Policy brief

Making the Most of Career-Technical Education

Options for California
W. Norton Grubb
University of California, Berkeley
David Stern
University of California, Berkeley


Career-technical education (CTE) is back in the policy spotlight, as Governor Schwarzenegger and key legislators seek strategies to strengthen California’s much-criticized high schools. Some forms of CTE that integrate academic with occupational content could usefully be expanded to provide high school students with multiple pathways to college and careers. This strategy, which we call “CTE/ multiple pathways,” is more feasible and desirable for California high schools than other approaches to CTE—including the traditional vocational education of the past century, the “dual” systems developed in Austria and Germany, or the sophisticated technical training provided in community colleges.

Three kinds of evidence show that CTE/multiple pathways are more effective for students. The best evidence about outcomes, based on random-assignment and other studies, shows that career academies enhance students’ motivation in school and their employment and earnings after high school without decreasing academic course-taking, high school completion, or college enrollment.

Second, CTE/multiple pathways are more consistent with evidence about what motivates and engages students than are conventional practices. Finally, CTE/multiple pathways provide novel responses to criticisms about high schools, including the charges that high schools are boring, irrelevant, impersonal, and rigid.

California can expand CTE/multiple pathways by building on existing practices in career academies, restructured high schools, Regional Occupation Centers and Programs (ROC/Ps), and community colleges. More funding will certainly be necessary. This might initially be allocated in project grants to high schools with the interest and capacity to reform, followed by categorical grants and then incorporation into general revenues. Additional funds should be provided over five to ten years, since restructuring high schools requires careful planning and implementation.

Additional funding, though surely necessary, is surely not sufficient. It will also be necessary to provide the following:

  • technical assistance, to help high schools with restructuring;

  • preservice and in-service professional development, for both teachers and principals, to prepare them for new ways of teaching;

  • curriculum development, to combine academic with occupational content;

  • more work-based learning opportunities, to complement school learning; and

  • the data necessary to monitor the effectiveness of new forms of CTE.

With these elements, CTE/multiple pathways could lead the way toward a thorough reform of high schools, providing a broader set of opportunities for students and enhancing both their academic and their occupational competencies.

Suggested citationGrubb, W. N., & Stern, D. (2007, April). Making the most of career-technical education: Options for California [Policy brief]. Policy Analysis for California Education. https://edpolicyinca.org/publications/making-most-career-technical-education