How does the Region 8 Career and Technical School fit into local education system?
Career and Technical Education trains students for employment and prepares them for higher education based on Department of Labor projections of what is needed for the local economy. Maine law is clear that students must have access to CTE and the Legislature has set up a system to ensure that students can participate in these opportunities in every part of the state.
Region 8’s Mid-Coast School of Technology is the designated Career and Technical School that serves 19 towns in Knox and part of Waldo County and includes the island communities of Vinalhaven, North Haven, and Islesboro.
A section in Maine law, Title 20-A, Career and Technical Education, outlines the rules that apply to CTE. The mission of Maine’s Career and Technical Education can be found on the Maine Department of Education website: maine.gov/doe/cte/. This site also lists which CTE programs have been approved for each Maine CTE school and the industry standards accepted for these programs. It is important when discussing CTE to understand these requirements.
Some have recently questioned why students should be bused to a CTE school when they can “get everything they need at their sending high school.” It should be understood that although some high school electives have course names similar to CTE offerings, academic high schools do not have the legal mandate to offer Career and Technical Education. There are good reasons for this and significant differences between high school electives and approved CTE programs.
A CTE program must be taught by a certified CTE instructor. (The rules for CTE teacher certification are available on the MDOE website.) The instructor must be a qualified professional in the area they are certified in as well as being a certified Maine teacher. For example: If the teacher is certified to teach welding the instructor must be a professionally certified welder. If it is a CNA program, the teacher must be a registered nurse. A culinary instructor must have experience as a professional chef as well as training and certification as a teacher. This is to ensure that the CTE instructor has the training, including safety training, to cover all aspects of the state approved industry standards for that profession.
Many of the electives in the sending schools could be viewed as consumer or hobby type courses. An example of this is Consumer Car Care. It is a good idea for young people to learn the basics about automobile care and ownership. Most of them will own a car or truck and learning to care for it will make them a safer driver and knowing about its care could have significant financial implications for them as well. Such a class, however, is not meant to train auto mechanics. A Career and Technical auto mechanics program is required to have 350 hours of instruction each school year and students who want to get certification in one or more areas should plan to spend two years in an Automotive Technology Program taught by a certified CTE automotive instructor.
There is also the importance of having the right equipment to teach these programs. This is one of the significant reasons that regional CTE schools were put in place rather than trying to have each high school provide CTE programming. When a CTE program gets evaluated by industry professionals (as they are legally required to do) one of the many aspects reviewed is the equipment available for student training. Each program is required to have up-to-date tools and equipment to ensure that students are taught on equipment that is current in the industry they are being trained for. Most high schools cannot outfit a machine shop, a commercial kitchen, an automotive shop, a welding and fabrication facility, etc. A district might be able to afford a couple of these but to give students access to a variety of CTE programs that meet industry standards, the state put in place a system where students in specified geographic areas attend a single school that provides CTE for students from several districts. It should also be understood that CTE programs are a lot different than industrial arts or home economics, which are generalized and introductory courses not in-depth programs taught to rigorous industry standards.
Another reason for Career and Technical Education programming to be only offered in CTE schools is related to safety and oversight. Camden Hills Regional High School is currently evaluating whether they will continue to use New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) to audit their school. There is a reason why schools should be evaluated by an outside organization whether it is NEASC or another auditor. This allows a committee from outside the school to ensure that all aspects of an educational program are adhered to. In the case of a Career and Technical school there are multiple oversight processes that ensure the school is meeting the rigorous requirements for CTE education.
One type of school review for Maine’s CTE schools is called the Comprehensive School Review or CSR. A few of Maine’s CTE schools use NEASC but most use the CSR process put in place by the Maine DOE. A team of 10 to 15 educators from the DOE and other CTE schools with like programs review everything from the curriculum to Americans with Disabilities and Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance. Individual programs are also reviewed by a team from the industry area that they serve. For example: Region 8’s Culinary Arts program is accredited by the American Culinary Federation. After an extensive self-study by the instructors, an ACF team made a multi-day visit to the program. During this time they reviewed the curriculum, the credentials of the instructors and the equipment. They also interviewed students and employers where graduates of the program are employed. A similar process takes place for other programs to make sure programs are aligned with what industry needs and are training students for relevant job opportunities.
Many CTE programs are also evaluated by the community college system and students in approved programs can be dual enrolled in college and high school at the same time. This allows CTE students to get college credit if the high school CTE program is verified to be aligned with a like offering in the community college — giving them a head start on earning an associate’s degree.
CTE schools provide the opportunity to attain a variety of industry recognized certifications. These credentials must adhere to strict requirements specific to the program area being taught. For example: a Certified Nursing Assistant credential can only be bestowed on a student who has met all of the standards required by the State Board of Nursing. The RN must provide a minimum number of hours of classroom instruction covering the CNA standards. Students are also required to spend a specific number of hours in a supervised clinical setting. A limit of 10 students per clinical supervisor ensures the activities of the students are closely monitored. This ensures the safety of the patients and provides multiple opportunities for each student to demonstrate the skills needed by a CNA. After these requirements are met an assessment is given. By regulation this test cannot be given by the instructor. This ensures outside verification that the students have actually mastered the required knowledge and receive no coaching from their instructor. A set of required standards to be met through classroom instruction, practical demonstration and end of course assessment by a neutral party are essential elements of Maine’s approved CTE programs whether it is a welding program, machine tool or culinary arts.
Another type of oversight is the requirement for CTE programs to have Program Advisory Committees that include local industry professionals. These committees are required to meet with CTE instructors at least once a year, but most meet at least twice yearly and many have on-going dialogue with the instructors throughout the year. This process is meant to ensure that the instructors stay current with changes in the industry and are training students with the skills that local employers need.
CTE programs are required to be offered under the supervision of a CTE director. The director is responsible for insuring that all CTE requirements are being met through working with the instructors, the PAC and the industry auditing groups such as American Culinary Federation or the American Welding Society to insure that the mandated standards are complied with and that financial support is provided to ensure that the equipment and supplies are adequate to meet these standards.
These oversights ensuring alignment with industry standards are not required for electives offered in high schools. If an elective welding course is offered at a high school there is no requirement that the instructor be a certified welder, and not even assurance that the required industrial safety standards are being taught or complied with. A high school culinary elective may be interesting but it does not meet professional standards or utilize commercial equipment to train students for the hospitality industry.
There has been recent talk locally of a “School of Ideas” and a STEM-based diploma which some have suggested should supplant Career and Technical Education. The article I read about a “School of Ideas” sounds very much like a charter school. Maine recently has allowed charter schools and there is a commission that approves applications for them. However, it should be clearly understood that charter schools cannot be a substitute for CTE. Further, if a charter school is put into a community it has financial implications for the public schools that tax payers should be aware of. The Skowhegan area has two charter schools and these schools have had significant impact on the local school budgets.
So what do these programs cost? Every year at budget time Region 8 becomes a target. So it may surprise many to understand that less than 10 cents of every dollar spent locally on secondary education (grades 9-12) is used for Career and Technical Education. Students in Region 8 can access automotive technology, auto body, baking, carpentry, CNA, culinary, design tech (graphic arts), EMT, firefighting, horticulture, marine trades (boat building and maintenance), machine tool, medical science, pre-engineering, small engine repair, and welding. This seems like a pretty good investment in our young people to me.
In conclusion, the Career and Technical schools are an important component of Maine’s education system. They should and must provide programming aligned to industry related standards. These programs are a separate part of the education system and cannot be replaced by offering electives or starting a charter school. Funding must be provided to adequately support these schools to fulfill their mission. A CTE director is responsible for ensuring the quality of the programming, hiring CTE certified instructors and working with the school board to ensure funding is provided.
Elizabeth Fisher is the director of Mid-Coast School of Technology.