Inside IES Research

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IES is Expanding the Evidence Base for Career and Technical Education (CTE)

Since February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month—let’s look at what is going on in CTE training and research. Formerly known as “vocational education,” CTE generally comprises instruction in the academic, technical, and employability skills and knowledge required to enter into and succeed in specific occupations. CTE can introduce high school students to different career paths and help them build marketable skills or even credentials. For college students, CTE offers an entry point for new and returning students as they gain knowledge and skills in certain occupational fields.

Many policymakers consider CTE to be a key aspect of “college and career readiness.” In 2017, 49 states enacted 241 CTE policies, and 42 states enacted an additional 146 CTE policies in 2018. However, CTE practice and policy are way ahead of research—particularly in terms of research that can more definitively link CTE to specific outcomes and impacts. Over the past few years, IES has made some important strides in this area.

Following a Technical Working Group meeting on the future of CTE research, IES partnered with the Office of Career Technical and Adult Education to launch a new research network called “Expanding the Evidence Base for Career and Technical Education (CTE).” 

 

 

The CTE research network is a five-year grant, to be led by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), with partners at Vanderbilt University, Jobs for the Future, and the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). Currently, three IES research projects have joined the new network, and we hope to eventually include up to six. All of these projects will look at the causal impact of CTE on student outcomes.

Throughout the five-year grant period, the Network Lead will bring together project teams and help to provide vision and support to the research projects as a whole. The Network Lead will also conduct research, provide CTE research training activities, and work to disseminate the Network’s research products so that they can reach the widest possible stakeholder audience. 

The first meeting of the Network members occurred on January 8, 2019 in Washington, DC, where members began to set the priorities for collaborative work across projects. Network members agreed that it is critical for all research projects to provide detailed data broken out by CTE field and by student subgroups, including students with disabilities.

One key priority of the Network is to develop a working definition of CTE for research purposes (i.e., how to define a CTE student and how to measure CTE participation). A related priority is to identify or develop appropriate measures of CTE participation and outcomes that network members, as well as other CTE researchers, can use. Over the course of the grant, network members will have the opportunity to collaborate on a variety of activities.

We will be reporting on the Network’s progress periodically on this blog, but readers are also encouraged to visit the CTE Research Network website, housed by AIR.

 

Blog post by Corinne Alfeld, program officer in the IES National Center for Education Research (NCER)

For more information about the CTE research network, contact corinne.alfeld@ed.gov. Corinne is also the program officer for NCER’s CTE research topic, which will be accepting grant applications for all types of CTE research later in 2019! (Note that funded studies designed to measure the causal impact of CTE programs or policies may be eligible to join the CTE research network in future years). Sign up for the IES Newsflash to be notified when the NCER Requests for Applications are released.

Informing Future Research in Career and Technical Education (CTE)

Career and Technical Education (CTE) has been evolving and expanding at a rapid pace in recent years as industry and education leaders focus on students’ readiness for college and careers. While some studies have shown positive effects of CTE on students, the evidence base is thin. To learn more about the research needs of the CTE field, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) and the National Center for Education Research (NCER) at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) convened a group of experts in policy, practice and research related to CTE.  The discussion held by the Technical Working Group (TWG) led both NCER and NCSER to increase their investments in CTE for fiscal year 2019: NCSER included a CTE special topic, and NCER changed its CTE topic from a special topic to a standing topic. Applications to both are due August 23, 2018.  Both research centers hope to fund more studies that will help us better understand this growing aspect of education.

The TWG focused on the following four questions:

  1. Who is served by CTE and who is left behind? From national CTE statistics, we know that 82% of all public high schools offer CTE. And, 85% of students earn at least one credit in CTE with the average high school student earning 2.5 CTE credits. However, TWG members noted that research is lacking on specific subpopulations in CTE, such as students from various demographic backgrounds and students with disabilities. Disaggregated data on these dimensions are needed to better understand the CTE experiences of the range of students being served. Such data may help educators improve equity of access to high quality programs for all students.
  2. What do we know―and need to know―about CTE policies, programs, and practices at the secondary and postsecondary levels?  TWG experts discussed the need to know more about industry-recognized credentials and about business and industry engagement in CTE at the secondary level. They argued that we do not know if credentials align with industry requirements, nor do we understand the impact of different types of credentials on student outcomes and wage trajectories. TWG members also noted that the higher the perceived quality or prestige of the CTE program, the more exclusive it becomes, and the more difficult it is for disadvantaged students to obtain access. TWG members also expressed concerns about CTE teacher training, particularly for experts who are recruited from industry without prior teacher preparation. As the experts discussed postsecondary CTE, they suggested that the field would be best served by framing the conversation about secondary to postsecondary pathways as a continuum that enables transparent and sequential transitions from secondary to 2-year and then to 4-year programs or to training or employment, with guidance for students to understand possible sequences.
  3. What are the critical methodological issues in CTE?  TWG members noted that, with a few notable exceptions (e.g.,  a 2008  MDRC study on career academies in New York and a recent study of CTE high schools in Massachusetts), few causal studies on CTE have been conducted. There is an urgent need for more high quality, causal research on CTE policies and programs. In addition, the experts noted that there is almost no research on students with disabilities in CTE. TWG members concluded that the field needs to re-conceptualize CTE research – including better defining CTE students, instructors, programs, and measures – and identify the critical research questions in order to encourage more research in this field.
  4. What is needed to advance CTE research?  State CTE administrators want to know how to identify quality CTE programs so they know how to spend their dollars most effectively on programs that best meet the needs of students. Policymakers also want to know what “works” and what the benefits are of such investments. The TWG members encouraged studies that examine the educational benefits of particular instructional approaches. They also highlighted the importance of collaborative cross-institutional and cross-agency efforts to advance CTE research.

Readers are invited to read the summary of the TWG discussion.

By Corinne Alfeld (NCER program officer) and Kimberley Sprague (former NCSER program officer)

Career Pathways Programming in Adult Education Programs: What We are Learning from Three Cities

As part of our series recognizing the IES investment in Career and Technical Education (CTE) research, we interviewed Esther Prins, Professor at Pennsylvania State University, about her NCER-funded project, Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants: A Comparative Analysis of Adult Education Providers in High-Need Cities.  This Researcher-Practitioner Partnership involves researchers at Pennsylvania State University working in collaboration with adult education providers in Chicago, Houston, and Miami to better understand how adult education programs are incorporating career pathways into their delivery models.

What is the education issue you and your partners trying to address?

Millions of U.S. adults have been left behind by the economy and rising education requirements for even minimum-wage jobs. Career pathway (CP) programs help adults prepare for employment and postsecondary education. Although recent federal policy (e.g., WIOA) has encouraged CP programming among adult education providers, there is little research to help guide practice and few opportunities for providers to learn about how their peers organize CP programs, who they serve, what outcomes they measure, and other program features.

What are career pathway programs in adult education?

CP programs develop adults’ basic math, reading, and English language skills, while concurrently preparing them to enter postsecondary education or jobs in specific fields like healthcare or manufacturing. These programs can be run through many kinds of institutions, including community colleges, workforce development organizations, and community-based organizations. The adults seeking CP classes may vary in their skill levels, but our project focused on the adults with greatest barriers to education and employment: those who did not graduate from high school or who have low math, reading, or English language scores.

What are some of the specific concerns your practitioner partners have?

Some practitioners are concerned that requirements programs must meet may unintentionally reward programs for enrolling higher-level students—the ones who are most likely to find a job or enroll in college—rather than serving students with the greatest need. They also want to know about what non-academic supports programs may need to provide, so we are exploring the role of wraparound support services. These are important because many adult learners experience poverty and related challenges such as transportation, childcare, housing, and financial instability.

What are some of the major findings thus far?

First, CP programming is widespread: more than 90% of the surveyed organizations offered or were developing CP classes in 2015. However, there are no shared program outcome measures, and this hinders comparison and documentation of programs’ collective impact. Coordination within cities primarily occurs on a small scale between a subset of organizations; citywide coordination across organizations and funding streams is less common.

Second, the majority of CP classes require students to meet minimum entry requirements such as passing a reading, math, or language test and/or possessing a high school degree. These requirements limit access for adults with the greatest barriers. To address these issues, programs are trying different options. For example, some programs offered multiple entry points (e.g., bridge classes) to enable adults with skills gaps to advance from lower-level to higher-level CP classes.

Third, agencies offer a variety of wraparound support services to meet students’ non-academic needs. Some programs bundle support services, meaning they require participation in at least two support services. These include screening for income supports and access to financial services, financial coaching and literacy, and job coaching.

The report on the survey is available online.

 

How are the findings being used?

Building on the findings from this study, the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition formed a group of 13 adult education providers to staff a Career Navigator at their local American Jobs Center to address issues such as forming shared program metrics, helping adults with lower skills, and connecting adults to support services available at the American Jobs Center. 

What other issues need to be studied?

Practitioners are interested in better understanding the long-term effects and trajectories of students in CP programs. For example, they’d like to know more about postsecondary and employment outcomes and whether certain individual characteristics, program supports, or instructional approaches lead to better outcomes. Additional research could help shed light on these issues.

Meredith Larson, NCER Program Officer, interviewed Esther Prins 

The figures above are from an infographic prepared by the research team and summarize the data gathered by the team.

Teaching 21st Century Skills to Community College Students: An Innovative Approach Under Development in California

As part of our series recognizing Career and Technical Education (CTE) month, we interviewed Mary Visher, Senior Associate at MDRC, about her recently funded study, Teaching and Learning 21st Century Skills in Community Colleges: A Study of the New World of Work Program (NWoW). This project is developing and testing an innovative program aimed at teaching 21st century skills to community college students in CTE courses. Researchers, policymakers, and practitioners are working closely together to improve upon NWoW, which is already in use in several community colleges in California.

What are 21st century skills, and why are they important?

There is growing consensus among researchers, practitioners, and employers that 21st century skills–e.g., adaptability, analytic mindset, collaboration, and communication–are essential for success in both school and in the modern workplace. We believe that postsecondary programs need to incorporate strategies to ensure that students graduate with these skills.

Why are you (personally) excited about this work?

About two years ago, I was interviewing community college students in California about their experiences when a young man walked into the room. The first thing I noticed were his tattoos, which covered every inch of his exposed skin. The next thing I noticed was how he strode over to me, stretched out his hand to shake mine with a firm grip, looked me in the eye, smiled warmly and introduced himself. Having interviewed hundreds of community college students for other research projects, I had rarely – if ever – encountered this level of self-assurance, respectful courtesy, and ability to immediately adapt and respond to an unfamiliar person with an unfamiliar purpose.

The young man told me that he had been incarcerated as a teen for gang involvement, and, after being discharged from prison, he couldn’t find work. With few other options, he enrolled in the diesel technology program at his local community college, but this was not an ordinary CTE program. It included NWoW.

Through NWoW, he learned 21st century skills in the context of learning diesel technology skills and had worksite experiences to practice both. He told me that this part of his education “changed his life.” He did so well in a job interview at a food processing equipment manufacturer that he was not only hired, but quickly promoted to a management position. At the time we met, he was to receive company training and another promotion, but he still planned on earning his certificate. After that, he planned on applying to a state university to pursue a BA or a master’s degree.

The young man credited his professional success to NWoW, where he learned behaviors and skills no one else had taught him. It is exciting to be a part of developing and testing a program that may affect the lives of adult students in such ways.

How did NWoW come into being?

In 2015, faculty at a community college in California noticed the deficiencies in students’ soft skills and developed a 21st century skills curriculum to use in their classes. They added a work-based learning and an assessment component a short time later. Soon thereafter, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office noticed their work and gave them support to further develop the program and take it to more colleges. 

What are the core components of the NWoW program?

NWoW is designed to promote growth in 10 skills and has 3 core components, all 3 of which will undergo an iterative development process in the next 2 years:

  1. A curriculum designed to be embedded in CTE community college courses;
  2. A work-based learning component to allow students practice the skills in an authentic work setting; and
  3. An assessment/credentialing component allowing students to earn a “digital badge” in each of the 10 skills.

What is your research goal?

Our goal is to work with instructors (including the original program designers), employers, and other partners to further refine and enhance this program. Moreover, we hope to address important questions in the field about whether or how such skills can be taught and learned in the classroom, how to measure them, and how to signal competency to employers and others. 

Who else is involved?

MDRC is working with the NWoW team and its partners, including the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Foundation for California Community Colleges, LinkedIn, and badgr. The development work is ongoing with three community colleges, and we will then test the improved version in a new set of colleges.

By Mary Visher, Senior Associate at MDR​C, interviewed by Meredith Larson, NCER

 

Career and Technical Education at IES

Welcome to Career and Technical Education (CTE) month!

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be blogging about IES projects and resources relevant to CTE. We will be highlighting grant competitions, including our newest competition, Expanding the Evidence Base for Career and Technical Education, which aims to increase research on the impact of CTE programs and policies on student outcomes and support training of new CTE researchers. And we will showcase work conducted by IES and our grantees.

For this first blog, we wanted to share our working definition of CTE, along with links to information and resources.

CTE aims to help students enter into and succeed in specific occupational fields such as health science, information technology, and business administration. Students in secondary, postsecondary, and adult education may pursue CTE activities as part of their other education requirements (e.g., courses for high school graduation, classes to prepare for General Equivalency Development or General Equivalency Diploma (GED) test) or as a program to earn an occupational certificate at the subbaccalaureate level.

Over the past decade, interest has been growing in CTE and career pathway models across public and private arenas. For example, at the federal level, interest in CTE is reflected in the legislations that authorize these education and training activities, namely the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006  and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014.

At IES, our goal is to identify the needs of CTE students and expand our understanding of effective CTE practices. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) assists in monitoring the status of CTE by providing national information on student participation in CTE at the secondary and postsecondary levels and on adults’ preparation for work. This information is available on the CTE Statistics website.

The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) also supports work on CTE. For example, NCEE’s Regional Education Laboratory Programs work with policymakers and practitioners on career and college readiness issues, including CTE. Some regions have groups that focus on CTE directly, such as REL Appalachia's West Virginia Workforce Readiness Partnership and REL Mid-Atlantic's Readiness for Career Entry and Success Research Alliance.

The two grant-awarding centers, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) support field-initiated research in CTE primarily through the Career and Technical Education, Postsecondary and Adult Education, and Transition Outcomes for Secondary Students with Disabilities topic areas. In September 2017, NCER and NCSER sponsored a technical working group meeting to gain insights from CTE practitioners and researchers. On January 22, NCER released the request for applications for the new research network mentioned above, Expanding the Evidence Base for Career and Technical Education.

We look forward to sharing more information about our CTE research and statistics. Come back throughout the month to hear from IES staff and grantees about this work!

By Meredith Larson (NCER)