Perkins V: Tackling Gender Disparities in CTE

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Written by: Claus von Zastrow
Jan. 16, 2019
In late July, President Donald Trump signed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, a reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Perkins V, as the new law is commonly abbreviated, departs from its predecessor, Perkins IV, in several important ways while upholding core aspects of the earlier law. (See a summary of the new legislation here.)

This is the last in a four-part blog series about key features of Perkins V that can help states strengthen their CTE efforts. The series explores the law’s aim to promote closer ties between schools and industry, expand access to work-based learning opportunities, improve data on racial and ethnic disparities and foster better gender equity. Read the previous installments here.

Jobs that pay well but don’t require college degrees are growing at their fastest clip in 30 years, according to a Washington Post analysis. That’s good news for Americans who need pathways to success that don’t pass through four-year colleges.

Yet not everyone is benefiting equally from this resurgence. In the same Washington Post article, Georgetown economist Nicole Smith puts the problem bluntly: “If you don’t have that [college] degree, you better be a guy.” Women hold 1 out of every 4 jobs that “require only a high school diploma and pay at least $35,000 annually.” If current gender patterns in career and technical education are any sign, the future might not be much brighter: Females are scarce among high school CTE students concentrating in well-paying fields, such as information technology (33 percent), science (27 percent), and manufacturing (19 percent), according to an analysis of federal Perkins data

Fortunately, Perkins V, like its predecessor, includes provisions that aim to promote better gender balance in secondary and postsecondary CTE programs that lead to high-paying jobs. The law addresses non-traditional fields, or fields where one gender comprises less than 25 percent of the workforce. It requires states to devote some federal Perkins funds to addressing these gender imbalances. It also requires states to evaluate how well they meet their own targets for improving the gender makeup of CTE programs that lead to non-traditional occupations.

These provisions have changed little since Congress reauthorized the Perkins Act in 2006, and that raises a question: Can we expect much to change in the coming years? The answer lies with states. States that take advantage of Perkins provisions to set ambitious but feasible goals for improvement in non-traditional fields and invest in that improvement can help right the gender balance in CTE.

States can take inspiration from fields outside of CTE. Efforts to promote gender diversity in computer science are starting to gain traction. For example, a national effort to attract female students to Advanced Placement computer science courses has begun to pay dividends. In 2007, girls took 18 percent of AP computer science tests. In 2018, their share had risen to 28 percent. Computer science advocates embraced such strategies as recruiting girls into coding classes, promoting female role models in technology and giving teachers and administrators professional development to avoid the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle messages that alienate girls and women.

Perkins funds can support similar strategies in CTE: expose girls to career awareness events, train high school guidance counselors to help girls consider a broad array of CTE options, connect students to role models, help teachers combat pernicious messages. Strategies such as these can help more girls and women benefit from the renaissance of rewarding middle-skill jobs.

Author profile

Claus von Zastrow

Claus von Zastrow

Principal at Education Commission of the States |

Claus oversees efforts to improve statewide longitudinal data systems and provide state-by-state data on STEM education. He has held senior positions in education policy and research for more than 17 years and has spent much of that time helping diverse stakeholders find consensus on important education issues. Claus is dedicated to ensuring that state leaders have the information and guidance they need to make the best possible decisions affecting young people.

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