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Getting down to business.

Business education (BE) classes are among the most frequently selected by students within career and technical education (CTE). These courses often attract students with diverse and varying academic interests and abilities as they go throughout middle school and high school, and possibly on to community colleges or universities. There are as many different teaching styles and approaches as there are BE teachers. However, within this popular subject area, most agree that there is one true constant: change.

That things will be different in the future is certain. This is the perspective shared by a great many teachers who help prepare students with the skills they need to enter the business community of today.

What distinguishes excellence in BE classrooms are those teachers who are able to engage students in the most current subject matter while at the same time enabling them to be open to what may come in the future.

According to Texas Business and Technology Educators Association (TBTEA) President Gay Vick, "We must teach our students above all how to be flexible. In our classes, we acquaint them with the basics. From there, we encourage them to learn to adapt to whatever new equipment and software updates they encounter in school or the workplace."

Individuals come into the business world today already possessing specific skills more often than was true in the past. Therefore, what can distinguish the best candidates for the workforce is the ability to handle and accept change.

Technology as Teacher

Ask any business educator what has changed in the field over their careers and the first answer will always be technology. As much as any other single area, office skills have been completely transformed by the use of computers and computerized equipment.

Generally speaking, BE covers a broad range of competencies including communications, financial procedures, economics, entrepreneurship, international business, principles of management and law, interpersonal and leadership skills and career development--as well as information systems and technology.

Classes may be taught in traditional classrooms or in computer rooms. Many BE students are also involved in co-op programs where they attend school part of the day and spend the rest of the time at work at a real job in the community.

A few decades ago, the focus in a BE classroom might be shorthand, typing and bookkeeping. Today, shorthand is all but obsolete, typing is now "keyboarding," and students learn to do accounting using spreadsheet software.

According to Dianna Carpenter, a teacher for 28 years in West Virginia and former president of ACTE's Business Education Division, "When I started teaching, everything was in book-type classes such as accounting, business law and business math. Today, everything I do in class is computer-related." Carpenter says she is a very strong proponent of computer use. "I can't see any job in the future that doesn't use them or doesn't deal with technology in some way."

Sandy DuBose, president of the National Association of Classroom Educators of Business Education (NACEBE), agrees.

"In only 25 to 30 years, things have progressed so much," says DuBose. Before retiring last year, DuBose was teaching Microsoft Certification at Duncanville High School outside Dallas, Texas, as well as training teachers in workshops on the same subject. Like many long-time BE teachers, she has seen a "complete transformation of business education" as a result of new technology.

Teacher Jeri Rorie, also at Duncanville High School, says that going from typewriters to computers was "a huge advancement that totally changed the concept of business education.

"Most of our students today have access to this technology at home," says Rorie. "As a result, they are 'savvy' to many things involved in technology."

One of the challenges facing teachers is keeping students excited about what they are learning. Rorie and other educators have observed that some students are so used to technology, they aren't interested in spending time on the basic concepts on which other more advanced subjects rely. Restless students may complain of being "bored," says Rorie, "because they don't want to learn the basics before moving to the more advanced concepts."

Hands-On Experience

Engaging students in BE courses is often a matter of teachers appealing to students in the way they most prefer to learn, leading to better student outcomes and higher standards. A recent study in the Journal of Career and Technical Education showed that among BE students the most preferred learning experience was "direct experience" with a "clear preference for hands-on learning."

Researcher Wanda L. Stitt-Gohdes of the University of Georgia found that high school business education students preferred "personalized learning where the instructor [was] well acquainted with the whole student, where the student [was] actively involved with others, and where the student [was] participating in the learning activities."

Rorie says she sees great excitement in her students "when they learn something they know they can use." According to Rorie, "the BE classroom presents relevant information that students recognize will be used in accomplishing their future goals. As a computer teacher, my students learn hands-on. I present the concept and the instructions and then watch as the students implement these skills into assignments. When they come back and tell me how useful the information and skills they learned in my class have been to them in other classes or college, I feel like I have done my job!"

Carpenter remarks that students today are so "immediate-driven" that teachers simply cannot stand and lecture for an hour. "You have to keep them challenged or you lose them," she says. "And, if you lose them, you never get them back."

TBTEA President Vick, a teacher at Benton High School in Texas, uses several different projects in her Microsoft Office courses to promote the practical use of business skills. For example, in teaching Excel, she has the students follow 10 stocks on the stock exchange. They use the Internet for research, set up a basic spreadsheet, "buy" shares of certain stocks, and then periodically update the spreadsheet to understand how the software uses formulas, keeps track of profits and losses, and so on.

Another hands-on project involves creating a newsletter using desktop publishing. Students again use the Internet to research articles and then they write up summaries on them. Working in pairs, the students pull these articles and summaries together and create a joint newsletter, while following a full sheet of design specifications.

Vick also teaches co-op students who spend half their day working in a real office. These students do a project where they keep a checkbook using spreadsheet software, including a budget and spending log. Vick believes that this teaches an important life skill, giving students an idea of what it will cost them to live in the future based on what they earn and their needs.

Doug Smith, president of the National Association for Teacher Educators for Business Education (NATEBE) and an educator at the high school and post-secondary level for 31 years, sees simulations as the best hands-on technology applications in BE.

"There is now terrific software that puts students in the context of such careers as banker, stockbroker and accountant," says Smith. "While 'utility' software such as word processing, spreadsheets, and databases are useful, contextual software that simulates the work environment provides much needed realism."

The move to standards-based instruction and authentic assessment have also brought many changes to BE. Curriculum for public schools is now driven by the National Business Education Association (NBEA) standards. The curriculum for business teacher education is driven by the standards of the NATEBE.

According to Smith, "Authentic assessment is one of the best reform initiatives in years. Out went the multiple choice, matching and true/false questions. In came performance events featuring assessments as workers on the job would perform them."

Super Students, Top Teachers

These days, students in business education courses are likely to enter with some level of technological skill--even at the middle and high school levels. In contrast to the old clays when the first time a student might have touched a typewriter was in the classroom, today something like 70 percent of 11.S. households have a computer. And the youngest members of the family are frequently the most technologically savvy.

"Students have definitely changed!" says Rorie. "Our students today are used to being entertained and they want school to be as exciting as the video games they play. I think teachers today must be much more involved in technology and the opportunities it can offer our students."

BE classes have become available to many more students today than in the past, including students with special needs. According to Vick, "There was a time when computer classes might have been for gifted and talented students only. Now, teachers are using computers to reach special education students in amazing ways."

Among students with special needs succeeding in BE today are economically disadvantaged students, students for whom English is a second language (ESL) or those who have limited English proficiency (LEP).

According to Vick, who works at a school in "Texas with a high number of these students, teachers today have much more knowledge about their students than ever before. "Because of the focus on statewide testing and assessment, we can really see where our students stand and understand what they need." Vick says that practice tests give teachers the information to better help students as individuals and meet their unique needs.

Rorie talks about the great success rate at her school for students to earn Microsoft User Specialist certifications in tour different areas--Word Core, Word Expert, PowerPoint and Excel Core.

"I think the most inspiring thing is having several students in special education accomplish this goal," she says, "even one young man who is visually impaired."

What's Next

Of course, what the future holds for business education is change, change and more change. One of the up-and-coming areas that many teachers anticipate will transform BE and the workplace may mean the end of typing skills that have for so long been a mainstay of office work.

"The next big trend I see will be with voice recognition (VR)," says Rorie. "I believe the keyboarding skill will become obsolete, much like shorthand today."

Carpenter also sees VR on the horizon for BE's future. However, she notes that as we work our way to that time, proper use of the keyboard will continue to he important and students will need to learn keyboarding younger and younger.

Rorie concurs, saying, "In a few more years, students will not need basic computer courses in high school--they will have received that instruction in elementary school. I believe our BF, courses in high school will be much more specialized and advanced."

Smith notes that technology "will continue to change daily." He also sees BE becoming "a stronger partner with business wherein business could consider business educators as ambassadors of the business community in school.

"That will require a trend to more formal content background for business teachers," lie says. Smith believes that soon "most business education programs will require a full B.S. in a content area of business and business work experience for admission to business teacher education."

The challenges facing business educators are many--including keeping updated equipment in the Classroom and keeping themselves technologically updated as well. Another challenge is attracting qualified candidates to these classes and keeping them excited and engaged in the coursework.

Business education, like all areas of CTE, must convince parents and students that this form of education is rigorous and rewarding. Thus, BE needs to continue Lo be tied to rigorous business-validated standards and assessment, and classrooms should be partnering with businesses whenever possible.

Teachers in business education today will undoubtedly find success by using all the various resources available to them, including continually updating their own education and training, networking with other teachers, working with businesses in their communities, involving parents and administration, and supporting and becoming involved in student and educator professional organizations--including ACTE.


The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTS) places a strong emphasis on BE under the umbrella of CTE. The Business Education Division of ACTE is comprised of teachers, teacher educators and supervisors of business education. As a group of educators interested in business, the Business Education Division is also associated with the National Business Education Association (NBEA) and the Policy Commission for Business and Economic Education (PCBEE).

The following are the three main groups affiliated with the Business Education Division:

* The National Association of Classroom Educators of Business Education (NACEBE), a professional organization specifically involved with problems and concerns of classroom educators. Founded several years ago by teachers to combine the talents of all persons associated with the classroom function of business education, its membership includes both secondary and postsecondary educators. It is the intent of NACEBE to develop the business education area for the common good of all career-technical education. The purpose of NACEBE is to promote, develop, and upgrade business education throughout the United States and surrounding territories, to promote the purposes of ACTE. and the ACTE Business Education Division, and to cooperate with other divisions and organizations to prepare students for the workplace.

* The National Association of Supervisors of Business Education (NASBE), an organization of business education supervisors who are direct employees of a state, region or local education agency. The purpose of this organization is to further the cause of business education and the welfare of the field and professional members.

* The National Association of Teacher Educators for Business Education (NATEBE), an organization dedicated to the planning, developing and sustaining of programs for teacher education in business education. Through meetings, discussion groups, and research and development, this organization seeks to promote teaching careers in business education and supports the mission and goals of the Business Education Division of ACTE. Membership includes teacher educators and graduate students who are involved in business education.

Business Education Resources

For more information on business educator and student organizations, check out the following links:

National Business Education Association

Business Professionals of America

Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda

Sandy Cutshall Is a regular contributor to Techniques. She works as a writer/editor in Mountain View, Calif., where she also teaches adults English as a second language.
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Title Annotation:business education
Author:Cutshall, Sandy
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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