WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, co-chair of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, along with U.S. Senators Mark Warner, Barbara Boxer, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Bob Casey, introduced the Middle School Technical Education Program (Middle STEP) Act that would expose middle school students to CTE programs focused on career exploration. The Middle STEP Act would establish a pilot program that allows middle schools to partner with postsecondary institutions and local businesses to develop and implement CTE exploration programs that give students access to apprenticeships or project-based learning opportunities, which are traditionally not available to students until high school or postsecondary programs. Kaine introduced an earlier version of the legislation in the 113th Congress. Kaine’s intention is to have the Middle STEP ACT included as an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and is expected to be debated on the Senate floor in the coming weeks.
“Middle school is an important time for students to be exposed to a wide range of career choices,” said Kaine. “Instead of having students wait until high school to explore their own strengths, likes and dislikes, we should encourage students to take full advantage of CTE exploration that will educate them about coursework and training that matches their career interests.
“Expanding opportunities for career and technical education will prepare more students with the skills to succeed in the 21st century,” said Warner. “Allowing young people more time to explore their options empowers them with more choices, sets them up for success in whatever path they choose, and ensures that America’s future workforce is prepared to compete in a global economy. I’m proud to join Senator Kaine in this effort.”
In addition to providing students with access to apprenticeships or project-based learning opportunities, middle school CTE programs funded through the Middle STEP Act would give students access to career guidance and academic counseling to help them understand the educational requirements for high-growth, in-demand career fields. Programs would help students draft a high school graduation plan that demonstrates what courses would prepare them for a given career. The programs must also provide a clear transition path from the introductory middle school program to a more narrow focus of CTE study in high school and must be accessible to students from economically disadvantaged, low-performing, and urban and rural communities.
“Career exploration is truly of critical importance, because it can help students to identify where their passion and skills align through experiential learning,” said LeAnn Wilson, Executive Director of the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). “By encouraging institutions to create those opportunities for middle school students during such a formative time in their educational career, we can help them to get excited about their coursework and empower them to make smart choices about their future.”
“Public schools are no longer about merely fulfilling requirements for college eligibility. The mandate of college and career-ready standards is to promote the readiness of students to assume whatever postsecondary challenge they choose. The Middle STEP Act allows students to explore options earlier in their education and place their learning in a real-world context,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, Executive Director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
“To become a fully functioning, self-actualized person, each young adolescent needs the chance to take charge of their own learning, have the chance to make choices, chart their growth, develop leadership, and demonstrate responsibility, ” said William D. Waidelich, Executive Director of the Association for Middle Level Education. “Middle school CTE programs help students explore their own strengths and preferences,” said Waidelich, himself a former CTE educator.
“Investing in career preparation in the middle grades is a low-cost, high-impact solution for ensuring a skilled, competitive American workforce. Every dollar spent helping middle grade students prepare for career and college provides vital educational and economic benefits down the road. We applaud Senators Kaine, Boxer, Warner, and Casey for leading this effort and encourage all Members of Congress to support the Middle STEP Act,” said Quentin Wilson, President and CEO of ALL Management Corporation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors initiatives to help students develop skills and knowledge to succeed after middle school.
The Middle STEP Act is endorsed by the Association for Career and Technical Education, Association for Middle Level Education, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, Alliance for Excellent Education and the State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium.