IMPRINT: Immigrant Professional Integration

Federal Policy Creates Opportunity for Skilled Immigrants

In March we highlighted advocacy efforts in local communities working to integrate immigrant professionals. This month we call attention to a federal policy initiative that could lead to a new career pathway for highly educated immigrants and refugees.   

In 2018 the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, also known as Perkins V, was reauthorized. This federal legislation, which governs and funds Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in high schools and post-secondary institutions, can offer a springboard for immigrant professionals who want to enroll in short-term CTE training programs. But Perkins V can also support immigrant professionals in themselves becoming teachers in CTE programs. The legislation contains provisions that can help immigrant professionals leverage their skills, training, and multilingual and multicultural experience as CTE educators, providing high quality instruction to the increasingly diverse population of students in CTE classrooms.

The reauthorized legislation provides roughly $1.2 billion in funding to states in support of classroom equipment, curriculum development, and other capacity building costs associated with CTE programs, including educator professional development. The reauthorization also signals the growing recognition of the importance of CTE in the US, and with it the potential for millions of immigrant professionals in the US to bring their advanced skills, experience and global perspective to the CTE classroom. This includes innovative programs like:

  • Toledo Technology Academy in Ohio, where students are learning robotics as part of an integrated academic and engineering program to prepare them for college and the workplace.
  • New York City’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School, which is partnering with IBM and the City College of New York to offer a computer science curriculum leading to a high school diploma and an associate degree.
  • The Health Science and Medical Technology CTE career pathway in the Long Beach Unified School District in California, where students can pursue one of six pathways in medical science, including biotechnology, with work-based learning opportunities at local health employers.

Across the US, states and school districts are stepping up with programs like these that help diverse groups of students gain the 21st century skills and the confidence to succeed in well-paying, in-demand careers—in fields like STEM, health sciences, manufacturing, finance, IT, media and communications, and business management. And CTE works. Nationally, high school CTE concentrators have higher graduation rates than high school students as a whole (93 percent vs. 80), and 91 percent of high school graduates who earned two to three CTE credits have gone on to enroll in college.

Growing Interest, Lagging Workforce

Even as recognition of the importance of CTE is growing, a dramatic shortage of trained CTE teachers in all fields is limiting the development of high-quality programs that meet the needs of schools, students, and local industries. The demand for teachers who can bring industry experience and expertise to the classroom—a priority under the reauthorized Perkins legislation—is high, as is the need for a more diverse CTE educator workforce equipped to work with increasingly diverse student bodies.

In a recent article in the Techniques journal of the Association for Career and Technical Education,  WES policy consultant Jeff Gross explored the opportunity for trained and experienced immigrant professionals to help fill these gaps. This includes leveraging the increasing popularity of alternative certification programs that work to recruit, train and support industry professionals to become CTE teachers, and “Grow Your Own” initiatives that seek to tap into the talent and diversity of local communities.

Nine in ten states have alternative certification policies for CTE instructors, and one-third of CTE teachers are licensed under alternative certification programs. While programs vary by state and subject area, they usually require teaching candidates to have some mix of industry experience, a two- or four-year degree in a relevant field, and successful completion of an industry-standard exam or skills assessment to earn a provisional license. Becoming fully licensed typically requires at least a year of supervised teaching, additional pedagogy and subject matter training, and passing statewide exams. A growing number of states is also promoting more streamlined and flexible licensing requirements, improved pay scales, and enhanced mentoring and professional development opportunities designed to reduce barriers for industry experts and help bridge the professional and cultural gaps between the private sector workplace and the classroom.

Such efforts create opportunities for immigrant professionals to bring their expertise to the CTE classroom. In New York City, the Department of Education has streamlined testing and work experience requirements to help immigrants gain an initial credential, and has convened a working group to help some of the hundreds of thousands of skilled immigrants in the city navigate the CTE credentialing process. In California, the nonprofit EnCorps STEM Teachers program is recruiting, training, and providing career support for STEM professionals to work in STEM and CTE programs in high-need schools, including scores of internationally trained immigrants drawn to the state’s high-tech hubs.

Perkins V and CTE Teachers

Under provisions for “State Leadership Activities,” the reauthorized legislation directs the use of Perkins funds to provide support for high quality, comprehensive training and professional development for CTE educators. This includes support for CTE paraprofessionals, a large share of whom are internationally educated immigrants. High among potential uses of teacher training funds is “assisting those with relevant industry experience in obtaining state teacher licensure and credential requirements”—also a priority goal of most state CTE leaders.

Perkins V also creates a competitive “Innovation and Modernization” grant program to advance evidence-based strategies to improve and modernize CTE. Initiatives aim to strengthen the “recruitment, retention, or professional development” of CTE teachers and other CTE staff. This includes developing resources to improve support for “special populations” as defined in the legislation (English learners are among them), assistance with meeting state licensing or credential requirements, and mentoring from experienced teachers. The Department of Education announced in April it would make $2 million available under this program for six, 36-month grants, with an opportunity for extension.

States, school districts, and higher education institutions can take advantage of these Perkins provisions to build alternative teacher certification programs that meet the unique needs of internationally educated immigrants and others with industry experience, and support those professionals in navigating the personal and professional shift from industry to their roles at CTE teachers. The Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, which oversees Perkins implementation, is already leading the way with the High School Career and Technical Education Teacher Pathway Initiative grant program.[1] Launched in 2017 under the previous version of Perkins, these three-year grants support creative alternative pathway programs for CTE educators. Four of the five grants awarded in 2017 include a focus on engaging and training industry professionals as classroom teachers or mentors.

What Advocates Can Do

Under the Perkins legislation, states are required submit their four-year plans to the federal government by the Spring of 2020, including a description of planned teacher training and professional development activities. State plans must be posted for public comment and must be developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including community organizations and representatives of special populations, with opportunities for in-person community input.

As the state planning process gets underway, immigrant advocates and their allies in school districts, higher education institutions, local government, and private industry have a chance to ensure that the talents, education, and experience of internationally educated professionals contribute to a high-quality CTE educator workforce that can meet the needs of all students. Community stakeholders should contact their state’s CTE director (using this list from AdvanceCTE) to find out how to be notified when the draft plan is released and/or when stakeholder meetings or input sessions are scheduled.

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