Michelle Obama: Counting on Next Generation to ‘Take Over All that We’re Doing’

First lady Michelle Obama speaks to the next generation at the Celebrating Innovations in Career and Technical Education
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

First Lady Michelle Obama told visiting students, “We’re counting on you to be that next generation to take over all that we’re doing.” Mrs. Obama’s remarks came while she was hosting Celebrating Innovations In Career and Technical Education at the White House earlier this summer.

She is counting on the “next generation” to do that through career and technical education (CTE). This is the lesser known vocational side of the college and career ready (CCR) education reform movement. It addresses post-secondary jobs that require a high school diploma and some training or college but not a four-year degree.

Breitbart Texas reported on the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the role that locally elected city officials and business leaders play in CTE. A 2015 JPMorgan Chase & Co. skills-gap report found that Dallas had a “middle-skills” gap. It is a shortage in what USA Today calls a “new blue collar” jobs market. They predict that by 2017, approximately 2.5 million new, middle-skill jobs will be added to the workforce, comprising nearly 40 percent of job growth.

Mrs. Obama told the students at the White House that schools and businesses were working together nationwide to develop curriculum for “tailor-made courses for the positions that companies actually need to fill.”

This is the occupational rung of her Reach Higher initiative, the companion to the President’s North Star campaign where everyone must have college or some professional credential by 2020. The goal is for the United States to emerge as the leader with highest proportion of college graduates in the world and not just the leader in college loan debt.

She emphasized a recurrent theme that high school was not enough to compete in “today’s globalizing economy.” The First Lady called CTE the best option for many.

“You can get all the professional skills you need for a good job in a high demand field and you can do it at the fraction of the time and more importantly, at a fraction of the cost compared to a four-year university,” she said.

Last summer, she scolded San Antonio high school students. She said it was “not acceptable” to skip out on college or other professional certification. This summer, a more tempered Mrs. Obama said, “a four-year university degree is not your only option.”

U.S. Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan called CTE “hands-on engaging, rigorous, and relevant” learning. She said it connects students with high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields.

In June, President Obama signed an executive order, expanding the United States Presidential Scholars program to fold CTE into the CCR academic program, according to the U.S. Education Department (USED).

Grant money is available through the U.S. Department of Labor. An accompanying “Reach Higher Career App Challenge” from the USED is supposed to launch.

CTE entices many students with the promise of school-to-work ready credentials and a possible paycheck. In 2011-2012, 7.3 million high school students enrolled in a vocational class, according to USED. The Heartland Institute reported that was about half of the national secondary school population that year.

Tracey Cortez, CTE Department Chair at an Austin Independent School District (ISD) high school, noted a “definite rise” in students enrolling in technical training in the middle school years. He said approximately three-quarters of Lanier High School students enrolled in a CTE course. He believed this was comparable across the school district. In a district produced video, Cortez said as the students transition up, they continue to trend towards CTE and not towards college and career ready pathways.

“The majority of our CTE classes are extremely rigorous in that we try to include skills that are actually industry-based” says Cortez. “Our students that are earning certification are doing the same certification that somebody walking into that industry would have to have so they would have to meet the same rigorous standard.”

In 2013, Rand Corporation sociologist Robert Bozick questioned  if modern day rigor and relevance stacked up in CTE math. He determined: “Occupational courses as supplements to a traditional academic curriculum do not distinctively contribute to math learning.”

Austin ISD touts CTE as providing “opportunities for students to acquire 21 century academic and technical skills needed for entry into the global workforce.” These “contributing members of their community,” graduate ready for “college, career, and life in a global, multicultural society.”

Nationwide, CTE coursework is based on 16 federally defined career clusters. It includes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 1990, 1998, and 2006. It also includes the School-to-Work Opportunity Act of 1994, the Obama administration’s 2012 Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education, and organizations the National Association for State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEC), and the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE).

CTE programs in Texas must also comply with the state education standards. This references the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (TEKS) listed under Title 19 of the Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Chapter 130.

In 2014,  American Federation of Teachers (AFT), president Randi Weingarten wrote that the union will “continue to advocate for increased funding for CTE, through both the Perkins Act and state legislative activity; will work to create appropriate professional development and externship opportunities for teachers; and will seek to partner with businesses, labor organizations, foundations and nonprofits to grow student internships and mentoring opportunities as well as the overall reach and impact of career and technical programs.”

Mrs. Obama told the students, “We’re counting on you to be that next generation to take over all that we’re doing.”

Passionately, she added, “Mentoring you and raising the next generation up to be great is a personal goal for me and my husband.”

She said, “We’re only getting started.”

Mrs. Obama hoped that the next generation would be ready to partner with her and the President when “we get out of here.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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