Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

CTE Teacher Licensure: The Wild West of the Wild West and Its Impact on Students with Disabilities

Positive career and technical education (CTE) experiences have the potential to lead to long-term success for students with disabilities. Yet the pathways into this field for teachers are highly variable. In honor of CTE Awareness Month, we would like to share an interview with NCSER-funded principal investigators Dan Goldhaber (left below) and Roddy Theobald (right below), who have been investigating the relationship between preparation pathways for CTE teachers and student outcomes. In the interview below, Drs. Goldhaber and Theobald share their findings and how their research can influence CTE teacher licensure. 

What led to your interest in studying CTE for students with disabilities?Headshot of Roddy TheobaldHeadshot of Dan Goldhaber

A growing body of research—including prior work we’ve done with a NCSER grant on predictors of postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities—has found that participation in a concentration of CTE courses in high school is a strong predictor of improved postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. Moreover, in another recent NCSER-funded project, we found that pre-service preparation of special education teachers can be a significant predictor of outcomes for students with disabilities in their classrooms. Our current project lies directly at the intersection of these two prior projects and asks the following question: Given the importance of both CTE courses and special education teachers for predicting outcomes for students with disabilities, what role do CTE teachers play in shaping these outcomes, and what types of CTE teacher preparation are most predictive of improved outcomes for these students? This question is important in Washington state because individuals with prior employment experience can become a CTE teacher through a "business and industry" (B&I) pathway that does not require as much formal teacher preparation as traditional licensure pathways. Likewise, this question is important nationally because over half of states offer a similar CTE-specific path to teacher licensure that relies on prior work experience as a licensure requirement.

Your research team published a report last year from your current research project with some surprising results related to the teacher preparation pathway and outcomes for students. Can you tell us about those findings?

In the first paper from this project, now published in Teacher Education and Special Education, we connected observable characteristics of CTE teachers in Washington to non-test outcomes (including absences, disciplinary incidents, grade point average, grade progression, and on-time graduation) of students with and without disabilities in their classrooms. The most surprising findin­g was that students with disabilities participating in CTE tended to have better non-test outcomes when they were assigned to a CTE teacher from the B&I pathway compared those assigned to a traditionally prepared CTE teacher.

What do you think may be the underlying reason for this finding?

We discussed several hypotheses for this result in the paper, including the possibility that the content knowledge and experience of B&I pathway teachers may matter more than traditional preparation for students with disabilities. This conclusion, however, comes with two caveats. First, preliminary results from the second paper (presented at the 2023 APPAM Fall Conference) suggest that these relationships do not translate to improved college enrollment or employment outcomes for these students. Second, we cannot disentangle the effects of B&I teachers' prior employment experiences from "selection effects" of who chooses to enter through this pathway.

In what ways can this research influence CTE policy and practice?

We have described teacher licensure as the "Wild West" of education policy because 50 different states are responsible for developing state teacher licensing systems. CTE teacher licensure is like the "Wild West of the Wild West" in that over half of states offer a CTE-specific pathway to licensure, which relies on prior industry experience as a requirement for licensure, each with different requirements and regulations. As states continue to navigate challenges with staffing CTE classrooms with qualified teachers, it is important to understand the implications of the unique CTE-specific pathways for student outcomes, particularly for students with disabilities. This project is an early effort to provide this evidence to inform CTE licensure policy. 

How do you plan to continue this line of research?

The next steps of this project leverage data provided through the Washington state’s P-20 longitudinal data system maintained by the Washington Education Research and Data Center (ERDC). ERDC has connected high school students' CTE experiences (including their teacher) to college and employment records. This allows us to consider the implications of CTE teacher characteristics for students' postsecondary outcomes. Moreover, due to the question about the prior employment experiences of CTE teachers, ERDC has agreed to link records on CTE teachers’ prior employment so we can disentangle the importance of different pre-teaching employment experiences of CTE teachers. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

We are grateful to NCSER for their support of this project and the two prior projects that motivated it!

Dr. Dan Goldhaber is the director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington.

Dr. Roddy Theobald is the deputy director of CALDER and a managing researcher at AIR. Thank you, Dr. Dan Goldhaber and Dr. Roddy Theobald, for sharing your experiences and findings about CTE!

This blog was authored by Skyler Fesagaiga, a Virtual Student Federal Service intern for NCSER and graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. Akilah Nelson, NCSER program officer, manages grants funded under the Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities special topic.

It All Adds Up: Why and How to Measure the Cost of Career & Technical Education

Cost analysis is a critical part of education research because it communicates what resources are needed for a particular program or intervention. Just telling education leaders how promising a program or practice can be does not tell the whole story; they need to know how much it will cost so that they can prioritize limited resources. Since 2015, cost analysis has been required for IES-funded Efficacy/Impact studies (and for Development Innovation studies as of 2019) and is included in the IES Standards for Excellence in Education Research.

In this guest blog for CTE Month, two members of the CTE Research Network’s cost analysis working group, David Stern, an advisor to the network, and Eric Brunner, a co-PI of one of the research teams, discuss how costs associated with CTE programs may differ from those of standard education and how to measure those costs.

Photo of David SternWhy is cost analysis different in Career & Technical Education (CTE) research?

Due to additional, non-standard components needed in some types of career training, CTE can cost much more than the education resources needed in regular classrooms. For instance, CTE classes often use specialized equipment—for example, hydraulic lifts in automotive mechanics, stoves and refrigerators in culinary arts, or medical equipment in health sciences—which costs significantly more than equipment in the standard classroom. Having specialized equipment for student use can also constrain class size to be smaller, resulting in higher cost-per-pupil.  High schools and community colleges may also build labs within existing buildings or construct separate buildings to house CTE programs with specialized equipment. These required facility expenses will need to be recognized in cost calculations.

CTE programs can also provide co-curricular experiences for students alongside classes in career-related subjects, such as work-based learning, career exploration activities, or integrated academic coursework. Schools are usually required to provide transportation for students to workplaces, college campuses for field trips, or regional career centers, which is another expense. Finally, the budget lines for recruiting and retaining teachers from some higher paying career areas and industries (such as nursing or business) may exceed those for average teacher salaries. All of these costs add up. To provide useful guidance for the field, CTE researchers should measure and report the cost of these features separately.

Photo of Eric BrunnerHow is resource cost different from reported spending? 

There are also some hidden costs to account for in research on CTE. For example, suppose a school does not have a work-based learning (WBL) coordinator, so a CTE teacher is allowed one of their 5 periods each day to organize and oversee WBL, which may include field trips to companies, job shadowing experiences, internships, or a school-based enterprise. The expenditure report would show 20% of the teacher’s salary has been allocated for that purpose. In reality, however, a teacher may devote much more than 20% of their time to this. They may in fact be donating to the program by spending unpaid time or resources (such as transportation in their own vehicle to visit employer sites to coordinate learning plans) outside the workday. It is also possible that the teacher would spend less than 20% of their time on this. To obtain an accurate estimate of the amount of this resource cost at a particular school, a researcher would have to measure how much time the teacher actually spends on WBL.  This could be done as part of an interview or questionnaire.

Similarly, high school CTE programs are increasingly being developed as pathways that allow students to move smoothly to postsecondary education, such as via dual enrollment programs or directly to the labor market. Building and sustaining these pathways takes active collaboration between secondary and postsecondary educators and employers. However, the costs of these collaborations in terms of time and resources are unlikely to be found in a school expenditure report. Thus, an incremental cost analysis for CTE pathway programs must go beyond budgets and expenditure reports to interview or survey program administrators and staff about the resources or “ingredients” that programs require to operate. A recent example of a cost study of a CTE program can be found here.

Are there any resources for calculating CTE Costs?

In this blog, we have presented some examples of how the costs associated with CTE programs may differ from those of a standard education. To help CTE researchers conduct cost analysis, the CTE Research Network has developed a guide to measuring Incremental Costs in Career and Technical Education, which explains how to account for the particular kinds of resources used in CTE. The guide was developed by the working group on cost analysis supported by the CTE Research Network.

The Career and Technical Education (CTE) Research Network has supported several cross-network working groups comprised of members of network research teams and advisors working on issues of broad interest to CTE research. Another CTE Network working group developed an equity framework for CTE researchers, which was described in a blog for CTE month in February, 2023.

This blog was produced by Corinne Alfeld, NCER program officer for the CTE research topic and the CTE Research Network. Contact:

Intervention Strategies on Dropout Prevention and College and Career Readiness for Students with Disabilities: An Interview with Dr. Kern

In honor of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, we asked principal investigator Dr. Lee Kern how her intervention research reduces dropouts and prepares students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) for college and career readiness (CCR). The purpose of her current IES project is to develop and pilot test an intervention, Supported College and Career Readiness (SCCR), that augments typical school-based college and career readiness activities for students at or at risk for EBD.

What motivated you to conduct this research?

Headshot of Lee Kern

Given the high dropout rate among students with EBD, I am interested in strategies that keep them in school. Because post-graduation experiences serve as important indicators of positive educational outcomes, I want to establish a stronger connection between school and life after school to ensure that students are fully prepared. My co-PIs, Jennifer Freeman and Chris Liang, were motivated to collaborate on the current research project as well because of their unique focus on different aspects of CCR, allowing us to address multiple dimensions in the development of our intervention.

Can you provide us with an update on the project? What work have you completed to date on the development of the SCCR program?

We recognized and addressed a gap in the college and career readiness literature with this group of students. During the first 2 years of the project, we completed two literature reviews and two conceptual papers, which are in press, and we are in the process of completing a third literature review. Our completed literature reviews indicated (a) limited attention to CCR for individuals with emotional and behavioral problems, (b) lack of defined components of CCR interventions, (c) the need to evaluate the effectiveness of CCR interventions with students of color, and (d) aspects of CCR interventions that might be important for individuals with diverse sexual identities. These papers helped us develop our multi-component CCR intervention for students with or at risk for EBD.

The development phase was vital to creating our multi-component program. Schools practice different approaches to college and career preparation, so we needed to create a flexible program that could fit the many permutations in course scheduling, career interest assessments, career exposure activities, and other factors. Receiving teacher and student feedback on the program during the second year of the project was helpful and appreciated as we refined SCCR. We initiated a randomized controlled trial and ran the study in four schools this academic year. We will expand the research into four additional schools in the 2023-24 academic year.

What other types of research are needed to move forward in the field of CTE for students with or at risk for EBD?

Although we know that students, especially those with or at risk for EBD, need more preparedness for college or their future careers, research must specify intervention components that result in improved outcomes in these areas. Also, it must determine whether the interventions are effective across diverse groups of students and ascertain adaptations that address the needs of all students. Existing and ongoing research must be conducted to better assess student skills. Identifying assessments directly linked to critical and effective interventions that practitioners can implement will be important for future progress.

NCSER looks forward to learning the results of the pilot study to better understand the promise of the SCCR program for improving the college and career readiness of students with or at risk for EBD. For more highlights on the CTE-related work that IES is supporting, please check out our IES CTE page

Dr. Kern is a professor and the director of the Center for Promoting Research to Practice at Lehigh University. She has more than 30 years of experience in special education, mental health, and behavior intervention for students with EBD.

This CTE blog post was produced by Alysa Conway, NCSER student volunteer and University of Maryland, College Park graduate student. Akilah Nelson is the program officer for NCSER’s Career and Technical Education grants.



Variation Matters: A Look at CTE Under Distinctive Policy and Programming Conditions

Young diverse students learning together at stem robotics class - Hispanic Latina female building electronic circuits at school

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month! As part of our 20th anniversary celebration, we want to highlight the great work our CTE Research Network (CTERN) continues to accomplish. This guest blog was written by James Kemple, Director of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools and the principal investigator (PI) of a CTERN research project that is examining CTE in New York City.

While “college and career readiness” are familiar buzzwords in K-12 education, it has often seemed like system leaders shout “college” and whisper “career.” During the last decade, as it has become clear that a high school diploma has limited value in the 21st century labor market, career and technical education (CTE) has become a more prominent way to explicitly prepare students for both college and career. For the CTE field to evolve productively, valid and reliable evidence should inform policy and practice, for example by identifying conditions under which CTE may be more or less effective and for whom.

CTE and College and Career Readiness in New York City

One such project is our ongoing study of New York City’s CTE programs. The current phase of the study focuses on 37 CTE-dedicated high schools, which are structured to ensure that all enrolled students participate in a CTE Program of Study from 9th through 12th grade. These programs are organized around an industry-aligned theme (for example, construction, IT, health services, etc.) and offer a sequence of career-focused courses, work-based learning opportunities, and access to aligned college-level coursework. Our study uses an especially rigorous approach to compare the experiences and outcomes of nearly 19,000 NYC students who were assigned to a CTE-dedicated high school between 2013 and 2016 with those of similar students who also applied to CTE programs but were assigned to another high school during the same period.

When our research team looked at the overall impact of 37 CTE-dedicated high schools in NYC, we found that CTE students graduated from these high schools and enrolled in college at rates that were similar to their counterparts in non-CTE high schools. On average, therefore, being in a CTE high school did not steer students away from a college pathway.

Variations in CTE Programs

A much more interesting story emerged when we took a closer look at variation in student experiences and outcomes. In fact, some of the schools produced statistically significant reductions in immediate college enrollment, while others produced increases in the rate at which students enrolled in college.  Why might this be?

The study team identified two possible reasons. First, the schools in our sample differed based on the policy context in which they were created: 21 of the schools were established after 2008 as the NYCDOE undertook a major expansion of CTE in the midst of a larger overhaul of the city’s high schools that included closing persistently low-performing schools, opening new small schools in their place, and creating a universal high school admissions system that gave students access to schools across the city. In contrast to the 16 longstanding CTE high schools—some of which dated back to the early 1900s—these new high schools were smaller, with more thematically aligned sets of CTE programs, and non-selective admission processes. Most of the longstanding CTE schools used test scores, grades, or other performance measures as part of their admissions criteria.

Second, the schools in the study differed in terms of their intended career pathways—and the extent to which these career pathways require a post-secondary credential for entry-level jobs. Notably, nine of the newer (post-2008) high schools focused on career pathways that were likely to require a bachelor’s degree (referred to “college aligned”). CTE programs in the remaining 12 newer high schools and all of the CTE programs in the 16 longstanding high schools focused on either “workforce-aligned” career pathways—allowing students to enter the labor market directly after high school—or “mixed” pathways that require additional technical training or an associate degree for entry-level jobs. Interestingly, each of these groups of schools included a mix of CTE career themes. For example, some health- or technology-focused CTE programs reflected college-aligned pathways, while other programs with these themes reflected workforce-aligned pathways.

We found that the newer, smaller, less selective CTE schools with more tightly aligned career themes had positive effects on key outcomes—particularly those that were focused on college-intended career paths. These schools produced a substantial, positive, statistically significant impact on college enrollment rates. Students in these schools were nearly 10 percentage points more likely to enroll in a four-year college than those in the non-CTE comparison group.

By contrast, the larger, more selective CTE schools, with a range of work-aligned career pathways, were associated with null or negative effects on key outcomes. Notably, these schools actually reduced four-year college enrollment rates.

Applying Lessons Learned

The extraordinary diversity of NYC’s CTE landscape and its student population provides a unique opportunity to gather information about program implementation, quality, accessibility, and costs, and about how these factors influence CTE’s impacts on college and career readiness. A recent report from the project provides new insights into strategies for learning from variation in CTE programs and contexts, as well as particular policies and programming conditions that may enhance or limit college and career readiness.

Recent efforts to enhance CTE, including those underway in NYC, wisely focus on such key elements as rigorous and relevant CTE course sequences, robust work-based learning opportunities, and articulated partnerships with employers and post-secondary education institutions. The findings from this study point to additional conditions that are likely to interact with these curricular and co-curricular elements of CTE—such as providing students with smaller, more personalized learning environments; using inclusive (less selective) admissions policies; and aligning high school requirements with post-secondary options. It will be crucial for policymakers to attend to these conditions as they work to strengthen students’ pathways into college and careers.

Finally, it is important to note that we do not yet have all the information needed to fully discern the impact of NYC’s diverse CTE options. Data on employment and earnings will be crucial to understanding whether students in these schools opted to enter the workforce instead of, or prior to, enrolling in college—and how these decisions affected their longer-term trajectories.

This blog was produced by Corinne Alfeld (, program officer, NCER.


CTE Research Through an Equity Lens

This image depicts six considerations for centering equity in CTE research:  Ensure transparency: Be clear about the why, the what, and the who Involve the community: Obtain feedback from research participants throughout the process Develop diverse teams: Ensure teams represent varied perspectives and are trained in equity-based research perspective Take a systems approach: Be cognizant of historical issues of inequity within vocational education Acknowledge and attend to bias: Consider how bias is present in different parts of research Demonstrate respect: Bring an asset-based perspective

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month! As part of our 20th anniversary celebration, we want to highlight the great work our CTE Research Network (CTERN) continues to accomplish. The blog below highlights NCER’s conversation with the Equity Working Group of the IES-funded CTE Research Network

The Equity Working Group (EWG) of the CTE Research Network (CTERN) has published a new resource for researchers on using an equity lens in developing and conducting CTE research: The Equity Framework for CTE Research. CTERN is hosting a free webinar on February 21st at 3:00 Eastern to provide an overview of the framework and how people can use it. In this blog, members of the Equity Working Group answered questions about the framework and why it is important. 

The framework has a focus on equity, but equity can mean different things to different people. How does the EWG define equity in this framework?

We strongly believe that every student should have the opportunity to engage in quality educational experiences. Students who are interested should have access to CTE programs, regardless of their background characteristics. And school systems should invest in students so that they can succeed in these programs. Ultimately, we find ourselves quoting the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s definition because it neatly captures our position: “Every student has access to the educational resources and rigor they need at the right moment in their education across race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation, family background, and/or family income.”

Why did the EWG members believe that there was a need for an equity framework for CTE research?

CTE has a long and complicated history, including extensive tracking under its previous incarnation as vocational education. The CTE Equity Working Group was very conscious of this history and wanted to take steps to help ensure that CTE research was helping to ameliorate current inequities. As we say in the framework, “We believe that infusing equity throughout our research is critical to ensuring that research can make a difference in promoting equitable learning experiences and outcomes for all students who participate in CTE.”

We also recognized that many researchers (including ourselves) want to use an equity lens to do their research but lack practical guidance in what that looks like. The working group believed that a framework with concrete examples and tips would help CTE researchers have a clearer picture of what to do and would provide a tool for helping them think differently about their work.

How did the EWG create the framework?

This was a collaborative process that grew out of our first CTE Research Network meeting in 2018 or 2019. A group of us realized that incorporating an equity lens into our work would help us better answer questions that matter to communities. We decided to form a working group, which ended up including around 20 or so researchers, practitioners, and policy staff. We read a lot of good frameworks from different organizations on improving our research practices, so we decided to invest our energy in seeing how it may be applied to a CTE context.

How is the framework structured and what are some key takeaways?

It is important to note what this framework is and is not. This framework is not intended as a methodological primer or a replication of existing research guidance; it is intended to encourage researchers to think about their own work through an equity lens.

The framework starts with a brief history of equity in CTE, a description of the process of creating the framework, a list of vocabulary (we believe having a common language is critical), and a statement of the values that underlie the framework.

The rest of the framework is then organized by six stages of research: 1) project management; 2) research design, 3) measurement and data collection, 4) data analysis, 5) cost and resource equity, and 6) reporting and dissemination. In each section, we include a description of how to implement the stage with an equity-focused lens, with questions for researchers to consider and potential barriers. Throughout, we have included examples from current and future CTE research. We are looking for more examples, so people should feel free to reach out to us at to share how they are doing this work.

In creating summary products to go along with the framework, we identified six themes that cut across the different stages: ensure transparency, involve the community, develop diverse teams, take a systems approach, acknowledge and attend to bias, and demonstrate respect. These themes are summarized in an infographic.

How do you hope that people will use the framework?

We hope this will help start or further conversations among CTE researchers. We structured the framework around each stage of the research process, so anyone engaging in this work can find elements to incorporate or questions to consider individually and as a team, regardless of where they are in their work right now. For studies just getting off the ground, we did our best to illustrate how researchers can build an equity approach from the start of a project through its completion.

What are some examples of how the framework changed individual EWG members’ research practices?

Julie A. Edmunds (co-facilitator): Working on the framework has crystallized three high-impact equity-focused practices that I now try to infuse throughout my work. First, I pay much more attention to the role of systems in inequities. I try to look at upstream factors that might be causing disparities in educational outcomes as opposed to just documenting gaps that might exist between sub-groups. Second, when presenting those gaps (which we still do because it is useful information), I am much more conscious about how those gaps are displayed. For example, we focus on making sure that “White” is not considered the default category against which all others are compared. Third, we are creating processes to ensure that we share our findings with people who gave us the data. For example, we are sending practitioner-friendly products (such as briefs or infographics) to the school staff we interviewed whose insights formed the basis for some of our findings.

John Sludden (member): The framework has helped us think about our internal processes and keeps us focused on our audience, who we’re doing this for. I’m an analyst on the project, and I’ve been empowered to ask questions, conduct analyses, and present to our research partners at the New York City Department of Education. We’re currently thinking about ways to communicate findings to different audiences. At the moment, we’re working on a plan to share findings with principals of CTE high schools in New York City. Organizationally, we are also working on ways to directly engage students in the city, who know more about the system than we ever will. Similar to Julie, analytically, we have spent a lot of our time and attention on looking at the conditions under which students have not been well-served by the system, and ways that students may be better served by CTE.

This blog was produced by Corinne Alfeld (, program officer, NCER.