CTE Makes A Difference

Deborah Barnes

Oregon students who take one or more career tech courses have graduation rates about 22 points higher than the general graduation rate.

Oregon has one of the worst graduation rates in the country - it's 74 percent, which puts us third from the bottom and means we're losing more than 10,000 students a year.

As a high school teacher, I have a first-hand understanding about this. How to fix it isn’t a mystery. Frontline educators know the approaches we could take to keep kids engaged and on track in high school.

Measure 98, if Oregonians vote yes for it on Nov. 8, would support three key things for our high schools:

  1. Career technical education (CTE). Schools may expand and create new CTE. In these hands-on learning environments, young people learn real-world skills that prepare them for college and career.

  2. Advanced and college prep courses. Students looking for academic challenges and opportunities to earn early college credit need options. Schools may add these types of courses.

  3. Dropout prevention. Many schools know when students are freshmen who is at-risk of dropping out. Unfortunately, very few schools have enough counselors to intervene with each at-risk student or to the degree needed.

CTE is traditional vocational classes such as wood and automotive shops, along with modern classes like robotics, engineering, computer coding and other high-tech subjects. These classes always relate to the real world and make lessons in core classes, like geometry, relevant.

Teachers like me see every day how this type of course ignites a student’s interest. Career tech by itself is a dropout prevention strategy.

Students who have struggled in academic classes often find their calling in hands-on courses. They realize why math, writing and other core subjects are essential. They learn that academic subjects aren’t just for the college-bound, rather that they’re equally important for finding a decent-paying job.

When you look at graduation rates for students in CTE, you see the proof: Oregon students who take one or more career tech courses have graduation rates about 22 points higher than the general graduation rate.

I teach in North Clackamas, where we have three campuses dedicated to career tech and vocational education. About 80 percent of students in our district take at least one class. Not surprisingly, we also have a higher graduation rate than the state average. Students in most other school districts aren’t lucky enough to have what North Clackamas students have and many have no CTE. In fact, only about 26 percent of Oregon high school students take CTE.

In North Clackamas though, we still have waiting lists for students to get into our classes; we need updated equipment and classroom aides so students get more attention. We also can use Measure 98 funds for improving college educational opportunities while students are still in high school.

There’s a flaw in how the state funds K-12 education. Our leaders don’t address what kids in high school really need. And there’s been a failure to prioritize state funds to meet those needs. Measure 98 is a solution that’s long overdue. It doesn’t raise taxes or take money away from existing programs. It commits a small fraction of the state’s growing revenues to our high schools.

High schools that show their plan for spending the money appropriately will receive the equivalent of about $800 per student per year.

Your support of Ballot Measure 98 can provide real opportunities for our young people. I've always appreciated the political support for CTE from Congressman Schrader, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, and Representatives Gomberg and Reardon. Please vote yes!

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