Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Career Academies, Pathways, and Elective Courses: Exploring Variation in Work-Based Learning Experiences and Student Outcomes
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Shields, Katherine Awardee: Education Development Center, Inc.
Program: Career and Technical Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2017 - 06/30/2021) Award Amount: $1,383,016
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A170383

Purpose: In this project, researchers will compare three modes of career technical education (CTE) delivery: career academies, career pathways, and elective CTE courses. Although CTE is increasingly used as a means to prepare students for college and careers, the modes of delivery can vary. Most prior studies of CTE effectiveness have examined students enrolled in one mode. Without attention to variation in how students experience CTE instruction, including work-based learning opportunities, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of CTE for improving student outcomes. Furthermore, practitioners may be unaware of inequitable access to and benefits from their programs. This study will take place in a single large district that offers three modes of CTE instruction, allowing for comparisons across modes while holding district-level characteristics constant.

Project Activities: The researchers will examine relationships between CTE delivery mode and student outcomes, with a focus on work-based-learning experiences of varying levels of intensity. They will test hypotheses about potential moderators of these relationships: student characteristics (gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and prior academic achievement) and program characteristics (industry sector). The study will also test the hypothesis that students who participate in more intense work-based learning experiences, such as internships and student-run enterprises, will have better education outcomes than students who only participate in lower-intensity work-based learning, such as career fairs and employer site visits.

Products: The researchers will produce preliminary evidence of potential malleable factors in CTE instructional mode in improving student education outcomes. They will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in the nine comprehensive high schools in a large district in California, which offers 40 career academies and pathways in 14 industry sectors.

Sample: The study will involve two longitudinal cohorts: (1) a sample of more than 4,700 students enrolled in career and technical education courses in grades 9 and 10, tracked from the 2014–15 school year through 2019–20; and (2) a sample of more than 3,200 students enrolled in career academies and non-academy pathways in grades 10 and 11, whose work-based learning experiences will be documented through primary data collection during the academic years 2018–19 through 2019–20. Subsamples of students and teachers will be selected through stratified random sampling for focus group discussions.

Research Design and Methods: The study will use mixed methods to first identify patterns and relationships through quantitative analysis of administrative data, then delve more thoroughly into the characteristics of, and processes contributing to, those patterns and relationships using qualitative methods. Qualitative methods include interviews with school administrators; focus groups with a sample of technical and academic teachers affiliated with the academy or pathway; and a student focus group. Working closely with district partners during qualitative data collection, the research team can uncover program implementation details that would be invisible in large-scale quantitative datasets. In addition, early qualitative findings will inform the development instruments related to work-based learning participation used in later data collection.

Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition. However, because students who choose different CTE experiences may differ in systematic ways, the researchers will use propensity score matching techniques to create to create comparison groups participating in different modes of CTE   that is statistically similar to the CTE students to examine selection bias.

Key Measures: Student academic achievement will be measured by state standardized ELA and math assessments and academic GPA; academic persistence (credit accumulation, year-to-year persistence, and high school graduation); and CTE achievement, as measured by CTE GPA and CTE course pass rates. Measures of malleable factors (modes of CTE delivery) will be gathered from extant administrative data, supplemented by primary data collection on the dosage and intensity of individual students' work-based learning experiences.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will employ quantitative analyses and correlational methods (i.e., regression) in a multilevel framework to estimate relationships between student outcomes and modes of CTE participation, as well as student and CTE program moderators of those relationships. Researchers will also conduct multiple sensitivity analyses. They will code transcripts of qualitative interviews and focus groups to explore themes that extend the quantitative findings.