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SOTU: A Career-Ready Race to the Top or a Call for Perkins Reauthorization?

Published:  February 15, 2013
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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama reiterated his call from the State of the Union to provide universal pre-K to all children in America. But tucked in with his remarks was a pitch for another proposal from Tuesday's speech: to reward high schools that are preparing their students to be not only college-ready, but also career-ready. The competition would be aimed at high schools that have reimagined how they operate: partnering with colleges and businesses, focusing on emerging fields in science, technology, and engineering, and even offering students valuable industry credentials or an associate degree while they complete high school. The administration hopes this would challenge schools to provide real-world learning experiences in their curriculum, so that students attain the “skills today's employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future."

Unfortunately, the administration has offered no further details on the plan. Do they envision a Race to the Top-style competition? As Alyson Klein noted on PoliticsK-12, a competitive grant aimed at high school curriculum – not just the standards high schools teach, but also how they are taught – could meet stiff opposition from conservative lawmakers. And how much money is the Department seeking for this competition? Would funding be distributed directly to high schools and their higher education and industry partners, or through states?

To complicate the matter further, it is unclear if the president is even proposing anything new at all. Last April, the Department of Education released A Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education, its plan for reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The Blueprint included “within-state competitions” to distribute Perkins funds to consortia of secondary and postsecondary institutions, with a matching contribution from employers, rather than through the formula used today. The goal of these consortia competitions would be to encourage programs that are meeting regional labor-market needs. Sounds like a “challenge to redesign America's high schools,” right?

The related initiatives President Obama proposed in the State of the Union to promote skills leading to high-quality, high-wage jobs are all ideas he has introduced (with little success) before: a STEM Master Teacher Corps of 10,000 of America’s best teachers and an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund to bolster and improve job training in two-year higher education institutions. Maybe the competition to redesign high schools is old news too.

While it is promising that the administration is focusing on the oft-neglected “career” component of college and career readiness and looking to innovative models like early college high schools, it is hard to say how effective these proposals could be without more details. Unfortunately, the answers likely won’t be provided until the president releases his budget in March. Stay tuned to Ed Money Watch for the all the specifics then. 


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