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The Role of Equity in CTE

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

It’s often said, “you can be anything you want when you grow up.” It’s an inspiring notion, but unfortunately, does not hold true for ALL students in our current system. Why not, you might ask? The answer is simple, yet extremely complex to address; lack of equity creates barriers for many of our students.

What is equity?
Equity is a small word with big implications for career and technical education (CTE). Educational equity means that every student has access to the educational resources and rigor they need at the right moment in their education across race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation, family background, and/or family income. Based on CTE student enrollment data during the 2017-18 school year, 77 percent of all 11th and 12th grade students participating in CTE were Caucasian, but this doesn’t match the diversity of our student population as a whole. Why the difference?

Likewise, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English language learners make up 31 percent of all 11th and 12th graders. Yet when looking at CTE concentrators (students who have taken three CTE courses within a pathway), this same group makes up only 27 percent of all concentrators. What accounts for the 4 percent difference? Is one of the subgroups accounting for the entire difference? Gaps like this call for us to look closer and ask hard questions.

Equity in CTE programs means removing barriers in order to allow ALL students access to quality instruction, resources, and the experiences necessary to take that next step towards college and career readiness. This ultimately helps every student graduate and successfully transition into the workforce, military, or more education.

If not addressed, a lack of equity in schools, and CTE programs specifically, will place a heavy burden on Wisconsin’s employers. Now more than ever, business and industry are looking for innovative ways to attract a diverse group of highly skilled employees. As a CTE teacher, how does this affect your work? Have you considered how you can develop a diverse and skilled group of individuals entering a career cluster? How can CTE teachers and administrators support business and industry in developing a diverse and abundantly skilled workforce?

What can we do?
Students come to us with all sorts of challenges: trouble with the English language, disabilities, low economic status, social-emotional issues, and underrepresentation, to name a few. What choices can we make as a CTE community alongside our administrators to even the playing field so ALL students can succeed and become contributing members of society?

Here are some simple things you can do to begin addressing the lack of diversity and inequities within your reach.

  • Develop an awareness of your student population. What does your student data show based upon sex, race, disability, national origin EL/ESL, gender, ethnicity, etc.? To get a clear picture of the demographics you’re working with, go to the WISEdash portal, click on the box titled "STUDENTS," then use the dropdown menus to choose your district and the "group by" category.
  • Start with you. Begin by taking implicit bias surveys. Harvard University offers many to start with. By taking an introspective look at your own biases and judgments towards others, you can begin to broaden your scope of inclusivity and participation. Do your implicit biases come through and affect student viewpoints on careers and educational attainment?
  • Check your surroundings. Do the items displayed on your walls, bulletin boards, and classroom materials reflect the diversity in the classroom and the world outside the classroom?
  • Notice your words and body language around your students. Reflect on the practices, messages, or unconscious actions and possible microaggressions that may be perpetuating or encouraging a lack of diversity and equity. How do these subtle messages impact the student populations that you teach? What can you do today to embrace equity?
  • Refer to the DPI Tools: Leading for Equity and Equity Decision and Policy Tool. Though these tools were created for DPI as an agency, you can adapt the language to your situation. The objective is to help shift thinking and behaviors to promote decision-making and interactions based on equity and diversity.
  • Check out equity resources from our national partner, National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity.
  • Encourage access. Actively engage underrepresented students in discussions of programs they may not know about.

As CTE professionals, we can have a huge impact by meeting students where they are and fostering an environment of improved equity and diversity. Start small and work to be more inclusive of every student. Why, you may ask again? Our future workforce depends on it!

—Submitted by Christina Patrin, Health Science Education Consultant, HOSA State Advisor, Career and Technical Education, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction