Designing and Implementing a CTE Program in Your District

May 30, 2024
Cte program Edmentum article

Educators are familiar with the benefits of career and technical education, also know as a CTE program. This curriculum engages students in hands-on, real-world learning; encourages a collaborative, project-based approach; and prepares students with the concrete skills they need to be successful in in-demand careers.

Although CTE programs typically look quite different from the traditional classroom model, getting a program off the ground doesn’t have to feel like a daunting task. As with any project, the key is to go in with a plan. 

Based on our experience working with schools and districts across the country, here are the best practices we recommend for developing a CTE program.

Best Practices to Implementing a CTE Program

1. Articulate Your Purpose

CTE is really a blanket term for a number of program models and educational outcomes, so, it’s important to clearly identify from the start why you want to implement a CTE program in your district and what goals you hope to achieve through your program. For example, are you hoping to stem excessive absenteeism by keeping students more engaged? Do you want to teach students durable skills that they can take with them after they graduate?

Do you want to improve student achievement in core academic skills through an interdisciplinary approach? Or are you looking to offer more focused career pathways to help students be college and career ready?

No matter what your school or district goals are, make sure that they are clearly defined from the outset and use them as the basis for all subsequent decisions you make about how to set up your program.

2. Determine Which Career Pathways You Will Offer

One of the key benefits of CTE programs is that they place a focus on building skills in the classroom that are directly and immediately applicable in the real world. Offering courses related to career pathways that accelerate employability is a huge piece of any successful program.

Stay in tune to the technical and soft skills that are most in demand across industries and make sure that you know which skills and careers are getting kids excited—and keep in mind that both are going to change over time. Early on, determine which career pathways you’ll offer to teach these skills—doing so will be a big help in planning other logistical aspects of your program.

Think about how you will infuse core skills into your CTE curriculum, and consider offering an exploratory course at the middle school level (often covered by expanded Perkins V funding) to spark interest early.

3. Evaluate Your Staffing Resources

Once you know what you want your CTE program to provide, it’s time to think about how to actually make that happen. Do you have teachers within your district who are qualified to teach the courses you want to offer? If not, will you need to hire? Are there online courses that can fill in gaps?

Keep in mind that many CTE certifications are in niche fields—teachers holding standard licenses may not have the expertise you need. Additionally, do you have the support staff you need to make your program successful?

Counseling and guidance staff are key in effective CTE programs and are great resources to help students determine paths where they will be successful and learn how to navigate a different kind of educational model.

4. Think About Professional Development

Your staff members are the individuals who will carry out the day-to-day implementation of your CTE program, so their understanding and buy-in is absolutely essential to success.

It’s important to have a plan to offer ongoing professional development (PD) and training opportunities in order to keep staff in the loop about the objectives of your CTE program and make sure that they’re equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to put strategies into action. This PD will look different for different staff members.

For guidance and intervention staff, it’s important to provide them with a strong understanding of the goals and benefits of CTE so that they can be effective advocates and translators for students and families involved in the program.

For your CTE instructors, especially those with an industry background or a more niche one, it’s important to provide them with interdisciplinary instruction knowledge. And, of course, make sure that all of your staff are clear on the latest standards and comfortable with all of the technology your program is utilizing.

5. Find Your Funding

It’s an unfortunate reality—budgets need to be kept in mind from the beginning with any large project. As you’re planning for your CTE program, think about the dollars currently available in your district, as well as new sources of funding you may be able to tap.

Federal Perkins grants are the go-to source for CTE funding, but there are also some career-cluster specific grants that your program may be eligible for. Do your research early (the Association for Career and Technical Education and Advance CTE both have great resource pages), and don’t be shy about submitting applications.

6. Build Partnerships Within the Community

The hands-on, clear connections to real-life careers are one of the biggest draws of CTE for students who are (understandably) always asking why career and technical education courses become truly effective, not to mention popular, when they offer learners the chance to get out of the classroom and experience the working world firsthand.

Building relationships with industries in your district’s community is the best way to create these opportunities. Reach out to different companies and express your interest in creating partnerships between their professionals and your students.

Start small by proposing brief site visits or in-class speakers and work up to more robust ongoing opportunities like mentoring, project-based learning partnerships, or internships.

You may be surprised by the enthusiastic responses you receive from industries—after all, it’s a win-win situation when your students can achieve academic success and companies end up with access to more of the skilled workers they need. Plus, working adults love a change of pace as much as students and appreciate the opportunity to give back to their community.

7. Make a Plan for Ongoing Evaluation

Implementing a CTE program isn’t a one-time undertaking. It’s a long-term commitment to a model that will inevitably grow and evolve, and along the way, you’re sure to try both great and disappointing strategies. Achieving success is all about iteration and scalability.

From the outset, think about how you will gather feedback from everyone involved—your staff, students, parents, and industry partners. Surveys can be a great tool to make sure that every group’s needs are being met.

Consider the data that you will have available from student test scores, online programs, and classroom formative assessment, and reflect on how you can put it to use to determine if your career and technical education program is meeting its objectives.

Think about how you can compile all of this information to get a meaningful read on how your implementation is going, and make adjustments to course offerings, curriculum, assessments, format, and other program components on a yearly basis.

Bring Your CTE Program to Life

With clear goals, some careful planning, and a dedication to continuous improvement, a CTE program can be a huge asset to your district to improve student outcomes. Whether you decide to implement the program with available staff or choose the option of our state-certified virtual teachers, consider Edmentum’s course offerings by viewing our curricula catalog or visiting our Career & Technical Education Toolkit for additional resources.

Ensure your students are prepared for success after graduation. Download our free Career-Connected Learning Needs Analysis to evaluate your district's goals and build an effective CTE program.

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