Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Analyzing and Understanding the Educational and Economic Impact of Regional Career Pathways
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Attridge, Jonathon Awardee: Tennessee Department of Education
Program: Using Longitudinal Data to Support State Education Policymaking      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2021 – 06/30/2024) Award Amount: $926,761
Type: Exploration and Efficacy Award Number: R305S210027

Co-Principal Investigators: Maynor, Jerre; Schaaf, Kevin; Bonilla, Sade; Carruthers, Celeste K.; Mosley, Chaney; Dyer, Elizabeth; Dee, Thomas

Partner Institutions: Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE), University of Massachusetts, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), and Education Strategy Group (ESG).

Note: This grant was awarded in FY21, but the project did not take place because the state made a decision to stop the program to be evaluated. The information included in the abstract below describes the planned scope of work that was reviewed and recommended for funding prior to the state’s decision. All of the awarded funds were returned to IES.

Purpose: The research team will conduct an evaluation of Tennessee Pathways (along with earlier career pathway programs), a state initiative to align K-12 education, postsecondary education, and employers so that high school students have a clear pathway to move into the workforce.

Project Activities: The project team will carry out three activities:

  • Examine whether high-quality career pathways are equitably accessible to historically underserved groups of students,
  • Evaluate whether high-quality career pathways lead to improved student education and labor market outcomes, and
  • Identify key features of high-quality career pathways linked to equitable student access, enrollment, and success.

Products: The project will include policy briefs and briefings for policymakers and practitioners, training and professional development on key lessons from the research, and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project takes place in comprehensive high schools in the state of Tennessee.

Sample: Analyses focused on career pathways before Tennessee Pathways was implemented will include students in grades 9-12 enrolled since 2013-2014 (about 733,000 unique students), whose course enrollment history can be mapped to the state's current suite of CTE programs of study and career clusters. Analyses focused on Tennessee Pathways will be further limited to students at the 164 schools that applied for Tennessee Pathways Certification and the 9th grade cohorts entering in fall 2015-2018, who would have likely been enrolled just prior to and after the 2018-2019 Pathways Certification process (approximately 170,000 students for this project). For the qualitative study, the project team will select 10 school districts.

Key Issue, Program, or Policy: Tennessee Pathways was started in 2018 as an initiative between TDOE and the Tennessee Board of Regents. It seeks to align K-12, postsecondary education, and employers so that high school students have a clear pathway to move into the workforce. The program combines a program of study (a multi-course sequence of CTE courses), access to postsecondary education and work-based learning opportunities, college and career advising, and partnerships of school districts, postsecondary institutions, employers, and community organizations to create the pathways. In 2019, TDOE created the Tennessee Pathways Certification to recognize schools, districts and consortia of districts for their plans to establish a Career Pathway that included a set of courses creating a program of study, early college and career experiences, high quality advisement, and strong postsecondary and labor market partnerships programs.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will use different methodologies for the three project activities. They will complete a descriptive analysis of student access and participation in high-quality pathways broken out by student race, ethnicity, and economic disadvantage overall, by school, by subsets of pathways (career clusters), and by geographic region. The team will examine the impacts of participation in a high-quality career pathway using both a difference-in-difference analysis of student outcomes before and after a career pathway was established at a school, and a regression discontinuity design for pathways receiving Tennessee Pathways Certification based on the TDOE scoring and certification process that took place in spring 2019 and fall 2020. Third, the team will implement a qualitative study to examine career pathway development, implementation, and student experience.

Control Condition: The descriptive analysis will compare career pathway access and participation by historically underserved students with that of more advantaged students. The difference-in-difference impact study will compare student outcomes in schools before versus after a career pathway was established. The regression discontinuity impact study will compare student outcomes in schools that scored just above the score required by TDOE to certify a career pathway program versus schools that scored just below the certification score. The qualitative study will compare findings from schools and districts with certified pathways, with pathways that did not score high enough to be certified, and with pathways for which no application for certification was made.

Key Measures: The project team will use three measures to determine if career pathways are high quality: (1) if the pathway was certified under the Tennessee Pathways Certification in spring of 2019 or fall 2020, (2) if the school or district submitted the pathway for such certification, and (3) if a pathway that existed before Tennessee Pathways was implemented aligns with a Certified pathway. Student learning and progression outcomes include career pathway participation and enrollment in pathway courses, pathway completion in high school, early postsecondary opportunity participation, student achievement (i.e., End-of-Course and ACT scores), student engagement (i.e., absenteeism, disciplinary records, suspensions), educational attainment (i.e., high school graduation, postsecondary enrollment and persistence), postsecondary major selection, industry certification attainment, and early-career employment, earnings, and industry.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will estimate a linear regression model for the descriptive analysis to predict student participation in a high-quality pathway dependent upon student, school, and career pathway characteristics. They will also estimate linear regression models to estimate the causal impacts of career pathways with additional checks for internal validity of the difference in difference analysis.

State Decision Making: The findings will be useful as the Tennessee DOE and the Tennessee Board of Regents consider:

  • Policies concerning underrepresented student access to the pathways
  • Which pathways are linked to postsecondary and employment outcomes
  • Targeting assistance for developing pathways
  • The work of the regional Tennessee Pathways coordinators and the training provided to them
  • Whether Pathways Certification supports institutional and student success and whether modifications to the scoring process should be considered
  • How to engage with local stakeholders on selecting and improving pathways

Related IES Projects: Dual Credit Courses and the Road to College: Experimental Evidence from Tennessee (R305H140028); Expanding Delaware's Insight Data Warehouse Reporting and Instructional Improvement Capabilities (Insight Plus)(R372A150015);  Modernizing Data Systems from Early Childhood to Career in Tennessee (R372A200037); Tennessee Department of Education Longitudinal Data System (R372A05127)