12/13/2011 and 12/15/2011 – NJCCVTS Testimony before the College and Career Readiness Task Force

December 15th, 2011

Testimony Before the College and Career Readiness Task Force

Dr. Philip Guenther

President, NJ Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools Superintendent, Atlantic County Institute of Technology

December 15, 2011

Good evening.  I am Dr. Philip Guenther, superintendent of the Atlantic County Institute of Technology and president of the NJ Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.  The Council represents all 21 county vocational-technical school districts that together serve over 31,000 high school students.

The data sheet attached to my written remarks shows the diversity of our schools and students: • Mix of full-time and shared-time students (about ¾ full-time; ¼ shared-time) o Full-time enrollment has grown steadily over the past 10 years and accounts for 25% growth in county vocational school enrollment • About 50% minority students • One-third of our statewide population is drawn from former Abbott districts • One-third of students are economically disadvantaged

As this task force considers some critical questions for our state, I urge you to keep careers as a central focus of “college and career readiness.”

The ultimate goal of public education is to prepare young people for careers that will sustain them financially and enable them to be productive, contributing citizens of our state.  While a college degree is the best way for many to achieve that goal, college readiness, in and of itself, is not the same as career readiness.

There has been a lot of discussion about college readiness over the past few years, and this term still means different things to different people and institutions.  Readiness for credit-bearing work in an engineering degree program is different than readiness to begin a liberal arts program.  Readiness to succeed at a prestigious four-year institution is different than readiness to begin coursework at a community college.

I believe state policy should be directed to ensuring that, at a minimum, every graduate of a New Jersey high school will be prepared for either credit bearing  work at a community college, or readiness for postsecondary technical training that leads to an industry-recognized credential.

However, being prepared to begin college coursework bears little relationship to being career-ready.  So what does it mean to be career ready?

From a policy perspective, I think the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) has done the best job to date of defining the components of career-readiness that must be considered.   Academic skills – Students need a strong academic foundation in math, English, science, and social studies to be career ready.  Rather than piling on more advanced level math skills, ACTE suggests that career readiness depends on the ability to master and apply algebra and geometry in a real-world situation.  Employability skills – In today’s economy, employers need people who can communicate well, solve problems, use new technologies, and contribute to a team.  They value critical thinking skills, creativity, and a sense of personal responsibility and integrity.  These 21st century skills, adopted by NJ three years ago and included in Standard 9 of the current curriculum framework, are a central focus of all career and technical education programs.  NJ should continue to focus on and value these areas as we move to implement Common Core State Standards.  Technical skills – True readiness for a career demands some job-specific skills.  This could be technical training at the secondary or postsecondary level that leads to an industry credential or license, such as a certificate from CISCO or the National Auto Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF).  Or it could be research and analysis skills developed in a collegiate setting and honed through internships and other work-based experiences.

Certainly, what we are seeing in today’s economy is that a college degree, in and of itself, is not a ticket to employment and career success.  And sadly, numerous studies show that the majority of young people who begin college do not complete their degrees.   Career-focused learning can make all the difference.  CTE programs are rigorous – our students must meet two sets of standards.  In addition to the academic standards that continue to be raised, our students must meet industry standards for their career area and pass an appropriate certification or industry-recognized exam.  These are both written and practical assessments and they make the HSPA look like a day at the beach.

For example, cosmetology students must pass a state licensing exam that requires extensive knowledge of biology and chemistry.  The CISCO, Java, and Oracle exams that our students pass are geared toward professionals in the information technology industry and require both technical proficiency and problem-solving.  Our building trades students are prepared to take the exam required for entry into the Carpenter’s Union, which measures their math skills as well as the technical skills.

Measuring industry skills is important, and we welcome national efforts to improve and extend these assessments to include more industry areas and the all-important 21st century skills that are essential for success in all careers.  The tests currently available to certify “employability” skills focus more on low-level work-readiness and academic skills needed in the workplace rather than on cross-industry employability skills.  None of these standardized exams has emerged as the gold standards and further work is needed in this area.

In addition, I ask you to consider our success with both average and special needs students who struggle with academic skills in a traditional course format, but can understand and apply science and math content in a shop setting.   A student who can “solve for x” and calculate the area and materials cost for a building project has achieved far more than one who struggles with advanced algebra that has little real-world application for his career plan.

If New Jersey is serious about college and career readiness, then CTE programs and industry examinations should count toward high school graduation.  While all students should be required to fulfill basic academic course and assessment requirements in language arts, math and science, students must have the flexibility to achieve career readiness by completing a coherent sequence of CTE courses and a technical skill assessment.

While NJ’s county vocational-technical schools continue to increase the rigor and academic content of CTE programs, there is a “tipping point” at which too much emphasis on academic coursework will limit career-focused learning options for students who are most in need of these programs.  If academic requirements are too rigid, either CTE program quality will diminish, or only the strongest students will have the option to attend.  Struggling students will be relegated to remediation geared toward passing an end of course exam rather than having the opportunity to master the core math and science skills required for success in their chosen careers.

Please consider some flexibility for CTE students who are taking 30 credits or more in a career program leading to an industry certification or assessment.  This could be a flexible third year of math and science that supports a students career program. Or, it could be flexibility in requirements outside the academic core, such as visual/performing arts, financial literacy and world language.

We must ensure that New Jersey allows students to pursue multiple pathways to college and career readiness, so that every student will be prepared for success in employment, postsecondary technical training, or college.

Testimony Before the College and Career Readiness Task Force

Presented by Mikki Regan, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Morris County Vocational School District

December 13, 2011


Morris County Vocational School District provides the following services to students who are residents of Morris County:

  • Approximately 1,000 students; over 700 full-time in grades 9-12 and  300 shared-time who attend half-day in grades 11-12 for CTE programs while completing academic coursework in home school district
  • 22% of our students are classified – much higher than the statewide average for special education, but our special needs enrollment is about average for county vocational schools (23% statewide)
  • Broad range of CTE programs includes career academies for Mathematics, Engineering and Science; Health Care Sciences; Veterinary Sciences; Visual/Performing Arts; Networking, Information Technology and Communications; Finance and International Business; Law and Public Safety; Child Related Careers and  Culinary Arts. Trade and technical programs including Carpentry, Plumbing, Electrical Trades, Automotive Service Technology, Auto Body/Collision Repair, Cosmetology, Computer Aided Drafting and Welding.  Programs for students with special needs include Retail/Supermarket Careers, Building Construction, Building and Grounds Maintenance and Food Services. MCVSD is successfully preparing our students for college and careers.
  • We have a 100% graduation rate with 82.3% going to two- and four-year colleges, 3.8% into the military and 13.9% entering employment or apprenticeships.  Compared to statewide, approximately 70% of county vocational school graduates go on to college or advanced technical training.
  • Majority of full-time seniors take actual courses at County College of Morris – they are in regular college classes earning a minimum of 22 college credits as part of their high school program.
  • Articulation agreements with college partners such as UMDNJ, New Jersey Institute of Technology and  Fairleigh Dickinson University allow qualified students to earn an additional 20-32 college credits for rigorous coursework completed at the high school with instructors who serve as adjunct professors for the colleges.
  • Not only are they prepared academically, having completed rigorous language arts, math, science and social studies courses with us, but they also have a career focus and sense of purpose.  Whether as high school seniors at County College of Morris or as students at four-year universities, our students succeed because they are ready for college and on a clear pathway to a degree and career. Too many students go to college because it is expected, rather than to achieve a clear goal. Knowing why you are in college makes all the difference.

Our board and our district are committed to high standards for all students.  We are already engaged in preparing for the implementation of Common Core State Standards in Language Arts and Math that will raise expectation for all New Jersey standards.  Our administrators, teachers and students will rise to this challenge.

However, we ask you to keep in mind that one size does not fit all, and a single college preparatory curriculum will not meet the needs of all New Jersey students.  As New Jersey reviews its high school graduation requirements, it is essential to maintain multiple pathways to success.

In February, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a groundbreaking report called Pathways to Prosperity, which noted that our nation’s focus on college-readiness alone does not prepare young people to actually succeed in college or to develop the abilities employers expect in the 21st century workplace.

Recent studies have predicted that by 2018, there will be 47 million new job openings in the United States, many of which will be replacements for workers who have retired. About one-third of these jobs will require a high school diploma, approximately one-third will require a four-year degree or more, and about one third are in “middle skill” occupations that require an associate’s degree or industry certification.  Almost all of these jobs will require real-world employability skills, such as critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, creativity and communication and technical skills. This is the critical “career” component of “college and career readiness.”

The Harvard report recommends rethinking the concept of ‘college for all’ to focus instead on ‘a post-high school credential for all.’ It calls for a new focus on high quality career and technical education programs, and the creation of career pathways that will equip students with the academic and technical skills for viable careers in a today’s economy, including  “middle skill” occupations in construction, health care, manufacturing, offices, and other fields that require specialized knowledge, but not a four-year degree.

While we embrace the Common Core State Standards as a positive step for New Jersey, I urge you to ensure sufficient flexibility in specific course requirements required for high school graduation.  Students should have sufficient time for CTE programs and options to pursue the math and science courses that will support their career focus.  While a student preparing for an engineering degree needs four years of advanced math and science, a student preparing for a trade or technical career may be better served by algebra, geometry and a third year of math that will reinforce their ability to apply academic concepts to real-world situations.  Similarly, we caution against requiring all students to take a narrow scope of college-prep science courses.

This flexibility is particularly critical for students in shared-time CTE programs who face very real time constraints in their schedule.  A student who wants to come to my district for half days in junior and senior year needs to be on track towards fulfilling their academic requirements by the end of tenth grade. Already we see that sending districts are unable to permit a student who has failed a course or needs remediation to pass the HSPA to enroll in a shared-time program. In order to provide equitable access for all students we also offer instruction in Applied Mathematics and/or Applied Science as part of the student’s CTE program. These courses are taught collaboratively by a CTE Instructor and Math or Science Instructor providing student’s instruction in career specific Mathematics or Science New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. Adoption of a three year Mathematics or Science course sequence that would eliminate the possibility of these courses as the student’s third year of Mathematics or Science would effectively eliminate the 300 students annually from participating in the share time program.

This scenario will surely intensify as the Common Core Standards and associated assessments come into play.  My fear is those students who are most in need of a CTE program to provide relevancy, engagement and motivation will be squeezed out of our programs.  If they are turned off by the purely academic focus in the home high school, these students will be at risk of dropping out.

I also urge you to preserve an option for students to meet high school graduation requirements through alternatives to traditional “seat time.” Morris County Vocational School District uses the “Option II” provided by code to enable students to take courses at County College of Morris, Ramapo College, Fairleigh Dickinson University, UMDNJ and New Jersey Institute of Technology and to include internships and other structured learning experiences in their high school program. This flexible option works well for our students, and should be preserved in code going forward.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.  I would be happy to answer any questions. I would also like to invite members of the Task Force to visit Morris County Vocational School District to meet our students and faculty and to observe our rigorous and relevant programs.


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