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IES Grant

Title: The Causal Impact of Attending a Career-Technical High School on Student Achievement, High School Graduation, and College Enrollment
Center: NCER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Dougherty, Shaun M. Awardee: Vanderbilt University
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2016 – 6/30/2020) Award Amount: $694,741
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A180511

Previous Award Number: R305A160195
Previous Awardee: University of Connecticut

Co-Principal Investigators: Eric J. Brunner, Stephen L. Ross

Long-Term Follow-Up Award: 5 Years (FY 2020–FY 2025), $647,499.00

Purpose: The research team is examining the impact of attending a career technical education (CTE) high school on students' achievement, high school graduation, and college enrollment. In recent years, there has been an increasing focus among educators and policy makers on the possibility of CTE to meet the growing need for career readiness among students. However, there is limited causal evidence to support the promise of alternative secondary education models that focus on CTE. This study used admissions criteria and longitudinal data to estimate the causal effect of being admitted to and attending one of 16 oversubscribed high schools in the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS), where all students participate in some form of CTE, relative to attending a traditional comprehensive high school with fewer opportunities to access CTE.

Project Activities: Researchers merged admissions data from CTHSS with the state administrative data from the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) to develop a longitudinal database following applicants through high school and into college. The researchers used application data and information on admissions score cutoffs to compare students who were similar on their application score, but who differed in whether they were offered a spot in a CTHSS school based on the limited availability of seats. Using a regression discontinuity design, differences in outcomes between students who had similar scores on admissions criteria but who did or did not enroll can be attributed to the causal effect of attending a CTHSS school. Researchers also collected primary data on the quality of CTE instruction and the allocation of resources at CTHSS schools to understand how these schools differ from traditional high schools and therefore what might be contributing to student outcomes.

Products: The research team produced evidence of the effects of attending a CTHSS school on student achievement, high school graduation, and college enrollment, as well as the costs of this type of school relative to traditional high schools in the state. Researchers also produced peer-reviewed publications of the findings, datasets, and documentation about how to acquire a restricted-use agreement to access the data.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study took place in Connecticut and includes high schools in urban, suburban, and rural settings.

Sample: The sample includes approximately 54,000 students who applied to the CTHSS for entrance into one of the 16 schools for admission in 9th grade in the academic years spanning 2006-2007 through 2013-2014. These students represent all districts throughout Connecticut from which CTHSS students originated with roughly 40 percent from the state's largest cities.

Intervention: The intervention is attending a CTHSS school. CTHSS is an autonomous public school district of choice comprised of 16 high schools. The schools offer full-day programs to their students and all students take a substantial share of their coursework in a CTE program.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers use a "fuzzy" regression discontinuity (RD) design using admissions data from the CTHSS and administrative data from the CSDE to estimate the effects of attending a CTHSS school on student outcomes. In addition, researchers developed a standardized tool to collect primary data on the quality of CTE delivery in all CTHSS schools and a subset of control schools. Public school budget data were collected and compiled for both treatment and control schools to provide a cost analysis.

Control Condition: The control group consists of students who just missed the admissions cutoff score for attending a CTHSS school and attended another high school instead.

Key Measures: Researchers use continuous scores for the CTHSS application criteria, indicators of whether a student was admitted to a CTHSS school and administrative data on student demographics and school characteristics. Student-level outcomes include proximal measures of attendance, discipline, and state test scores, as well as more distal measures of high-school graduation, college enrollment, and degree or certificate completion. Protocols for school observations and interviews regarding CTE delivery (e.g., number of CTE programs, industry credentials, and work-based learning opportunities offered) were developed.

Data Analytic Strategy: This study uses a "fuzzy" RD approach, operationalized using instrumental variables in a two-stage least squares estimation strategy. In the first stage, researchers model the relationship between a student's application score and whether they scored above the cutoff used to make an initial offer of admission to predict whether they actually enrolled in a CTHSS school in grade 9. By using the random offer of admission as an instrument for actual enrollment, researchers isolate the exogenous variation in enrollment that was the result of receiving the random offer of admission. In the second stage, researchers use the exogenous variation in enrollment to estimate the causal local average treatment effect of enrolling in a CTHSS school on subsequent student outcomes. Researchers provide estimates for both intent-to-treat and treatment-on-the-treated. Heterogeneity of effects are explored for students in cities and students from lower income backgrounds. The research team collected primary implementation data in the CTHSS schools and quantify the data to use as an additional mediator in the quantitative models to estimate program impacts.

The project received a follow-up grant of $647,499.00 in 2020 to add five years of additional outcome and educational context data to the existing study for two purposes. First, researchers will follow existing cohorts through ages 20 through 30 (depending on the cohort), adding higher education attainment and workforce outcomes, and allowing the research team to determine whether earlier effects persist over time. Second, they will add more data on the context in which students in CTHSS and counterfactual schools were engaged in their high school experience, including information on the specific CTE courses taken by students. This latter data will provide more detailed information about school and program experiences and can inform mediation analyses that unpack the mechanisms behind the education and workforce impacts observed in the initial study.

This project is a member of the CTE Research Network, R305N180005.