top of page

What is Career and Technical Education (CTE)?

CTE is a program that prepares youth and adults for high-skill, high-wage, high-demand careers. But where did CTE come from? Vocational Education was renamed to Career and Technical Education (CTE). It added college readiness, work-based learning, industry partnerships, etc. to academic standards.

History of Vocational Education


Vocational Education (Voc. Ed.), formerly known as Industrial Education, began in the early 1900s to prepare students for the workforce. The program lacked academic instruction and did not provide equitable opportunities. This caused the program to gain a negative reputation and it had to be improved. Many black intellectuals in the late 1800s, gained lots of press about their views of vocational education. W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington were infamous black intellectuals who debated what was best for black communities: liberal education or occupational advancement.


In February 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the

Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act--an act that has provided a

firm foundation for significant developments in public vocational and

technical education in the United States. This act provided federal

funding to support the teaching of vocational education, make the

instruction much more authentic and provide standards for the

operation of vocational education programs.

Woodrow Wilson at his desk in the Oval Office, c. 1913. Library of Congress

The Beginning of CTE in Charlotte

Up until 1965, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were still segregated. In efforts to desegregate one of the nation's largest and most diverse school systems, a case was brought to the courts by the NAACP on behalf of Rev. Darius Swann and his wife, Vera, who had been missionaries in India and had returned to Charlotte.


The school closest to the Swanns' home in Charlotte was Seversville, a school with 297 white students and 26 black students. The school contended Swanns' son should be assigned to Biddleville, an all-black school. The Swanns contended that children were able to “transfer out of integrated schools, but not allowed to transfer into them and that the law should be equally binding…otherwise, the law is discriminatory.”



The suit alleged: Some dual school zones remained in operation, creating essentially black and white school districts side by side. Compounding the problem, the Board of Education permitted transfers out of integrated schools but discouraged transfers into the schools. In addition, most school faculties were completely segregated.


Judge Braxton Craven ruled in favor of the Board of Education, saying it had shown clear intent and had made steady progress toward ending a policy of segregated schools. At the time, only 2,126 of the district's 23,000 black students attended school with white students, and 66 of Charlotte’s 109 schools were entirely segregated. Craven's ruling also ordered immediate desegregation of staff and faculty.

James McMillan, the Federal District judge in the case, ruled in favor of the Swanns and oversaw the implementation of a busing strategy that integrated the district’s schools. McMillan’s decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld it. The busing strategy was adopted elsewhere in the United States and played an instrumental role in integrating U.S. public schools

Yet, even after the ruling was in favor of desegregation, the district failed to implement effective strategies to desegregate all Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The board first drafted a new desegregation plan. The new plan relied on school zone gerrymandering to desegregate but left large numbers of African American students in all-black or nearly all-black schools. In efforts to asisst Charlotte in desegregating schools, a federal district court enlisted an expert, Dr. John Finger, to produce an alternative desegregation plan. Finger’s plan called for the busing of African American elementary school students in Charlotte to suburban schools. It also recommended that fifth- and sixth-grade students from suburban Mecklenburg County be bused to schools in Charlotte. Although the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board adopted the Finger plan, it asserted that the plan was unreasonable.


Regardless of all efforts to desegregate such a large, diverse school system, excuses were constantly made. It wasn't until September 9th, 1999 that Federal District Court Judge Robert Potter ordered the district to stop using race or ethnicity in pupil assignments.


On April 15, 2002, the United States Supreme Court announced that it would not revisit the Swann/Cappachione cases and related petitions, allowing the Fourth Circuit's approval of the district's student-assignment plan to stand. The decision effectively closed the Swann case, ending segregation amongst the Charlotte- Mecklenburg school system.

An African American Album: The Black Experience in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, vol. 2. Charlotte, NC. Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1998.

Professor Jacob's School, African-American, students and teacher in front of school, early 1900's, Lake Waccamaw, NC, Columbus County. General Negative Collection, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.

An integrated bus in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1973. Library of Congress


Basic facts. ACTE. (2022, May 24). Retrieved August 23, 2022, from

Bhutia, T. K., & Sinha, S. (2015, February 12). Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved August 23, 2022, from


Biddleville Elementary School. Biddleville Elementary School | Charlotte Mecklenburg Story. (n.d.). Retrieved August 26, 2022, from


Capacchione v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, 57 F. supp. 2d 228 (W.D.N.C. 1999). Justia Law. (n.d.). Retrieved August 26, 2022, from


DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ KING, C. J., & TRAXLER, C. J. (2000, November 30). Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of educ. Legal research tools from Casetext. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from


Dortch, J. (2020, August 13). The great debate: Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. Du Bois. AFRO American Newspapers. Retrieved August 23, 2022, from


History of CMS. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved August 26, 2022, from


Johnson, L. B. (1967, February 23). Statement by the president on the 50th anniversary of the Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act. Statement by the President on the 50th Anniversary of the Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act. | The American Presidency Project. Retrieved August 23, 2022, from


Small, C. (n.d.). Washington and Du Bois: The Great Debate. Issues and debates in African American literature. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from

bottom of page