teachers to replace those who are about to leave?

We can only hope so.

To Learn More about CTE Career Pathways

We invite all students to explore their career options by participating in our career and college research studies. Students who complete the free career test for high school students will receive information on college and career opportunities which match their interests.

Teachers, you can request research materials so your students can be counted in this year’s study. You will also be able to share your insights on teaching today.

CTE Teaching Crisis - Student Research Foundation Teacher Study