Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Career and Technical Education in STEM for Students with Learning Disabilities: Research Updates and Implications

Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month® is celebrated every February to raise awareness about the role that CTE has in preparing students for college and career success and the achievements of CTE programs across the country. In recognition of this year’s CTE Month®, we caught up with Dr. Michael Gottfried, University of Pennsylvania, to discuss his CTE research.

Through NCSER’s Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities special topic area, Dr. Gottfried was awarded a grant to examine whether participating in STEM CTE courses in high school is related to pursuing and persisting in STEM majors and/or careers for students with learning disabilities (SWLDs), a project featured initially in a March 2020 blog. During our recent conversation, he shared updates with us about his CTE project as well as the policy and practice implications of his research.

When we discussed this project in 2020, you shared your research goals and what you had learned so far. Could you provide us with an update?

Since the last time that we chatted, we have made some great progress on this project. We have had several papers accepted for publication. In some of our work, we were interested in the STEM CTE coursetaking patterns of SWLDs in high school. We found that SWLDs are more likely to participate in CTE courses compared to students without disabilities. Yet, when looking at the specific category of STEM CTE courses, there is no evidence that SWLDs are more likely to participate in high school STEM CTE courses compared to students without disabilities.

We have also looked at specific outcomes for SWLDs in STEM CTE courses. For instance, we examined computer science STEM CTE coursetaking for SWLDs. Participation was associated with growth in STEM self-efficacy and STEM utility (usefulness of what is learned for practical application) for SWLDs, whereas it related to positive development of STEM self-efficacy and STEM identity, but not STEM utility, for students without learning disabilities.

After we discovered that little was known about the association between STEM CTE coursetaking and college STEM persistence for SWLDs, we wanted to explore this area. So far, we have found that SWLDs who earned more units of STEM CTE in high school were more likely to seriously consider and ultimately declare STEM majors in college that are related to high school STEM CTE courses, such as information technology or engineering technology.

You and your colleagues recently published a paper in Education Research based on your NCSER-funded research. Could you summarize the findings in this paper and the implications for policy and practice?  

In our paper, we set out to identify whether there were any observable changes in CTE participation over time. The unique aspect of this study was that it combined national data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 and the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 with administrative data from the state of Washington. Key findings indicated that CTE participation declined nationally between the graduating class of 2004 and the graduating class of 2009 except in the area of applied science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical/health (STEMM) CTE, which includes courses in information technology, engineering technology, and health sciences. Data from Washington tended to be less varied in nature compared to national data, with fewer discernible trends, though in general STEM CTE did appear to have an upward trend for all students.

Our work also has direct relevance to policy. Recent changes in the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act emphasized the need to focus on increasing access and participation in STEM-related CTE coursework. While there does appear to be an upward trend in participation in these STEM fields, the tradeoff may be coming at the expense of other CTE areas of study. Combined with the increasing pressure for students to complete more and more academic coursework in a push for college readiness, this decrease in non-STEM CTE participation is particularly noteworthy. Finally, our work helps highlight the importance of examining CTE trends at the state and national levels. Different states have different needs and different graduation requirements that may or may not include CTE participation. As such, given the overall call to increase CTE participation for SWLDs, we encourage future research that explores the implications of these trends for this population.

What do you hope that school leaders, CTE teachers, and students will learn from all the research you are conducting?

The research has numerous implications for policy and practice. First, the results will be important for policymakers as they consider new or revised educational policies to support the pursuance and persistence of SWLDs into STEM fields. Education policymakers in particular need to understand the effects of STEM CTE coursetaking for SWLDs at multiple time points (transition into college, during college, and post-college). Understanding these issues more completely will make for well-informed policy decisions that promote short- and long-term success in STEM for SWLDs. This, in turn, has larger social policy implications with respect to upward mobility and lifelong success.

This project also has important implications for practice. By sharing these results, we hope to support education practitioners in making the adjustments necessary to improve the use of educational resources to ensure that SWLDs are prepared for and engaged in fields with high growth potential. For instance, many states have begun to accept STEM CTE courses for graduation requirements, which increases the likelihood students will take these courses. As STEM CTE courses prove important for SWLDs across the pipeline, then states and districts might consider how to best encourage students to take and succeed in these courses.

What additional research is needed to improve CTE policy and practice?

The current work can inform the future development of an intervention, assessment, or decision to evaluate an intervention. Evidence that STEM CTE coursetaking is associated with higher likelihood of college enrollment and the pursuit of STEM pathways for SWLDs supports the need to study interventions that encourage STEM CTE coursetaking for these students. For example, a randomly selected set of SWLDs who do not take traditional STEM could be counseled into taking STEM CTE courses or placement tests could be used to assign students to STEM CTE or traditional STEM courses. In both cases, students could then be followed into college and beyond to compare education and career outcomes using rigorous research designs. The results could provide additional, strong evidence for the value of STEM CTE coursetaking on postsecondary STEM outcomes.

This blog was authored by Akilah Nelson (akilah.nelson@ed.gov), Program Officer at NCSER, and Michael Gottfried (mgottfr2@upenn.edu), Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

A Work in Progress: Insights on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Education Research

For over a year, IES has been exploring how to expand participation in the education sciences and in our grant programs through a technical working group and a series of listening sessions. In recognition of Black History Month, we asked IES grantee Dr. D. Crystal Byndloss, MDRC’s director of outreach, diversity, and inclusion and senior associate, to discuss her career experiences and share advice for the field on how to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into education research. 

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

My research interests, especially those focused on identifying ways to support moderately and high-performing students of color from low-income backgrounds, stems from my personal experience. I was raised by a single mother, an immigrant to the United States, who enrolled me in K-12 schools where I was challenged academically and exposed to new social and cultural experiences. That foundation prepared me to enroll in a college that emphasized writing, where I developed my interest in research. In college, I was also embraced by two Black professors—a sociologist whose teaching style I wanted to emulate in the classroom and a historian who mentored me through the graduate school application process. These individuals—and my kindergarten teacher, a Black female immigrant who would go on to earn her doctorate—made it possible for me to believe that pursuing a PhD was a possibility for me.

My dissertation examined how sociopolitical context influenced two education movements: a Black and Puerto Rican community’s involvement in the movement for community control of New York City schools in the 1960s and 1970s, and a Black community’s involvement in the creation of Milwaukee’s African-American immersion schools in the 1980s. Through my research, I was able to bring new voices to the literature and spotlight how these communities of color shaped the local public education landscape. I saw great value in the research endeavor and, during a postdoctoral fellowship, decided to explore a career as a researcher. I’ve been at MDRC for 15 years, where I’ve spent the last 12 working in K-12 education research. I’ve also worked as a consultant and as an assistant dean for research and associate director of a center at a college of education.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in education?

Through MDRC’s Equity Collaborative, we are incorporating stronger equity-based and culturally responsive approaches into our research and technical assistance. For example, posing impact research questions to understand where inequities exist in high school course-taking and conducting qualitative and implementation research that speaks to the contextual factors that shape or reinforce inequities through school-based policies and procedures. As part of the IES-funded Career and Technical Education Research Network (CTERN) Equity in CTE Work Group, I also have an opportunity to engage other researchers on such topics as how best to deepen the field’s understanding of issues of equity and inequity in CTE research and evaluation. As a coming attraction, keep an eye on the CTERN website where we will make available an equity framework for CTE researchers.

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

I think we need to expand where we invest education research funding, a significant amount of which has been devoted to understanding what works for students from low-income backgrounds who are struggling academically. This is important work that needs to continue. We also need to expand our research inquiry to include more studies of interventions that help students from low-income communities who may be on track for academic success but who, without critical supports, are also in jeopardy of not reaching their full potential. Typically, we equate low income with low performing and, in so doing, miss a group of students who can benefit greatly from a variety of educational interventions. As a society, we need to move beyond the low expectations that are often placed on students from diverse communities—whether they are of color, from low-income backgrounds, or differently abled. We won’t be able to ameliorate inequities if we don’t fully appreciate the breadth of talent and potential that exists in these diverse communities.

What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered, and how did you overcome the challenge?

My biggest challenge is not one that I have overcome. My biggest challenge in the current moment is managing demanding work and home lives and not becoming undone by both. I serve on MDRC’s executive management team, lead our DEI work, and contribute to research. I am also the primary caregiver to both my mother and younger sister who have significant health and caregiving needs. I always have a running list in my head of things that need to get done and things that did not get done. I know I must prioritize self-care and, with that in mind, recently committed to pausing for seven minutes a day to take a deep breath and be still. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small act of self-preservation, but there are days when my seven-minute break eludes me. I am a work-in-progress.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

First, I would encourage doctoral programs to offer students a more expansive view of their career options beyond the academy. Research firms, policy organizations, education agencies, and funding and nonprofit organizations need and would benefit from the voices, talents, perspectives, and skills of scholars from underrepresented groups who could help shape their education research and evaluation initiatives. While I understand the academy’s desire to train its own workforce, students are seeking careers outside of the academy. Why not help them make more informed choices?

Second, thinking of IES in particular, the first time I attended an annual IES Principal Investigators meeting, I was stunned by the lack of racial diversity among the Principal Investigators in attendance. I asked myself: Where were the people who looked like me who were designing the studies, conducting the research, learning about new funding opportunities, and determining what research is of value to the field? Training fellowships, apprenticeships, and research partnerships serve as important bridges and pathway programs for underrepresented groups, and I would encourage IES to expand its current initiatives to reach more students and emerging scholars.

Third, borrowing an idea that a colleague shared with me, IES could develop an incentive program in which, during the proposal review process, it formally rewards teams that submit proposals that feature diverse research teams. This approach could lead to a set of innovative and inspired partnerships.

Finally, I ask everyone reading this blog to think about what you can do within your own sphere of influence to support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups. Consider inviting a student or peer researcher to join you at a meeting or conference where they can learn more about the research enterprise, discuss their own research interests, and be introduced to others with similar interests. Think creatively about partnerships and the types of opportunities that can be created that would allow scholars from underrepresented groups to bring their expertise to bear on a project you may be involved in or conceptualizing. There are myriad ways to offer support.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

My advice applies to anyone in any field: find a mentor and a sponsor—a mentor who will show you how to navigate the field and push you to stretch outside your comfort zone and a sponsor who will create opportunities for you or who will advocate for you when opportunities are being discussed and you are not in the room.


Dr. D. Crystal Byndloss is a member of the IES Technical Working Group Increasing Diversity and Representation of IES-funded Education Researchers. Byndloss holds dual roles at MDRC. She is the organization’s first director of outreach, diversity, and inclusion and a senior associate in the K-12 Education policy area, where for more than a decade she has researched and directed initiatives to promote college access and success for students with low incomes. She is a senior adviser to the IES-funded evaluation of the New York City P-TECH Grades 9-14 school model and is part of the IES-funded CTE Advise evaluation research team.

 

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here, here, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Black History Month blog series, we are focusing on African American/Black researchers and fellows as well as researchers who focus on the education of Black students.

 

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and predoctoral training program officer.

 

CTE Month? More like CTE Year!

In honor of CTE month, we wanted to provide more information about the recent additions to NCER’s CTE research portfolio: 7 new grants awarded across 2 grant programs in FY2021. A previous blog last summer announced these grants; this blog briefly describes each project (the hyperlinks will take you to the full online project abstract). Be sure to read to the end for links to other CTE work across IES!

 

Within the Education Research Grants program (305A), the following projects were funded in 2021:

College and Career Readiness: Investigating California's Efforts to Expand Career Technical Education Through Dual Enrollment

(PI: Michal Kurlaender, University of California, Davis)

This project is examining the result of policy changes due to California Assembly Bill 288 (AB288), enacted in 2015 to create the College and Career Access Pathways (CCAP) partnership. CCAP increased the prominence of Career and Technical Education (CTE) at the high school level by allowing high schools and community colleges to enter joint partnerships and offer dual enrollment courses that count towards both a high school diploma and an associate degree from California community colleges. 

Postsecondary and Labor Market Effects of Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools

(PI: Marc Stein, Johns Hopkins University)

This project uses a unique selection process into CTE Centers within a large school district, linked with longitudinal state data, to provide strong evidence on the benefits and mechanisms of CTE participation on secondary education, postsecondary education, and labor market outcomes.

SREB Career and Technical Education Leadership Academy Study

(PI: James Stone, Southern Regional Education Board)

This project is developing, piloting, and studying the promise of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Career and Technical Education Leadership Academy to increase the capacity of school leaders at career and technology centers to work with their teachers as instructional leaders and thereby improve CTE outcomes for their students.

An Experimental Evaluation of the Efficacy of Virtual Enterprises

(Co-PIs: Fatih Unlu, RAND Corporation and Kathy Hughes, AIR)

In this project, the research team will provide the first causal evidence on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of Virtual Enterprises, a virtual school-based enterprise (SBE) program. SBEs are one form of work-based learning (WBL) in which students run a business that produces and sells goods or services. SBEs may offer unique benefits relative to other types of WBL by providing opportunities for more students to participate, reducing the need for transportation, and allowing students more room to make and learn from their mistakes. Note: Since this is an efficacy (causal impact) study, it has joined the CTE Research Network.

Sub-baccalaureate Career and Technical Education: A Study of Institutional Practices, Labor Market Demand, and Student Outcomes in Florida

(PI: Angela Estacion, WestEd)

The purpose of this project is to address existing policy and research gaps by, first, administering a statewide survey to catalogue the institutional practices that Florida community and technical colleges use to align CTE programming to the labor market. Second, by combining the survey data with student-level program participation and outcome data, the project team will ascertain the degree to which institutional practices and labor market conditions in students' geographical areas are correlated with students' choices and outcomes. Finally, the project team will analyze qualitative data collected from case studies of Florida community and technical colleges to describe the practices cited in the survey data and understand the process of aligning courses and programs with local labor market demand.

 

Within the “Using SLDS to Support State Education Policymaking” (305S) grant program, the following projects were funded in 2021:

The Distributional Effects of Secondary Career and Technical Educational (CTE) Programs on Postsecondary Educational and Employment Outcomes: An Evaluation of Delaware's CTE Programs of Study

(PI: Luke Rhine, Delaware Department of Education)

The Delaware Department of Education and University of Delaware is examining variability in participation rates among student subgroups in Delaware public high school CTE programs and link CTE high school participation to high school graduation, postsecondary enrollment, employment, and wages. Stay tuned to delawarepathways.org for more information as the project unfolds.

Analyzing and Understanding the Educational and Economic Impact of Regional Career Pathways

(PI: Jonathan Attridge, Tennessee)

The research team is conducting an evaluation of Tennessee Pathways (along with earlier career pathway programs), a state initiative to align K-12 education, postsecondary education, and employers so that high school students have a clear pathway to move into the workforce.

 

For a full list of CTE-related grants funded by NCER and NCSER across years, topics, and grant competitions, you can explore our “funded projects” search pages for NCER or NCSER. Here is a recent blog post about students with disabilities in CTE from NCSER. And don’t forget to visit the CTE Research Network frequently for many new CTE-related findings and resources!

NCEE and NCES have published multiple reports on CTE, including Career and Technical Education Credentials in Virginia High Schools: Trends in Attainment and College Enrollment Outcomes, as well as some great blogs such as this one on exploring the growing impact of career pathways from NCEE. You can see more on career readiness from NCEE here and from NCES here.

We are so pleased with the growth of this portfolio since our first call for more CTE research 5 years ago! However, there continues to be a need to better understand CTE. For instance, research is still needed on CTE measures and assessments, quality of programs (content, instruction, and opportunities for WBL), and variation in impacts across student subgroups and career clusters.


For more information about CTE research grants, including feedback on new project proposal ideas, please contact NCER program officer Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov.

CTE Research Is Flourishing at IES!

Since its inception in 2017, the CTE portfolio in the National Center for Education Research (NCER) at IES has grown to 11 research grants and a research network! Several other CTE-related grants have been funded under other topics, such as “Postsecondary/Adult Education” and “Improving Education Systems” in the education research grants program, and in other grant programs such as “Using SLDS to Support State Policymaking.” Two CTE-related grants under the latter program were awarded in FY21—

The newest grants funded in FY21 in the CTE topic of the Education Research Grants program include—

As a causal impact study, the last project (on Virtual Enterprises) has been invited to join NCER’s CTE Research Network as its sixth and final member. Funded in 2018 to expand the evidence base for CTE, the CTE Research Network (led by PI Kathy Hughes at the American Institutes for Research) includes five other CTE impact studies (one project’s interim report by MDRC was recently reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse and was found to meet standards without reservations). You can read more about the network’s mission and each of its member projects here.  

On AIR’s CTE Research Network website, you can find several new resources and reports, such as: 

The CTE Research Network has also been conducting training, including workshops in causal design for CTE researchers and online modules on data and research for CTE practitioners, shared widely with the field by a Network Lead partner, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). 

Last but certainly not least, if you are interested in getting your CTE project funded by IES, see the new FY22 research grant opportunities on the IES funding page. To apply to the CTE topic in the Education Research Grants program specifically, click on the PDF Request for Applications (ALN 84.305A). Contact Corinne Alfeld with any questions you might have.


Written by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), NCER Program Officer 

 

New Project Exploring Adult Basic Skills in STEM-Related Postsecondary CTE®

In celebration of CTE® (career and technical education) month, we would like to highlight the launch of an NCER project that aims to help us understand how to best support adults seeking additional CTE education and training.

Through their exploratory project, Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem-Solving Skills in Technology-Rich Environment in the STEM-Related Subbaccalaureate Programs in the United States, researchers will use a mixed-method design to gather information about the distribution of basic skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) for adults in STEM occupations and students enrolled in STEM-related sub-baccalaureate programs at community colleges. Their goal is to help identify the needs of students and the programming practices at community colleges that may promote basic skill development in STEM programs.

The team will be leveraging data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to survey the distribution of skills and abilities across a nationally representative sample of adults in STEM fields. They will also be collecting primary data from adults and programs in multiple locations, including Indiana, Ohio, and Washington states.

 

 

To help inform the public about their project, the researchers have created a short YouTube video for the public. This project began in July 2020 and may have initial results ready as early as late 2021.

 


Written by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), Program Officer for Postsecondary and Adult Education, NCER.