EDMONDS — All Bryan Robbins wanted to do was work on cars.
His dad, Dave Robbins, was a mechanic before a back injury disrupted that career and he began teaching automotive classes in the Edmonds School District. Bryan Robbins was in his dad’s classes and graduated in 2004 from Mountlake Terrace High School. He loves drag racing and expected to make a living working on fast cars.
He didn’t plan to be a teacher but learned to love the job while filling in for his dad. When the elder Robbins retired four years ago, his son took over the automotive program, now at Meadowdale High School.
His classes are among dozens in Edmonds that are considered career and technical education, or CTE. Career and technical classes can be found around the county, though subjects vary.
CTE tends to be hands-on, with instructors who have worked in the field. Some prepare students for college while others provide training for jobs or apprenticeships.
Washington high school graduates who do not go to college are more likely to land a living-wage job or apprenticeship if they’ve taken CTE courses, according to a state audit released in December.
Auditors found that 2012 and 2013 graduates had similar success rates whether or not they took CTE courses. However, among graduates who did not enroll in a college or university, those who had taken CTE classes were “significantly more likely to achieve in terms of employment and apprenticeships” than those who hadn’t, according to the report.
Among graduates who did not go to college, CTE students were between 35 and 37 percent more likely to have an apprenticeship or a job that pays more than 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
Students who hadn’t taken CTE classes were more likely to have earned a degree or certificate or be enrolled in a university.
Teachers spend their lives in the education system and some have blinders on when it comes to what kids need for life outside the classroom, Bryan Robbins said. That’s one reason CTE is important.
“There’s nothing against any other classes,” Robbins said. “Those classes are teaching students how to think, but I get the chance to bring things to life.”
He invites guests to talk about the automotive industry and has students turn replica Model Ts into electric cars.
Robbins said his students wouldn’t be surprised by the audit’s findings.
“They’d probably go, ‘Well, obviously,’” he said.
CTE classes offer students an introduction to careers while they earn credits to graduate, auditor William Clark said in a video.
The state spends more than $400 million a year on career and technical education. The classes can be costly due to the need for industry-quality equipment.
Kathy Hahn teaches classes on child development and careers in education at Lake Stevens High School. Her courses attract students who plan to pursue teaching degrees. They’re mentored by teachers and help in classrooms.
“I’ve had several students come back and become teachers at Lake Stevens High School,” she said. “My son was in my classes and he went on to be a math teacher.”
CTE classes can be good for students who aren’t interested in college or for college-bound students who want a leg up, Hahn said. Some courses allow them to earn college credit.
Practical skills that kids may not learn at home, such as how to cook healthy meals, can be incorporated into CTE, as well, she said. She co-teaches a fitness and nutrition class.
“I really feel like career and technical education can be for everybody … Whether you’re learning communication or leadership skills, there are things that are embedded in the CTE classes maybe more so than in other classes,” Hahn said.
Improving schools’ access to data about CTE classes and where students end up after graduation could help with planning, auditors said in their report. The state Education Research and Data Center compiles information, but access is limited by privacy laws, data-sharing agreements or lack of resources to process the data.
“More data on the subject, I think, would be very illuminating,” Robbins said. “More data might show that college isn’t necessarily for everybody and there are other paths to success.”
Another audit is in the works to look at how career and technical education could be improved in Washington.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org