Let’s Commit to Giving CTE Students the Opportunity They Demand and Deserve

Career and technical education (CTE) has changed a lot from the “old vocational education” that many of us know from our school days. For the better part of this century, States and local communities have worked steadily to build high-quality CTE programs that are academically rigorous and aligned with labor market demands. The whole idea of the artificial separation between academic and technical pathways is passé. Most professions and careers in the 2016 and future economies require strong academic foundation skills, considerable technical knowledge and skills, and well-developed employability skills and attributes. There is nothing about CTE today that is not rigorous, relevant, and worth it.

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Deputy Assistant Secretary, OCTAE
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Director of Policy, OCTAE
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Director, Division of Academic and Technical Education, OCTAE

21, 23, or 26? Rethinking Eligibility for Youth Who Have Aged Out of Foster Care

Good health is really important. That is why we all need access to health care we can afford. Regardless of our age. Up until January 2014, foster youth over the age of 18 did not have that access. It was at that time that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act required states to provide Medicaid coverage for foster youth until they turned 26, as long as they were in foster care and receiving Medicaid at age 18. This was a huge step forward.

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As a biological sister to siblings who aged out of foster care, I know all too well that eighteen is too young an age for many youth and young adults to be without financial, social, and emotional support. Having been adopted, I, like many youth, was not suddenly expected to be fully independent and entirely self-reliant the day I turned eighteen.
– Isabel Soto

Still, foster youth need more. The needs of foster youth are no different than the needs of other youth or young adults. We should make sure youth who age out of foster care can access the same services and supports our own young adult children can until they are stable and on their feet. In fact, data show that a growing number of young adults are living with their parents well into their thirties. And, recent U.S. Census data show that 18- to 34-year olds are less likely to be living on their own today than they were during the Great Recession.

Parents of young adults make sure their kids have continued care and support as they mature, pursue a higher education, or test the job market in search of their first or that next better paying job. So why aren’t we ensuring the same for foster youth or youth who have aged out of the foster care system? This makes no sense.

The good news is that several states are thinking about this and are taking steps to extend benefits and services, other than health care, beyond age 18. Today, almost every state has extended benefits to foster youth past the age of 18 and up to age 21 with federal Title IV-E funding. However, not all states are alike in the way they treat this issue. Two states have extended foster care services for youth up to age 19, two states to age 20, forty-two states to age 21, one state to age 21 ½, two states to age 22, and one state to age 23. These differences are causing some new challenges. Medicaid coverage, for example, is not transportable for many young people who move out of state and we know very little about the number of states that offer coverage to out-of-state youths today. Again, these differences in access make no sense.

Over the last couple of years, our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and our team have had quite a few opportunities to talk with and listen to both current and former foster youth. We heard their stories. We learned about their dreams. We learned about the many obstacles standing in the way of them achieving those dreams. From these conversations, we have concluded that these are reasonable next steps to ensure improved career and life trajectories for foster youth:

  • Youth in transition from foster care are often left to navigate their instantaneous life as independents alone. Policies and programs designed to assist this population accomplish little to nothing if foster youth do not know such services are available. For this reason, it is critical to first ensure that current and former foster youth are made aware of and able to access the resources available to them.
  • It is essential to have child welfare and education related staff and relevant community partners trained to help youth gain access to available supports that will help them transition to independent living.” Further, it is important that they know how to help youth access and maintain safe and stable housing, transportation, financial resources, and access to postsecondary education and career opportunities.

States are the entities deciding whether to extend benefits to foster care services for youth to 21, 23, and beyond. States are the entities that will decide to offer coverage to out-of-state youths. We realize it may take states some time to get there. The important thing is that we continue to work together at the national, state, local, and tribal levels to extend services for these youth well into their twenties and to ensure all services are transportable from state to state.

There are approximately 20,000-25,000 youth who emancipate every year. These young adults face more obstacles as they transition to adulthood such as homelessness, unemployment, difficulty accessing postsecondary education, and financial instability. This does not have to and should not be the case.

Johan E. Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary (delegated the duties of Assistant Secretary) for Career, Technical and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education

Isabel Soto is a former foster youth and Confidential Assistant in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education

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Deputy Assistant Secretary, OCTAE
Photo of Isabel Soto
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Confidential Assistant, OCTAE

Transforming the Lives of Adult Learners at Scale

Last week, I, along with regional representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke as part of a Fresh Federal Perspectives plenary session at the 2016 youth conference hosted by the California Workforce Association in Sacramento. Assemblymember Autumn Burke, a strong advocate for career and technical education, kicked off the session.

Students learning to climb utility poles in outside yard.

Beginning students learn how to safely climb poles. The program has a waiting list of several hundred students, many of whom will wait a year.

There were over 500 youth practitioners and policy makers in attendance. I stressed why partnerships are essential at all levels if we want all youth – not some youth – to have the opportunity to access a path into the middle class. Later in the day, I had the opportunity to meet briefly with the executive leadership of California’s Workforce Board to talk about California’s draft Unified Plan under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Then, I had the opportunity to hear from state administrators and local program leaders in a listening and consultation session at the California Department of Education. WIOA and state funding in California, called the Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG), California’s WIOA State Plan, and other statewide initiatives were the key topics of discussion.

Students in Photovoltaics program working in a classroom.

Students in the Photovoltaics program that integrates math, technical and hands-on training learn how to install solar panels.

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After Finals, Foster Youth Students Continue to Face a Difficult Test

Last year on December 30th, Annie Blackledge and I co-authored a blog post called “After Finals, Foster Youth Face a Much More Difficult Test.” We wrote the blog to draw attention to the issue that many homeless and foster care students find themselves scrambling for somewhere to live during winter break until classes resume in January. While several institutions have put in place solutions to avoid this spell of unnecessary homelessness, not all institutions have. I am reposting the blog from last year as an additional call to action to do the right thing on behalf of homeless and foster youth and young adult emancipated students.


After Finals, Foster Youth Face a Much More Difficult Test

As winter break unwinds and college students are at home for the holidays, many homeless and foster care students find themselves scrambling for somewhere to live until classes resume in January. College campuses traditionally close down for winter break. For these vulnerable students their college campus is their home, their community and a primary source of security. While their peers are headed home to see family and catch up with old friends, many of these young people are faced with bleak prospects for the holiday season.

These vulnerable youth face the same struggles as other young people trying to maintain good grades, navigating social peer groups, and planning their futures, but they face the additional burdens associated with little to no adult guidance or support. Fortunately, higher education professionals across our nation have begun to tackle the unique issues faced by homeless and foster care students. They are developing comprehensive strategies to address the most persistent barriers these students face; not just during the holiday season, but all year long.

“Higher education can be the silver bullet to achieving long-term health, housing, and economic security. And for young people who have already overcome so much adversity just to earn a seat in a college classroom, they should have every opportunity—inside and outside of the classroom—to succeed” says Jasmine Hayes, Policy Director for the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Ensuring these youth have a safe, stable place to call home in-between semesters is critical. Keeping student housing open and available for youth experiencing homelessness during semester breaks is an effective approach.”

Programs in states like Colorado and North Carolina have implemented Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) in their postsecondary institutions which provide these students access to designated college administrators who are committed to helping them to successfully navigate the college-going process. States and higher education institutions across the country are also working to address the issues these students face, including

  • access to higher education opportunities and financial support;
  • navigation of the college-going process, including financial aid and service referral processes; and
  • basic needs like employment, housing and food.

These efforts are ensuring these most vulnerable students reach their highest potential.

Colleges can play a pivotal role in supporting the academic success of these students. Just ask for foster youth, Alain Datcher. “Entering college as a first time student was a daunting experience. It was a mixture of culture shock, academic rigor and rapid growth. I don’t believe I would have succeeded without the support network I had in one woman – Tamara Malone. She was a mentor, academic advisor, dean and more in one caring, compassionate woman.” When asked how he thought his experience could translate for other students who are homeless or in foster care he replied, “Proximity will define opportunity for these young people. Having a close, approachable, and tangible support network will make the difference. It did in my college education at Biola University. I’ll be earning a Master’s of Public Policy degree in April. Having one caring, single point of contact in Tamra is a big reason why I will.”

When educators act, they change lives. If you know of a foster youth student in your institution, be proactive and reach out. It can make all the difference. Find out more at http://findyouthinfo.gov/.

The Challenge and Opportunity Ahead for our Criminal Justice System

In 2014, the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, released “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States, Exploring Causes and Consequences,” which pointed out that U.S. incarceration rates are 5-10 times higher than rates in Western Europe and other major democracies. It noted the staggering racial disparities in incarceration, and called for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment saying that the rise in the U.S. prison population is “not serving the country well.”

This report didn’t make a huge splash in the press, but it cemented an emerging recognition that our criminal justice policies – our school discipline, “war on drugs,” “truth in sentencing,” and “three strikes and you’re out” policies – of recent decades resulted in unprecedented and costly U.S. incarceration rates that are both ineffective as a crime reduction strategy and harmful to our social fabric. It is safe to say that this is not how we want to be known in the world community. Instead, we should be known for how we engage at-risk populations, how we reinvest in people who deserve a second chance, and how we support the successful transition of justice-involved individuals back into our communities.

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Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act – One-Year Anniversary

Last Wednesday marked one year since the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law by President Obama. OCTAE sent a special anniversary message to our State Directors. That message included a video from Secretaries Duncan and Perez who jointly commemorated the anniversary of WIOA’s passage. We wanted to share these messages with all of you.

Making a Shift in the Public Workforce System

This article is cross-posted on the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services website, the Department of Labor’s WIOA website, and the Department of Health and Human Services’ website.

Today, July 1, 2015, marks the day that many of the provisions of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) take effect. This new law has the potential to make a tremendous difference for tens of millions of workers, jobseekers and students across this country. WIOA’s transformation of our publicly-funded workforce system means that all of us—federal and state partners, governments, non-profits and educational and training institutions, must be pressing for innovations to ensure:

  • the needs of business and workers drive our workforce solutions
  • one-stop centers, also known as American Job Centers (AJCs) provide excellent customer service to both jobseekers and employers and focus on continuous improvement; and
  • the workforce system supports strong regional economies and plays an active role in community and economic development.

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Acting Assistant Secretary, OCTAE

Executive Order Elevates Career and Technical Education

Tens of thousands of practitioners and policymakers across our country have worked tirelessly over the last few years to ensure that “vocational” education–as our parents knew it–is over. Catalyzed by the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, the Administration’s 2012 Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education, and the work of major national organizations such as National Association for State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) and the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), there has been tremendous growth in availability of high-quality “career and technical” education (CTE) programs to equip students for success in postsecondary education and careers in our global economy.

These high-quality CTE programs are exactly what we want to support in a reauthorized Perkins bill. Programs that are aligned to labor market demand. Programs that require collaboration among secondary, postsecondary, business/industry, and other key partners. Programs that are accountable for academic, technical, and employability outcomes for students, based on common definitions and clear metrics for performance. Programs that capitalize on innovations in state and local policies and practice. And, programs that assure full access and equity by students regardless of background or circumstances.

Despite our efforts and the availability of high-quality CTE programs, there remains an unfortunate stigma surrounding CTE. Too many students do not know about these rigorous pathways into postsecondary education and a well-paying job or rewarding career. Too many parents think about CTE using their own experiences with “shop class” as a reference. Too many members of the general public who have yet to learn that CTE is not only a viable, rigorous option, but a path into the middle class.

This Administration is committed to doing its part to change the perceptions of CTE. On Monday, June 22, President Obama signed an Executive Order expanding the U. S. Presidential Scholars Program to include students who demonstrate scholarship, ability, and accomplishment in CTE. This Executive Order builds on great collaboration between the executive and legislative branches of government, and reflects the hard work of teams of individuals at the White House, on the Hill, and in the Department. We are extremely grateful for this effort. It moves CTE out of the periphery and raises it to a level of federally-recognized prestige on par with traditional academic pathways and the arts.

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Acting Assistant Secretary, OCTAE

Restoring the Promise of Education for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Young students who are expelled or suspended are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not. Sadly, a significant number of students are removed from class each year — even for minor infractions of school rules. One study found that 95 percent of out-of-school suspensions were for nonviolent, minor disruptions such as tardiness or disrespect.

Exclusionary discipline practices tend to disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities (see more). Nationwide, data collected by our Office for Civil Rights show that African-American students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. While black students represent 16% of student enrollment, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest.

Gender matters, too.  While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys. And when looking at disabilities, disparities persist, as well. Although students who receive special education services represent 12 percent of students in the country, they make up 23 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 23 percent of students receiving a school-related arrest.

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Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Performance Partnership Pilot Opportunity Announced

Five Federal agencies are coming together to offer a new opportunity to help communities overcome the obstacles they face in achieving better outcomes for disconnected youth. For the next 100 days, State, tribes, and municipalities can apply to become a Performance Partnership Pilot (P3) and test innovative, outcome-focused strategies to achieve significant improvements for disconnected youth in educational, employment, and other key outcomes.

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Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education