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Making CTE work through CTSOs.

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Look around virtually any high school in America during CTE Month[R] and describe what you see. You might see Skills USA members building a ramp for the school, National FFA members planting a tree, DECA members soliciting support for a GTE Month research survey, or FBLA members collecting. eyeglasses to donate to the local Lions Club. Whatever the activity--and the possibilities arc endless--you'll see career and technical student organization (CTSO) members buzzing around the school, engaged in activities that promote goodwill, learning, leadership and academics. A 2007 study conducted by Alfeld et al. verified that the benefits of CTSOs include teamwork, decision-making, competitive proficiency, leadership, community awareness, career awareness, and personal and social development. (1)

CTSOs and Pedagogy

GTE stakeholders understand the value of CTSOs. We believe in their value enough that we not only encourage our students to take part, but we also encourage our own children to participate in one or more CTE programs. A January 2013 listsery message from Jim Stone, director of the 'National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE), stated:

"Career and technical student organizations (CTS0s), like DECA, FBLA, FCCLA, FFA, HOSA, SkillsUSA and TSA, are one of the most powerful pedagogies available to the field of GTE, yet it seems to me that they receive far less acclaim than they deserve. Although there are many factors that contribute to students' academic and technical achievement while in high school, many of our most accomplished GTE graduates cite their active involvement in a CTSO as a primary reason for their success."

But we already knew that, didn't we? Utilizing CTSOs as an instructional strategy has been CTE's ace in the hole for nearly a century. It has been a pedagogical goldmine that CTE teachers have used for decades to motivate students and integrate academic skills with occupation-specific skills.

Addressing the Skills Gap

The highly acclaimed 2011 "Pathways to Prosperity" report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) identified some of the shortcomings of our "traditional" school system today, and implemented a project to identify a better educational model that will produce I more effective results for our learners. The background behind the project was centered on "the forgotten half," as they called it, identifying the 20,000 million or so youth who are not college-bound. (2) It could have just as easily been called "the forgotten two-thirds" had it examined college completion rates, as opposed to merely college-bound students.

The project described a youth population facing the skills gap, or those lacking the skills and work ethic needed for meaningful employment. It also noted that youth unemployment or underem-ployment is at its highest level since World War IL But most importantly, it went into great detail dissecting-wig the skills gap exists for today's youth, as well as how to fix it.

When all was said and done, those working on the project arrived at a solution on how to correct our educational system's shortcomings. The short answer: Most young learners do not learn by sitting in a classroom all day, and increasing the rigor for the curricula without changing the setting is of little value. Learners need contextual, applied learning, and they also need to be able to connect that learning to the world of work. Does that sound like anything you've heard before?

CTE and Contextual Learning

If there is one thing stakeholders tout as it relates to GTE, it is the fact that CTE employs contextual learning. Look at some of the learning strategies commonly used. First, GTE often utilizes a cooperative approach to learning, whereby learners, teachers and employers develop a training plan and make the workplace an extension of the classroom. -Pathways to Prosperity" lauds apprenticeships and field experiences as a primary pedagogical boon. While the authors looked to Europe lor an misting model, they only had to look in their own backyards to discover that CTE has been doing this for years.

The second facet of this "new and innovative" learning system described in "Pathways to Prosperity" is contextual and applied learning. While CTE content naturally lends itself to contextual learning, CTSOs are nothing but contextual learning. CTSOs are co-curricular, and they provide learning opportunities through a variety of strategies based on course competencies. Learners take part in educational activities outside the classroom that may include community service, leadership, competitive events and career awareness--all of which reinforce the learner's curriculum. Students learn to integrate academics within CTSO activities, and the CTSO provides unique learning opportunities. For example, a study by Miller and Mueleners of CTSO participants cited student organizations as a primary factor that helped them to learn new skills, prepare for change and develop positive attitudes. 3 CTSOs provide an authentic form of instruction for learners, and they are essential to developing a successful CTE program.

As GTE professionAcive like to

As much as CTE stakeholders like to extol the benefits of CTS0s, there are little data to prove the academic value of CTS0s. While studies have been conducted on the non-academic benefits of CTS0s, and more studies have been conducted to analyze the academic benefits of CTE in general, little has been done to validate the fact that the contextual, applied approach through CTSOs enhances academic achievement. We believe it, and we know it to be true, but to date we can provide little evidence other than anecdotal.

CTSOs and Academic Achievement There are several reasons why CTSOs likely improve academic performance, and there are also factors that impact why learners often react positively to CTSO participation. Two of those factors relate to:

1. How engaged CTSO members are in their respective CTSOs

2. How long they have been involved in the CTSO A 2010 study of third-year senior DECA members was conducted to measure the aforementioned factors against academic gains or losses.4 The study used each member's freshman year GPA as a baseline, and then surveyed students to identify how active they were in DECA activities. Because each participant was also a third-year senior member, a "pre-DECA" GPA was established and related to each year of membership. The study also took into account other extracurricular and outside activities. GPA increases were then examined as they related to level of engagement and year of involvement, and the movement in GPA was analyzed throughout the duration of their high school careers.

The results of the study showed that involvement in DECA did, in fact, show a positive relationship between levels of engagement, years of membership and academic performance. Using the pre-DECA GPA as a baseline, 139 of the 212 students examined showed GPA increases, while 163 of the 212 showed either a constant or increasing GPA. Furthermore, increases were higher during the second year of involvement than in the first. A graphical depiction or the results can be seen in Figure 1.

Finally, because the study examined all DECA members--regardless of their activity level within the organization--it also showed that there was a direct relationship between how active DECA members were versus their academic gains. As one might suspect, students with higher levels of engagement showed greater gains than their more passive counterparts. Factor in GPA increases with levels of engagement, and the results point to the suggestion that if a student is actively engaged in DECA, the odds of showing academic gains go up exponentially.

CTS0s: What Do You See?

While each CTSO has its own strengths and weaknesses, they do all share traits that make them more alike than different. Early in the 20th century there were few commonalities between CTS0s. and they were only banded together as a result of political realities and the need for federal funding.5 However. CTSOs have evolved into much more than distinct entities and now share significant common ground. As a result, although the academic-gains study was conducted only with DECA members, it would not be unreasonable to infer that similar gains span across all CTS0s. As noted in the HGSE study, applied, contextual learning works, and no aspect of our public schools utilizes that concept on a more widespread basis than do CTS0s.

At this time or year, CTSO members are hard at work preparing for state and national leadership and competitive events and conferences. While there are many effective programs within our public schools, I would challenge any program to demonstrate more student effort and motivation than our CTSO members display in preparation for their events.

Now that it is CTE Month, look around your school again. What do you see? You see hundreds of CTSO members applying the skills and knowledge that they have learned in the classroom. You see students who want to participate, want to be engaged, and want to be active. You see leadership and teamwork. You see personal and social development. You see academic gains. You see a model for learning that is unsurpassed by any other in our nation. You see hundreds of students preparing for their futures in both productive citizenry and meaningful employment, and they may not even know it yet. But we do. Celebrate CTE Month through your CTSO and continue to prepare your students for the future in ways that cannot be replicated through any other venue.

"Celebrate CTE month through your CTSO and continue to prepare your students for the future in ways that cannot be replicated through any other venue."

Learn about the great work of CTSOs at


(1.) Alfeld, C., Stone, j., Aragon, S. R., Hansen, D. S., Zirkle, C., Connors, J., & Woo, H. (2007). Looking inside the black box: The value added by CTSOs to students' high school experience. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota.

(2.) Symonds, W., Schwartz, R., & Ferguson, R. (2011). Pathways to prosperity: Meeting the challenge of preparing young Americans for the 21st century. Report issued by the Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

(3.) Miller, K., & Meuleners, M. (2000). Straight from the source. Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers, 75(1), 24-25.

(4.) Kosloski, M. (2010). Relationship between membership in DECA. An association of marketing students, and grade point average as an indicator of academic success. Norfolk, VA: Old Dominion University.

(5.) Gray, K. C. & Walter, R. A. (2001). Reforming career and technical education teacher licensure and preparation: A public policy synthesis. Columbus, OH: National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education, The Ohio State University.

Mickey Kosloski, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the STEM Education and Professional Studies Dept. at Old Dominion University. He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:career and technical education and career and technical student organizations
Author:Kosloski, Mickey
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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