Dr. James R. Stone III, is Director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE), which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and affiliated with Organizational Leadership and Learning at UofL. Stone says he runs the organization like a small business. With a $20M grant and 50 to 75 individuals working to support its mission, the Center is the nation’s primary provider of scientifically-based knowledge, professional development, and consulting expertise to improve career and technical education (CTE). A central focus of the Center is to provide direct consulting expertise to states and school districts based on the work of the Center. Stone said, “moving research to practice is why we exist.”
According to Stone, CTE shares a common history and many similarities with human resource development (HRD). Both consider engagement (retention within the academic program or employer organization), achievement (performance while at school or work), and transition (having the necessary skills to move successfully from high school to college, or school to work, or move within an organization or career lattice). The essential difference is that CTE takes a broader view of school and labor-force demands, while HRD focuses inward to the individuals and the needs of the organization itself. Moreover, Stone states that “if you look at the operational level, pedagogies, curriculum, and assessments [used in CTE and HRD]—there are parallels, and in some cases, the two are identical.”
Part of Stone’s outward view includes labor market data that provides information often at odds with assumptions that drive federal and state education policy. He states that everything the center does “links youths or adults to the workplace and the labor market.” One such linkage the center is currently investigating is the Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative (AMTEC)—a National Science Foundation (NSF) project that supports partnerships between manufacturers, such as Toyota, and community and technical colleges to create “a pipeline of people prepared to work in today’s highly technical shop floor.”
Dr. Stone is passionate and devoted to his work, which he describes as a “24-hour a day, 7-day a week gig.” This involves oversight of the Center’s research studies, managing the relationship of the Center with the funding agency, and keeping the eight Center consortium partners actively engaged and working with the many states and school districts with which the Center provides technical assistance. As well, Stone is the public face of the Center and is frequently invited to national and international meetings.
“In the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to discuss the Common Core Standards with national leaders at Georgetown University, present a paper on the role of CTE in STEM education with the National Academies of Science, meet with legislators and state education leaders in Texas about CTE and college and career readiness, and participate in an adult numeracy panel with the National Center on Educational Statistics. Stone, along with Drs. Pradeep Kotamraju and Donna Pearson recently worked with the state of Kentucky on drafting legislation to improve the quality of secondary CTE.
An important focus of the Center is on secondary education. A major challenge he says, is that our current secondary education system is designed to prepare all students to go to college. The problem is only 40 percent of students who start 9th grade actually earn a college credential. Stone views CTE as a conduit to help all students have successful careers, and this means equipping them with the skills to be successful in college and their careers.
According to Dr. Stone, being college and career ready means acquiring competence in three domains of knowledge and skills. The first he calls “the occupational expression of academics.” This means using academic knowledge to solve authentic problems one confronts in the workplace. The second domain is occupational knowledge, which includes employability and interpersonal skills, such as the ability to work on teams, negotiate, and understand systems.
The third domain is technical knowledge. For example, Dr. Stone said that “welders need to know how to run a bead without blowing a hole with the torch.” To do this, a welder must understand certain properties of physics and chemistry. He says these skills may be taught using authentic projects and problem-based learning, and can be taught in more traditional training settings. This applies to disciplines like welding, computers, and nursing. “It is this notion of pedagogy,” he says, “that is an important part of our research agenda.”
Dr. Stone co-authored with Dr. Morgan Lewis, College and Career Ready in the 21st Century: Making High School Matter, which was published by Teacher’s College Press (2012). Stone noted that the book draws from the past decade of Center-related research and, in part, argues for educational reform: “we have turned high school into the new middle school; that is, there is no intrinsic value in a high school education except to prepare all youth for the next level of education, presumably college… [and] the net result of such a focus is a system that ill-serves perhaps as many as 60 percent of the students who… will never complete a college credential.”
Stone also cited the nation’s extraordinarily high dropout rate as something of interest in the work of the Center. The Center’s research exploring national data back to 1992 reveals a consistent pattern that youth taking three or more credits of CTE coursework have an increased likelihood of finishing high school, which is the necessary “first condition to being college or career ready.”
While Dr. Stone’s work as director of the Center limits his ability to teach classes in the College, he does work with doctoral students pursing interests in these areas. He also works with colleagues in various Center research studies and in the pursuit of other funded research opportunities.
Dr. James R. Stone, III is a Distinguished University Scholar and Professor in Organizational Leadership and Learning. He is also the Director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. This article was written by Christine Wiggins-Romesburg, SPHR, Graduate Research Assistant and Doctoral Student in Organizational Leadership and Learning.