Incubating a national cybersecurity teacher professional development initiative
How CTE CyberNet strengthened cybersecurity education in high schools.
Cybersecurity work is vital to U.S. security and prosperity, yet hundreds of thousands of cybersecurity jobs remain unfilled. Addressing the cyber talent gap will require identifying and developing pathways from secondary education to postsecondary education and careers — but many high schools don’t have enough educators with the necessary expertise to provide rigorous cybersecurity education.
Increasing the number of career and technical education (CTE) teachers who can effectively prepare students would help the nation develop a stronger cyber ecosystem. Any new professional development program must complement existing cybersecurity education initiatives and allow for localized approaches that meet regional needs.
Luminary Labs designed and managed CTE CyberNet, a national cybersecurity teacher professional development initiative, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. We supported the development of three local academies and their delivery of strategies and tools, incubating a professional development program to help teachers deliver more rigorous, standards-aligned CTE cybersecurity programs of study.
We began by conducting a literature and environmental analysis to better understand the needs and perspectives of students, educators, communities, employers, local government, federal agencies, and industry experts. Following this analysis, we designed a pilot program that would allow local leaders to tailor academies to meet teachers’ needs, producing adaptable approaches that could be replicated in other communities and scaled across the country. We knew the initiative would need to center teachers’ needs and sustain support, encouragement, and recognition beyond a single short-term experience, so we planned for the initial 2020-2021 program to include both a summer intensive session and an academic-year accelerator.
After identifying three NSA-designated Centers of Academic Excellence to host the academies, we convened subject matter experts, local leaders, and ecosystem stakeholders in each location for a co-creation workshop, then supported each local academy lead as they developed plans to recruit teachers and deliver approximately 80 hours of professional development through a summer intensive session. Participants received a stipend and continued support through an accelerator during the 2020-2021 academic year. During this period, local academies made experts and resources available for teachers, helping them implement new activities and bring industry professionals into classrooms. We met regularly with local academy leads to gather and synthesize progress updates, translating insights into actionable plans for rapid iteration — as well as long-range learnings to inform future programs.
We helped academies engage with private-sector partners such as Amazon Web Services, Kali Linux, Mastercard, and Northrop Grumman to support design and delivery of their professional development activities. Some academies helped establish or strengthen dual-credit programs so high school students could get a head start on postsecondary education, helping to lower barriers to high-demand, technology-driven careers and building a stronger ecosystem. While each academy was distinct, local leaders collaborated with each other, sharing ideas and adapting them for their own locations.
The breadth of resources provided by academies helped CTE teachers bring hands-on, virtual education to a wide range of students. From cryptography scavenger hunts and classroom intranets to VR escape rooms and interactive online labs — new tools helped teachers provide students with an engaging introduction to rigorous concepts and real-world applications. Some teachers applied tools and resources from their cybersecurity classes to other computer science labs, business courses, and STEM topics.
Throughout the year, we planned and facilitated cross-academy virtual sessions that gave participants an opportunity to connect with teachers from other regions. The academies concluded in June 2021 with a virtual ceremony that recognized participating teachers and the leaders of each local academy.
Given the preliminary success of CTE CyberNet and its initial cohort, an expansion has the potential to produce even stronger results and grow a more robust network. After designing and managing the first year of CTE CyberNet, we are energized by the opportunity to continue building the capacity of CTE teachers and administrators to provide high quality CTE cybersecurity programs of study.