IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Career Technical Education is Growing; Research Must Follow

By Corinne Alfeld, Program Officer, NCER

February is Career Technical Education (CTE) month and there is certainly cause to celebrate for those who value CTE. After years of being marginalized in K-12 education and education research, CTE programs and offerings are growing across the country.   

Once known as “vocational-technical education,” CTE has undergone a transformation in the last decade that keeps pace with changes in workforce. High schools now offer elective CTE courses such as agricultural science, business entrepreneurship, computer graphic design, culinary arts, communications, health care, and mechatronics.  High school CTE courses have the ability to provide a context for students to explore possible careers, test their interests and abilities, apply academic knowledge and skills to real-world problems in a more project-based, hands-on way, and learn a useful skill. In other words, CTE can answer the question that many students ask: Why do I need to learn this?

Due in part to employer interest and involvement, CTE has become more of a focus for policymakers and education leaders as a way to ensure students are “college and career ready” when they graduate from high school. In 2015, the Association for Career and Technical Education documented 150 new and revised CTE laws or policies across 46 states. CTE programs are undergoing transformation with newfound vitality and momentum, with new delivery models, such as career academies, in which the entire curriculum is focused on one career area; programs of study that link high school and college courses with workplace experience; and regional CTE centers, which contain specialized equipment shared by multiple schools or districts and focus solely on CTE.

This means that CTE learning opportunities for students may range from a single introductory course in a traditional high school setting to a highly coordinated curricular experience of classroom- and work-based learning, culminating in a capstone project. 

As CTE becomes a larger part of the current education landscape, policymakers and practitioners need better evidence to guide their decision-making, especially given limited resources. For example, more research is needed on the following:

  • The relationships between specific career-focused school, program, or curricular features and student education outcomes;
  • Longitudinal pathways and outcomes for students enrolled in K-12 CTE programs (e.g., postsecondary education and employment);
  • Development of effective career-oriented programs or policies designed to support students’ career readiness outcomes;
  • Rigorous evaluation of existing career-focused schools or programs, including career technical programs of study, career academies, and other K-12 CTE delivery models;
  • Rigorous evaluation of state or district policies or reforms to support career technical education at the K-12 level, including the awarding of vocational diplomas, the use of career readiness measures, career academy models, awarding academic credit for CTE courses, and CTE teacher certification requirements; and
  • Development or improvement of measures of technical, occupational, and career readiness skills.

There are certainly challenges in studying CTE. In addition to the wide variety of CTE courses being offered, the range and quality of instructional CTE offerings can vary within and across schools. 

Researchers must struggle with questions, such as what is the treatment? How does one account for self-selection bias? Who are the counterfactuals? What are reliable and valid (and meaningful) outcome measures? How soon can effects be seen? As CTE expands in our K-12 education system, the field is in need of creativity and perseverance from researchers to overcome these challenges and build a robust body of both descriptive and causal evidence on which education leaders and policymakers can make decisions.

If you have ideas for CTE research projects, NCER would love to hear from you. Please contact Research Scientist Dr. Corinne Alfeld (corinne.alfeld@ed.gov or 202-245-8203) to share your thoughts or ideas. 

Financing education: National, state, and local funding and spending for public schools in 2013

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Stephen Cornman

Spending on public education continues to fluctuate significantly among states and school districts, according to two NCES reports released Wednesday. The reports also show that, nationally, spending on elementary and secondary education declined for the fourth straight year.

The two First Look reports, Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2012–13 (Fiscal Year 2013) and Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2012–13 (Fiscal Year 2013), are based on data from the National Public Education Finance Survey (NPEFS), a component of the Common Core of Data (CCD).

In 2013, expenditures for public elementary and secondary education totaled $606.5 billion, which translates to $10,763 in per student spending[i] on a national level. Public elementary and secondary school finance can vary considerably depending on the state or school district.

At the state level, spending per student ranged from a low of $6,432 in Utah to $20,530 in the District of Columbia (D.C.). After D.C., per student spending was next highest in:

  • New York ($19,529);
  • New Jersey ($18,523);
  • Alaska ($18,217);
  • Connecticut ($17,321); and
  • Vermont ($17,286).

Current expenditures per pupil for public and secondary education, by state: Fiscal year 2013

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “National Public Education Financial Survey


Among the 100 largest school districts in the nation, those with the highest spending per student were:

  • New York City School District ($20,331);
  • Boston City Schools, Massachusetts ($19,066);
  • Philadelphia School District, Pennsylvania ($16,381);
  • Anchorage School District, Alaska ($15,391);
  • Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland ($15,080); and
  • Baltimore City Schools, Maryland ($15,050).

As a nation, we spend more per-student on elementary and secondary public education than we did 10 years ago, but 2013 represents the fourth straight year that our national per-student spending has fallen.  In order to compare spending from one year to the next, expenditures are converted to constant dollars, which adjusts figures for inflation. From 2002–03 to 2012–13, spending per student enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. increased by 5 percent (from $10,455 to $11,011 in constant 2014–15 dollars). Spending per student increased at least 1 percent per year between 2003–04 and 2007–08, and peaked in 2008–09 at $11,621. It has decreased each year since then, with the greatest decrease occurring from 2008–09 to 2011–12.  


Current spending per student in fall enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools: 2002–03 through 2012–13

NOTE: Spending is reported in constant 2014–15 dollars, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "National Public Education Financial Survey," 2002–03 through 2012–13. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 236.65.


The recently released reports also present national and state level data on public school funding[ii] by source. Total funding per pupil decreased by 1.2 percent on a national basis and decreased by 1 percent or more in 26 states from 2012 to 2013, after adjusting for inflation. The 50 states and D.C. reported $603.7 billion in funding collected for public elementary and secondary education in 2013. State and local governments provided $547.8 billion, or 91 percent of all funding; and the federal government contributed $55.9 billion or 9 percent of all funding.

The percentage of total funding from federal sources accounted for 9 percent of total funding in both 2002–03 and 2012–13; however, there were notable fluctuations during this period. The federal percentage increased from 8 percent of funding 2007–08 to 13 percent of funding in 2010–11. This increase reflects the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As the funds from the program were spent, the federal percentage decreased to 10 percent of total funding in 2011–12 and to 9 percent in 2012–13. Local sources accounted for 46 percent of total funding in 2012–13, the highest percentage in the past 10 years. The percentage of total funding from state sources decreased from 49 percent in school year 2002–03 to 45 percent in school year 2012–13.


Percentage of funding for public elementary and secondary schools, by source of funds: 2002-03 through 2012-13

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "National Public Education Financial Survey," 2002–03 through 2012–13. See Digest of Education Statistics 2015, table 235.10.


[i] Spending refers to current expenditures.Current expenditures are comprised of expenditures for the day-to-day operation of schools and school districts for public elementary and secondary education, including expenditures for staff salaries and benefits, supplies, and purchased services. Current expenditures include instruction, instruction-related, support services (e.g., social work, health, and psychological services), and other elementary/secondary current expenditures, but exclude expenditures on capital outlay, other programs, and interest on long-term debt. 

[ii] Funding refers to revenues. Revenues are comprised of all funds received from external sources, net of refunds, and correcting transactions. Noncash transactions, such as receipt of services, commodities, or other receipts in kind are excluded, as are funds received from the issuance of debt, liquidation of investments, and nonroutine sale of property.

Developer of IES-Funded App Named an “Innovator to Watch”

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

Congratulations to one of our IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grantees, who has been named one of eight innovators to watch by Smithsonian Magazine.

Grace Wardhana, of Kiko Labs, developed the idea for Kiko’s Thinking Time, while watching her child, who she says was “obsessed with the iPad.” She wanted to turn that tablet time into learning time. With experience at Microsoft and McKinsey, a Master’s degree in science and engineering from Stanford, and a MBA from Harvard Business School, Grace got to work developing the app.

In 2014, she applied for and received a Phase I SBIR grant to develop a prototype of Thinking Time and in 2015, was awarded Phase II funding.  Smithsonian Magazine included Wardhana as one of eight “scientists, musicians, artists, and educators” to “expect great things from” in 2016. About Thinking Time, author Emily Matchar wrote that it “was developed in collaboration with Harvard and Berkeley neuroscientists and is aimed at helping children develop executive function—the skills of memory, focus and self-regulation necessary for success in school, work and beyond.”

You can watch a YouTube video to learn more about Thinking Time and also get more information on the IES website

PHOTOS
- Top of page--Grace Wardhana, of Kiko Labs. Source: https://www.kikolabs.com/about-us 
- Screenshot of Kiko's Thinking Time app

Beginning postsecondary students: Persistence and attainment after 3 years

By David A. Richards

The number of students enrolling in postsecondary education has increased over the past several decades. While this increase in enrollment shows that more students are pursuing postsecondary credentials and degrees, it is also important to consider the number of students that go on to complete their postsecondary education. Data from the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS) can help researchers, policy-makers, educators, and the public answer questions about whether students are persisting through their educations and earning credentials. BPS data can also help answer questions about how these outcomes may differ by institutional and student-level characteristics.

The recently released Persistence and Attainment of 2011-12 First-Time Postsecondary Students After 3 Years contains findings from data collected from the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) longitudinal study. This report answers questions such as, what percentage of first-time students who began postsecondary education in 2012 were still enrolled three years later? How many had earned a credential, and how did rates differ across different types of postsecondary institutions and degree programs?

This first look report on BPS:12/14 data shows that, among 2011–12 first-time postsecondary students, 7 percent had completed a certificate, 7 percent had completed an associate’s degree, and 1 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree at any institution within 3 years. Of the students who had not yet earned a credential, 39 percent were enrolled at a 4-year institution, 16 percent were enrolled at a less-than-4-year institution, and 30 percent were not enrolled at any institution by the spring of 2014.

At the baccalaureate level, among students who first enrolled in 4-year institutions and were seeking bachelor’s degrees, 1 percent had completed a certificate, 1 percent had completed an associate’s degree, and 3 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree at any institution within 3 years. Another 73 percent of the students seeking a bachelor’s degree were enrolled at a 4-year institution, 6 percent were enrolled at a less-than-4-year institution, and 16 percent were no longer enrolled at any institution.


Percentage distribution of first-time public 2-year college students 3 years after entry, by student age: 2012–14

! Interpret data with caution. Estimate is unstable because the standard error represents more than 30 percent but less than 51 percent of the estimate.
NOTE: Includes first-time postsecondary students starting at a Title IV eligible postsecondary institution in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2011-12.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2012/14 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:12/14).


BPS also contains data on attainment based on student characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and age. These data can be examined by the type of program in which students are enrolled and the first institution in which they enrolled. For example, among first-time postsecondary students beginning at a 2-year public college, 4 percent of those students who were age 18 or younger when they enrolled in 2011 had completed a certificate by the spring of 2014, 14 percent had completed an associate’s degree, 45 percent were still enrolled in a postsecondary institution, and 37 percent were no longer enrolled in postsecondary education. For students that were age 30 or older when they enrolled, 8 percent had completed a certificate by the spring of 2014, 8 percent had completed an associate’s degree, 29 percent were still enrolled, and 56 percent were no longer enrolled. Differences by other student characteristics, such as sex, race/ethnicity, dependency status, and parental educational attainment are available in the report.

BPS surveys nationally representative cohorts of first-time, beginning students at three points in time: at the end of their first year, and then three and six years after first starting in postsecondary education. It collects data on a variety of topics, including student demographic characteristics, school and work experiences, persistence, transfer, and degree attainment. BPS is a detailed follow-up to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), a nationally representative, cross-sectional study of U.S. postsecondary students designed to collect data on how postsecondary students pay for their education. The most recent BPS study, (BPS:12/14) used the 2012 NPSAS data as its base year (which included enrollment characteristics, education aspirations, and demographics) and conducted its first follow-up in 2014. (Another follow-up will be conducted in 2017.) During the 2014 follow-up study, BPS participants  were surveyed on their enrollment patterns since 2012—providing information about transfers, stopouts[1], attendance, and credentials earned—as well as on their employment histories. Study data were also drawn from a variety of other resources.

If you’re interested in comparing these findings to earlier BPS iterations, you can find earlier first look reports on the BPS publication page. BPS:12/14 data are also available for analysis through the online DataLab tool. If you have questions about the report or this data, please reach out to the National Center for Education Statistics at NCES.info@ed.gov or by phone at (800) 677-6987.

 

[1] A stopout is a temporary break in enrollment.

The PI Meeting in 140 Characters

By Wendy Wei, Program Assistant, National Center for Education Research

How can practitioners and policymakers apply education research to their everyday work if they never hear about it or do not understand it? Communicating and disseminating research findings plays an integral role in promoting the education sciences and advancing the field.

That is why we made communication and dissemination a major theme at the IES Principal Investigators’ Meeting held earlier this month (December 10-11). The two-day meeting in Washington, D.C., featured five sessions that focused on communications – ranging from data visualization techniques to effective dissemination strategies to hearing journalists’ perspectives on how to share scientific results with the general public.

There was a lot of talk about social media during the meeting and plenty of tweeting about the presentations. We used the Twitter hashtag, #IESPIMtg, to foster an ongoing conversation for meeting attendees and to share findings that emerged from sessions.  Any tweet that included #IESPIMtg was automatically pooled together, generating a live Twitter feed that was on display in the lobby throughout the meeting.

 You can see all of the #IESPImtg tweets online, but here are some highlights:

"There is a tremendous sense of urgency to bridge the gap between research and practice..." --John B King #IESPIMtg

— Leah Wisdom (@lifelnglearner) December 10, 2015

.@StanfordEd's Sean Reardon: Good partnership work can lead to new knowledge, change policy+practice, improve data quality #IESPIMtg

— Bill Penuel (@bpenuel) December 11, 2015

#IESPIMtg Practitioner partners play a critical role in making sense of data and analyses in RPPs.

— Jennifer Russell (@Jenn_L_Russell) December 10, 2015

And we can get a little bit meta now…communicating about how to communicate:

Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff urges researchers to create "'edible science' that is accessible, digestible and usable." #IESPIMtg

— Tomoko Wakabayashi (@twakabayashi264) December 10, 2015

Awesome presentation on #DataVisualization by @jschwabish: Show the data, reduce the clutter, stop distracting attention. #IESPIMtg

— Rudy Ruiz (@RudyRuiz_BMore) December 10, 2015

.@KavithaCardoza Explaining your research--Don't think of it as "dumbing down." Think of it as simplifying. #IESPIMtg

— Dana Tofig (@dtofig) December 11, 2015

And, of course, what's Twitter without a little fun? When we tweeted this picture...

The poster session is going strong. Principal investigators present findings from #iesfunded research. #IESPIMtg

— IES Research (@IESResearch) December 10, 2015

...Chris Magnuson, Director of Innovation for Live It, Learn It, posted this reply: 

@IESResearch careful...photo looks like it was taken on Death Star! May the force be with all grantees! #SBIR #IES

— Chris Magnuson (@cromagnuson) December 10, 2015

The National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) have made a commitment to be active contributors in communicating with and engaging the general public in the exciting findings of NCER- and NCSER-funded work. Over the past few years, we have been active on Twitter (you can follow us @IESResearch), and this past year, we launched our blog (the very one you are reading!). These two platforms have provided us with an outlet to share research findings, provide updates about events and deadlines, and connect with audiences we otherwise might not reach.

For those of you who could not make the PI meeting, videos will be posted on the conference website in about a month. So stay tuned!

We hope you’ll continue the conversation started at the PI meeting by following us on Twitter at @IESResearch or sharing your thoughts with us at IESResearch@ed.gov.