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Is career and technical education just enjoying its 15 minutes of fame?

Efforts to undo years of stigma surrounding career and technical education (including dropping the outdated language of “vocational education”) have received significant attention over the past couple of years. Numerous career and technical programs have been added as academic path choices, and demand for workers with technical skills has surged.

But is this education enthusiasm here to stay? American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Hess and RJ Martin explore how media attention toward career and technical education has grown and how that compares to other prominent education reforms from the past two decades. Their report, “Is Career and Technical Education Just Enjoying Its 15 Minutes of Fame?” examines the heightened interest in this type of education and its long-running notability compared to No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and the Obama-era push to overhaul teacher evaluation.

Since 1998, the number of articles mentioning career and technical education has increased more than a hundredfold… Since 2004, media mentions have grown over tenfold, and they have doubled since 2012. In short, the coverage devoted to career and technical education has exploded during the past two decades. This heightened interest in career and technical education is part of a larger trend, which entails increased attention to skills training and workforce preparedness…

To put coverage of career and technical education in context, Figure 3 shows the attention devoted to three of the 21st century’s most notable education reforms: No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Common Core, and the Obama-era push to overhaul teacher evaluation. At their peaks, No Child Left Behind and Common Core received three to five times as much media attention as career and technical education garnered last year. At its height in 2012, teacher evaluation received 50 percent more attention than career and technical education received last year.

Yet, while it has not come anywhere close to those peaks, career and technical education has shown a markedly different public profile than these other reforms—all of which exploded to public consciousness over a span of three or four years and then declined. Career and technical education, on the other hand, has seen a long, dramatic, and uninterrupted build over an extended period of time.

Source: AEI

The Center’s involvement in this space through its “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” project has witnessed the lack of controversy surrounding career and technical education. It is refreshing the long pattern of support this area has and because of this, a decline in public interest seems less likely than the previously mentioned—and more polarizing—education reforms.

For a lighter perspective on the attention devoted to career and technical education, the report compares mentions of career and technical education in mainstream U.S. media to mentions of generally well-know pop culture figures.

Over the past five years, for instance, career and technical education has held its own against Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth while generally outdistancing celebrity Kim Kardashian and two-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Steph Curry. Indeed, career and technical education’s press mentions outpaced Kardashian’s in four of the past five years and Curry’s in all five—including both of his MVP campaigns.

Source: AEI

Education reform efforts will persist, and their success will fluctuate. But when it comes to career and technical education, the report concludes this reform is “poised to be a focal point.” Its rebranding from vocational education has spiked public interest, and it has gained prominence because of its strong link to the labor market. The Center will continue bringing awareness to the value of career and technical education and engaging the broader education and policy communities to do the same.

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