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Overcoming Obstacles to CTE in Alternative Education

Whether it’s a court or community school, continuation school, independent study program, camp or juvenile hall, nontraditional schools serving at-promise populations are ironically some of the most overlooked opportunities for Career Technical Education while having the greatest potential to make a serious impact on student futures with quality CTE programs.


81% of students who drop out say relevant, real-world learning opportunities would have kept them in school.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation



Space: When we think of traditional “shops” and CTE programs, they are usually behemoths. We envision car lifts, woodshops filled with huge machines, vast culinary programs - and that’s all fantastic, but it isn’t always feasible. Alt Ed sites are often making the best of a shifting scenario, which can mean constant reassignment of classrooms or entire campuses, sharing space with elementary or adult schools, or an assemblage of portables.

Here are three techniques you can use to overcome the obstacle of limited space:

  1. When working with limited space, look for scalable CTE programs that can work in different environments.

  2. Identify 1-2 classrooms with built-in storage, sinks, electricity or more working space than others to begin with, so you can still offer hands-on learning.

  3. Challenge your team with envisioning how a CTE classroom can be multipurpose - for example, could it serve as BOTH a lecture space for English and a lab for electrical wiring practices?

Teachers: One of the most common questions I hear is: “How can I offer CTE programs if I don’t have instructors with CTE credentials?”

Here are a few approaches to the obstacle of CTE-credentialed teachers:

  1. Are you serving middle school students in California? Implement a career exploration course introducing students to different industry sectors using CALPADS course code 9236 - which doesn’t require a CTE credential.

  2. Help your existing teachers earn a CTE credential. In California, the most intimidating requirement for a CTE credential can be the required work experience in a specific industry sector. So, survey your teachers - do any of them have “side jobs” doing construction projects on weekends, a photography business for weddings during the summer, or something similar? If so, they may meet the requirements without even knowing it. Check with your district or county office of education for guidance regarding CTE credentialing. They may have a preferred program they recommend, or advice regarding funding and how it may or may not be used to assist your teachers with this process.

  3. Look into waivers or split an FTE with multiple Alt Ed sites.

  4. Give your teachers CTE curriculum they can get trained for and implement instead of asking them to build it from the ground up.



The Revolving Door of Students: The credit-recovery model and variability of student enrollment at Alt Ed sites is one of the biggest challenges to making traditional CTE programs work in Alt Ed. Many Alt Ed programs are receiving students during different marking periods in the year, and they may toggle back and forth between different Alt Ed sites throughout the year as well.

So how are you supposed to ensure your students are meeting the CCI (College and Career Readiness Indicator)? Here are some techniques you can use to tackle this:

  1. Implement CTE curriculum that is NOT SCAFFOLDED. If you are offering a Construction Trades program that begins with safety, then construction math, then history of the trades, and so on - what happens when a student shows up in February? Do you ask them to catch up on the past 5 months’ worth of content? If you offer a program with stand-alone units, students can jump in any time. You can meet them where they are.

  2. Align your pathways with offerings at home schools or other Alt Ed sites students are likely to move between. For example, if courses within Patient Care Pathways are offered at a district’s Continuation High School, Comprehensive High School and Community School, the chances for students who move between those sites completing the pathway is better than if they toggle between different industry sectors as their enrollment shifts.



An Unfortunate Correlation: Data shows that the longer students are enrolled in school, the less engaged they become – so why is this?

Harvard suggests that engagement is inherently linked to relevancy, and relevancy is linked to student perceptions about careers. Having established the need for CTE, it’s also important to examine instructional delivery and determine what approaches are most likely to improve engagement.


“So many young people fall by the wayside because they can’t see a clear connection between their program of study and tangible opportunities in the labor market.”


The National Dropout Prevention Center recommends Active Learning, stating: “At-risk students often struggle to learn in a traditional classroom. Classrooms where learning activities are varied give these students the opportunity to excel. Students become involved in their learning rather than disinterested. Involved learners enjoy school and become lifelong learners. Numerous research studies have shown the value of active learning, particularly in improving the achievement level of the lowest-performing students and minorities.” (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1992; Kagan, 1994; Slavin, 1983)



So, what kind of project-based learning, non-scaffolded, standards-aligned, pre-designed, scalable CTE programs are already working, and how can you adopt the same model?

Students practice venipuncture in the Veterinary Medicine unit

For middle school: Or grades 9-10 in Alt Ed sites, customizable career exploration labs introduce students to as many industry sectors as you want! Provide equitable, approachable college and career training to students of all abilities with programs like College & Career Ready Labs, as a middle school lab teacher explains: click to watch video.

Paxton/Patterson - College & Career Ready Labs - provide the best college and career preparation for middle school and high school students. The learning systems utilize problem-based education and real-world technology. Students are empowered to discover their interests and aptitudes, along the pathway to postsecondary success. The unique programs concentrate on STEM Education, Health Science Careers, and Architecture & Construction. Paxton/Patterson also carries the most respected line of tools, equipment, supplies and furniture for schools.

For more information visit


Resources compiled by:

Marianne Bland

Sr. Educational Consultant


College & Career Ready Labs

Contact Marianne to discuss your goals for CTE in Alt Ed:


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