February marks Career and Technical Education Month®, a public awareness campaign that highlights and celebrates career and technical education (CTE). CTE programs emphasize career preparation, skill trades, applied sciences, and modern technologies. CTE coursework integrates academic knowledge with post-secondary pathways and careers by directly preparing middle and high school students with coursework related to high-demand industries.
To encourage research to improve career readiness skills and transition outcomes for students with or at risk for disabilities, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) competed a special topic on Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities in FY 2019 and FY 2020. A previous blog post focused on the FY 2019 grant. In FY 2020, NCSER awarded two new research grants through this special topic:
CTE Teachers and Long-Term Outcomes for Students with Disabilities
The purpose of this exploratory project is to assess CTE teacher effectiveness for students with disabilities. Principal Investigator Dan Goldhaber at the University of Washington and his colleagues (co-PIs Kristian Holden and Roddy Theobold) will estimate CTE teacher effectiveness using high school attendance, GPA, persistence, and graduation probability as outcomes. They will also consider longer-term outcomes including college enrollment and employment, as well as whether CTE teacher effectiveness varies according to teacher licensure, pathway into teaching, and prior work experiences.
Supported College and Career Readiness for Secondary Students with Emotional and Behavioral Problems
In this study, Principal Investigator Lee Kern at Lehigh University and her colleagues (co-PIs Chris Liang and Jennifer Freeman) will develop and pilot test a multi-component program, Supported College and Career Readiness, that augments typical school-based college and career readiness activities (such as those associated with CTE). The research team aims to further support high school age students with or at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), whom research suggests are insufficiently benefiting from college and career readiness activities. As a result, students with or at risk for EBD are frequently unprepared for career or postsecondary education pathways.
We asked each Principal Investigator to share the motivation for studying this research topic and what makes their study unique and impactful.
What inspired you to study this research topic?
Dr. Goldhaber: At CALDER, we have contributed to a large body of research on the impacts of math and ELA teachers on students. This body of evidence suggests that the quality of the teacher workforce is the most important schooling factor influencing students test and non-test outcomes. But we were surprised to find that, despite growing interest in CTE, there is a surprising lack of empirical research on CTE teacher contributions to student learning. We think this is a particularly important issue for students with disabilities for two reasons. First, CTE teachers have different pathways to teaching than academic teachers, and these pathways may provide less pedagogical preparation for the unique needs of students with disabilities. And second, students with disabilities are significantly more likely to be enrolled in these courses relative to students without disabilities. As such, this project lies at the intersection of our prior work on academic teachers, and our recent work on CTE participation for students with disabilities.
Dr. Kern: Spending time with high school age students with emotional and behavioral problems brought me to truly understand how little they consider their futures. And, even when they have goals and dreams, they see scarce connections between what they are being asked to do in high school and realizing their goals. It occurred to me that finding ways to strengthen this connection might be an avenue not only to better prepare students for post-high school life, but also to reduce dropout. Indeed, the need to better prepare youth for life after high school has been increasingly embraced, especially in the last decade, evidenced in part by the adoption of career and college readiness (CCR) standards in almost every U.S. state. I witnessed many impressive CCR efforts and programs in high schools, yet it appeared that students with emotional and behavioral problems were failing to access these school-based CCR supports, some of which did not seem well aligned with their needs. With support from a Lehigh University faculty grant, I began to research exactly how this subset of students regarded, accessed, and benefitted from CCR activities and supports. This research underscored the need to supplement important components of CCR to better align with the needs of students with emotional and behavioral problems. Our goal in the current project is to develop and evaluate an intervention package that supplements high school CCR activities to better prepare students with emotional and behavioral problems for community, college, and/or career.
What makes your project unique and exciting?
Dr. Goldhaber: This project will use unique data from Washington state that allows us to track students with disabilities in high school, postsecondary education, and employment. Access to long-term outcomes is both unique and important given that test scores are not likely to be a very good measure of the contributions that CTE teachers make toward student education. Our project is also closely focused on CTE workforce issues. The staffing of CTE courses is quite challenging—in Washington state, for instance, over half of all CTE teachers have not completed the state’s teacher licensure requirements and hold limited CTE licenses. Thus, we believe the work will garner a lot of attention from policymakers.
Dr. Kern: I am especially enthusiastic about this project because it targets areas in which empirical research tells us that students with emotional and behavioral problems have insufficient CCR skills, perceptions, and knowledge. I am also fortunate to work with my co-PIs, Drs. Freeman and Liang, who bring diverse and unique expertise in the areas of CCR assessment, CCR counseling, racial/ethnic identity development, and more. I am also optimistic about the feasibility of this project because it capitalizes on existing school resources in the form of school-based CCR programs. So, rather than adding programs or interventions, it adapts and expands existing CCR components.
Tell us how your research results could possibly shape CTE-related policy.
Dr. Goldhaber: In broad terms, we do not know much about the impact of CTE teacher quality, so our study has the potential to inform broadly the myriad ways we think about the heterogeneity of CTE teacher effects. But, more specifically and narrowly, we will be looking at the connections between CTE effects and CTE teacher pathways, which should inform policies and practices around CTE preparation and licensure.
Dr. Kern: We hope that our efforts will shape future CCR policy. Our aim is to build the evidence-base in the area of CCR supports that address the needs of students at risk for emotional and behavioral problems. Ultimately, we would like to see federal policies that guarantee at-risk students in all high schools in the U.S. receive comprehensive, evidence-based CCR interventions and supports that fully prepare them for life after high school.
For more information on CTE and students with disabilities, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) and the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) provide useful resources. In addition, ACTE, NTACT, and Penn State University’s Workforce Education program hosted a five-part webinar series in 2019 about programs, practices, and partnerships that support students with disabilities in CTE. This series can be viewed here.
This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service, and Akilah Nelson, Program Officer at NCSER. For more information about the Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities topic area, contact Akilah Nelson.
The views expressed by the investigators do not necessarily reflect those of IES.