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Uniting the Arts & Career and Technical Education

Narric Rome

I recently attended a meeting of national arts education advocates and leaders from the career and technical education (CTE) community. It was a meeting designed to explore the policy efforts of both communities and to see if there was mutual interest in launching an initiative together.

It was clear from the 90 minutes we met that, from a national perspective, there is significant and deep parallels to our work and a joint approach has great potential.

Here’s what we discovered:

1)    Same Federal Challenges – At the federal level, both the arts and CTE have undergone similar treatment at the hands of the federal government. Like the Arts in Education program at the U.S. Department of Education, the federal CTE program was zeroed out annually in the Bush Administration budget, but funded by Congress each year. CTE programs are consistently targeted for reduction or termination, as they were in the recent H.R.1 legislation earlier this spring.

The similarities extend into our approaches to reauthorizing the Elementary & Secondary Education Act – CTE advocates would like to see greater use of multiple measures in assessments (addressing the narrowing of the curriculum which impacts us both), the promotion of our curriculum as a way to reduce the dropout rate, and a expansion of state data systems to provide greater insight into gaps of service and access issues.

2)    Similar Roles in Promoting 21st Century Skills – There are several CTE-related national organizations, all of which have a common thread of helping students “flourish in a global, dynamic economy” and in a “competitive economy.” That’s a similar approach to the Arts Education Unified Statement signed by over 70 organizations (sign up here), which states, “As this country works to strengthen our foothold in the 21st century global economy, the arts equip students with a creative, competitive edge.”

This connection becomes even clearer within the series of CTE “career clusters” that link school-based learning with the knowledge and skills required for success in the workplace. The “Arts, Audio/Video Technology & Communications” cluster provides support for “Designing, producing, exhibiting, performing, writing, and publishing multimedia content including visual and performing arts and design, journalism, and entertainment services.”

3)    Same Support for Deeper Learning – Both the arts and CTE provide a method and learning environment that support deeper learning of a subject or process. These are the ingredients for developing creative and innovative graduates–the primary demand and interest of future employers and policy leaders. The arts are the home of creativity and much of the synthesis, transfer and multiple intelligences that contribute to the pedagogy of the arts are found in the skills sets developed in CTE.

There’s much more to learn about the parallels between these sectors. There’s some history of the two having state and local conflicts, most recently of which was addressed by an insightful paper by the California Alliance for Arts Education titled, “Both And: Understanding the Vital Link Between Both the Arts And Career Technical Education in California Public Schools.”

I look forward to continuing this exploration with my arts and CTE colleagues, and hope that we can find more commonalities and work towards a common agenda.

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