IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

CTE Programs Ripe for Research and Evaluation

Each February, the education community highlights the important of Career and Technical Education (CTE) by celebrating National CTE Month. And this year, we are celebrating a milestone—2017 marks 100 years of CTE legislation.  Participation in CTE classes and programs continues to grow and, as we discussed in a previous blog, there is a critical need for more research in this area of education.

IES is beginning to help fill the CTE research gap. In 2016, the IES National Center for Education Research (NCER) funded a new study led by Professor Shaun Dougherty at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Dougherty (pictured right) and his colleagues will examine the impact of attending a CTE-focused high school on students' achievement, high school graduation, and college enrollment. This will be one of only a handful of studies to provide causal evidence about the impact that CTE has on students.

Specifically, the researchers will compare the outcomes of students attending one of 16 high schools in the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS), where all students participate in some form of CTE, with those of students attending a traditional comprehensive high school, with fewer opportunities to participate in CTE. In addition, the research team will conduct school observations and interviews regarding CTE delivery (e.g., number of CTE programs, industry credentials, and work-based learning opportunities offered) in both types of high schools.

Although this is the first time that Dr. Dougherty has served as a Principal Investigator on an IES-funded grant, he has conducted other research on CTE across the country. IES also sponsors other CTE-related initiatives, including the National Center for Education Statistics’ CTE Statistics Program (which has a new website).

CTE programs are poised to grow in the future as the labor market requires more skilled workers and students seek alternative educational options that lead to rewarding careers. The education field needs high-quality CTE-focused research to provide evidence to support practice. In addition, multidisciplinary perspectives on CTE are needed from researchers in related fields, such as cognitive science, educational psychology, organizational psychology, sociology and economics. Researchers from these fields, as well as others examining CTE questions, are welcome to apply for IES research grants.

Written by Corinne Alfeld, Education Research Analyst, NCER 

A National Picture of Career and Technical Education

By Lisa Hudson, National Center for Education Statistics

Happy National CTE Month! This month celebrates career and technical education (CTE), which is a significant component of the American educational system. 

Overall, 13 percent of the credits that public high school graduates earn are in CTE. Almost all public high school graduates (94 percent) earn at least some credits in CTE, with 36 percent of graduates earning at least 3 credits in CTE occupational fields, such as agriculture, business, and consumer services.  At the postsecondary level, where CTE is defined as subbaccalaureate occupational education, 39 percent of all credential awards are in CTE (see chart below).

These statistics are drawn from the CTE Statistics program at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which provides national-level information on CTE at the secondary and postsecondary education levels, as well as information on occupational certification and licensure. This information  is designed to help the U.S. Department of Education and Congress evaluate the status of CTE as part of its deliberations on federal CTE legislation (currently, the 2006 Carl D. Perkins Act). This information also supports state and local CTE administrators and researchers in their efforts to develop, evaluate, and encourage effective CTE policies and programs.

Statistics, reports and summarized findings about CTE are available on the newly redesigned CTE Statistics website (see screenshot above). Here, you can find information organized into three categories—secondary education, postsecondary education, adults in general—and sorted by topic, including CTE delivery system and offerings; student participation; and student persistence, attainment, and labor market outcomes.  NCES updates the website as new data become available and new reports are produced. In the next two years, we plan to add updated information on participation in CTE by both high school and postsecondary students, as well as data on the foundational skills of adults and their participation in work-experience programs. 



Collecting CTE Statistics  

Statistics on CTE come from federally sponsored national data collections, primarily NCES data collected from schools, teachers, students, and individuals in households.  These data collections are not specifically focused on CTE. Rather, they are general purpose education or demographic surveys from which information on CTE is extracted.  The CTE Statistics website includes a list of these data sources, with links to each data source’s website, where information is provided on how to access the data.

Since CTE is embedded in the larger framework of education, it makes sense that the data collection system for CTE should, itself, be embedded in general education surveys. Using this structure we can learn more about CTE in relation to general education programs. For instance, we can compare postsecondary students who major in CTE fields with those who major in academic fields (CTE students tend to be older) and determine the proportion of the typical high school students’ curriculum that is devoted to CTE (13 percent, as noted above). We can also evaluate how high school students’ participation in CTE relates to their participation in other subject areas, their academic achievement, and their experiences after high school (it’s complicated).
 
Stay Informed
 

Visit the CTE Statistics website often to see what’s new. You can also sign up for automatic email updates using The IES newsflash (Under National Center for Education Statistics, select “Adult and career information.”) If you have thoughts, questions, or ideas, send us an email.

 

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. 

Meeting policy needs for new data sources: Measuring work-related credentials

By Sharon Boivin

In the late 2000s, rising unemployment due to the recession led policy makers to begin asking questions about the qualifications of the American workforce, such as:

  • How many US adults have an education or training credential that is recognized by employers?
  • How many adults complete at least one year of education or training beyond high school? Do they also earn a credential?
  • What are the employment outcomes for adults with these credentials?

But key data to answer these questions were missing. The federal government had collected data on educational attainment and employment for many years, but did not regularly collect information on the number of adults with work-related credentials—

  • An industry-recognized certification shows that someone has demonstrated he or she has the knowledge and skills to perform a job.
  • An occupational license gives someone the legal authority to perform a job, and typically is also based on demonstrated knowledge and skills.
  • An educational certificate shows that someone has completed an occupational or technical course of study at a technical school, college, or university.

As the Department of Education’s research and statistics arm, IES recognized the importance of filling this data gap so that policy officials could have complete and accurate information for better decision making. Since 2009, the IES’ National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has funded and staffed a rigorous survey item development process under the guidance of the Interagency Working Group on Expanded Measures of Enrollment and Attainment (GEMEnA)

Based on GEMEnA’s work, in January of 2014 the Census Bureau released the first official federal statistics on the number of adults with these kinds of work-related credentials. This year the Current Population Survey and the National Survey of College Graduates are collecting data on certifications and licenses that will greatly expand our ability to analyze their value in the workplace.  In 2016, NCES will field an Adult Training and Education Survey for the first time as part of the National Household Education Survey. 

Rigorous survey item development is time consuming and expensive. By investing in this work now, IES has helped to ensure that policy makers will have high quality data on education, training, and credentials to inform policy for years to come.