Changing the game in American education
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In a year filled with cultural strife and political partisanship, the bipartisan House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act by an historic 37 to 0 vote. How and why did this happen?

It happened because Americans now understand the critical need for intelligent investment in reforming education. It happened because economically relevant Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs – what we used to call “vocational” education – are proving themselves to be clear pathways to middle-class employment for young people. And it happened because it’s time to prepare our nation’s youth with the skills needed for the 21st century economy.


What, exactly, was accomplished here, and why is it so important? The previous legislation expired in 2006, and remained largely unchanged for decades. But just last week – with leadership from Republican Committee Chair John Kline and ranking Democratic Committee member Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottProposed Virginia maps put rising-star House Democrats at risk Industry, labor groups at odds over financial penalties in spending package Historically Black colleges and universities could see historic funding under Biden plan MORE, and uniform support from both sides of the aisle – the bill cleared its first major hurdle to reauthorization. How did the Committee reach a unanimous vote during this period of gridlock and discord?

First, let’s detail how Perkins Act funding operates currently, and how it will be changed. Today, Perkins Act spending is comprised largely of a per capita allocation supporting far too many programs that prepare students for low-wage occupations – the jobs of yesteryear. The bill passed last week incorporates significant changes. 

∙ CTE programs must now be economically relevant based on federal metrics to receive funding. CTE programs must be linked to labor market data on where the best jobs are, and are likely to be. 

∙ The new bill will require coordination between high school and postsecondary programs, because most of today’s and tomorrow’s well-paying jobs require a postsecondary degree. A high school diploma is no longer enough.  

∙ The revised Perkins Act will provide incentives for strong business sector engagement with high schools and colleges. Legislation also will provide for experiential learning so young people are truly career ready with both strong academic skills and the skills needed to succeed in the workplace. 

∙ Most important, there will be specific metrics for success – metrics such as graduation rates and subsequent employment.

These common-sense solutions – cross-sector partnerships, rigorous and targeted curricula, workplace learning, clearly defined success metrics – are already driving remarkable results. Recognizing that a high school diploma is no longer enough to build a middle-class career, IBM and its education partners developed the P-TECH grade 9 to 14 schools connecting education directly to jobs.

Launched with a single school in 2011, the P-TECH network has grown to 60 schools across six states –with more on the way. At the inaugural school – located in a low-income neighborhood in New York City – roughly 30 percent of students have finished their “six-year” program one to two years early, with two-thirds of the first class on target to complete their high school diplomas and associate degrees on time. No students from the inaugural program have required remedial college courses.

Innovative programs like P-TECH need to be the new normal, not the exception to the rule. Workforce opportunities continue to change, and education and skills programs need to change too. It is critical that all of our young people have opportunities to prepare for high-wage, 21st century jobs, regardless of who they are or where they come from. Such preparation is essential for the economic growth and strength of our nation.

More than 250 businesses; local and national education organizations; civil rights organizations and community leaders outlined their support for Perkins reauthorization in a letter to Congress. A diverse group of businesses, education and labor leaders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the NAACP, the United Way, the State University of New York and IBM, found common ground in a desire to provide the next generation with hope and opportunities for success.

The revised Perkins bill now must pass the full House and Senate. Passage of the legislation will be critical to the future of American education and our economic competitiveness. We are hopeful that the House committee’s unanimous, bipartisan approval signals that Republicans and Democrats, supported by business and labor, educators, community leaders, parents and students who are united behind common-sense solutions will result in an update of our education system, leading to a stronger economy and more opportunities for our young people.

They deserve it.

Litow is Vice President of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs at IBM. He is a former Deputy Chancellor of the New York City public schools.

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