May 23 2017

Perkins Reauthorization: An Opportunity to Address Career and Technical Education Teacher Shortages

This is the third installment of our blog series, Solving Teacher Shortages.

On May 17, the House Education and Workforce Committee passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act in a bipartisan move that paves the way for reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act). The Perkins Act provides more than $1 billion annually to support high-quality career technical education (CTE) programs. Through the reauthorization, Congress has an important opportunity to strengthen CTE offerings in high schools around the country.

CTE helps prepare young people for success in both postsecondary education and a range of high-wage, high-skill careers and is a critical engine for our economy. Students concentrating in CTE programs graduate high school at higher rates (93%, compared to an average national freshman graduation rate of 80%) and succeed at higher rates in postsecondary education. These courses also provide a high return on taxpayers’ investments, netting the economy at least twice as much in benefits as the students’ training cost.

When integrated with strong academics, opportunities for applied learning, and student supports, CTE courses help students develop the skills necessary to succeed in college and a 21st century economy, such as critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and self-direction. Such high-quality courses require a strong and stable pool of CTE-certified teachers, yet in CTE—as in many subject areas—prepared and experienced teachers are hard to find. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2016–17 nationwide listing of teacher shortages, 34 states reported shortages of CTE educators.

This serious shortage of CTE teachers undermines quality and limits access to these courses. With the reauthorization of the Perkins Act, Congress has the opportunity to fix this persistent problem by supporting evidence-based strategies to recruit and retain these highly skilled and critically important teachers. The House Committee bill gives a nod to educator workforce issues of recruitment and development—an important first step. As the Senate prepares to debate and pass its own bill, it has the opportunity to go even further in ensuring that students have access to high-quality CTE educators.

Shortages are particularly acute in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields—areas of labor market shortages generally. The country needs to do much more to produce STEM professionals, including teachers, by underwriting their postsecondary education, as many other countries do, and subsidizing preparation for teaching credentials. Also lacking are financial and career incentives for recent graduates or experienced STEM professionals to choose teaching over a higher-paying industry position. Rural districts face an additional challenge, often struggling to recruit industry experts to isolated geographic areas. High attrition rates also contribute to shortages: Like educators in other fields, CTE teachers are retiring or leaving the profession for other opportunities.

Reauthorization of the Perkins Act provides an opportunity to support and expand state and district efforts to address CTE teacher shortages. While the bill passed out of the House Committee includes a few supportive policies related to CTE teacher quality, it does not adequately address shortages and is unlikely to change before it is passed on the House floor. The Senate, which has yet to pass a bill out of Committee, now has the opportunity to introduce a strengthened reauthorization proposal. A Senate bill would benefit from being more explicit about how states and districts can use Perkins’ resources to implement evidence-based practices to increase the recruitment and retention of CTE teachers and administrators and to expand their higher education faculty partners. The bill could also require states to document their recruitment and retention efforts in their CTE State Plans and allow states to set aside Perkins’ funds specifically for these purposes. Additionally, Perkins could:

  • Provide financial incentives and additional supports for individuals with industry or educational backgrounds to become certified as CTE teachers, particularly in STEM-related fields. For example, Alabama and Tennessee offer financial incentives for CTE teachers, including allowing industry experts to count their professional experience as years of teaching for salary purposes, and providing statewide grants to supplement certain career sector salaries. Tennessee’s Apprentice Occupational Education License also provides more flexibility to teacher applicants by counting industry experience toward higher education degrees. Virginia offers a provisional license to CTE teachers who do not hold industry certification credentials, allowing them extra time to earn these necessary credentials.
  • Incentivize CTE teachers to earn industry- or sector-specific certifications and credentials, such as in the STEM fields or other high-demand industry sectors or occupations. For example, Ohio provides additional funding based upon the demand for industry-specific jobs, with 25% of the funding being used directly for personnel expenditures and 75% directed toward educator needs, such as curriculum development, work-based experiences, and instructional resources for teachers.
  • Improve the pipeline into the CTE profession by underwriting preparation for individuals from both industry and academic backgrounds, particularly in subject-area shortage fields. For example, New York City’s CTE teacher residency program, Success via Apprenticeship Program, offers a paid teaching internship, industry work experience, and post-academic study. Alaska, where CTE programs in rural districts are often taught by only one educator, made a concerted effort starting in 2010 to recruit, train, and retain teachers through professional development and mentoring programs and by strengthening Regional Training Centers. This program, a joint effort between the Department of Education & Early Development and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, included strategic partnerships with industry experts, educator development and CTE organizations, and the University of Alaska system to provide professional development, credentialing, and increased leadership development for CTE teachers.

Other options for addressing the shortage through reauthorization include allowing states to use federal funds to increase teacher support and retention, including through opportunities for mentoring and high-quality professional development. This effort would also be advanced by allowing the Secretary of Education to award grants that could be used to implement evidence-based efforts to recruit, prepare, and retain CTE teachers.

Perkins reauthorization is more than a decade overdue. Much has been learned about needed  improvements in CTE and how best to strengthen these popular and important courses. Indeed, a number of states and districts have already begun these reforms. Now, the ball is in Congress’ court to pass a bill informed by the latest research and that supports states in their efforts to recruit, support, and retain the high-quality CTE teachers needed to ensure that all students are fully prepared for college and career.


Kathryn Bradley and Hans Hermann provided research support for this blog.