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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Program Officer at NCSER, and Michael Gottfried (email@example.com), Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.