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Leveraging Research to Enhance Career and Technical Education Programs for the Future

March 19, 2021

SRI International
   Miya Warner, REL Appalachia

two students building a machine in engineering class

Career and technical education (CTE) leaders across the nation strive to ensure their students graduate high school with a clear path to high-demand jobs in their regional labor markets—jobs which often require additional postsecondary training. To assemble a portfolio of CTE programs that maximizes students' career readiness, CTE leaders need access to both labor market projection data as well as the ability to track the postsecondary outcomes of their graduates. These data should be reviewed regularly as part of ongoing planning in state and local education agencies. On December 1, 2020 the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Appalachia, REL Northwest, and REL Southwest hosted a webinar to share real-world examples from three research studies that used labor market and student postsecondary outcomes data to inform decisionmaking as part of a continuous improvement process.

Learning by example

During the webinar, participants learned how diverse educational agencies—such as the West Virginia Department of Education, the Oregon Department of Education, and the Round Rock Independent School District (RRISD) in Texas—are using data to improve the alignment between their CTE programs and needs of the 21st century workforce. The webinar featured three REL research studies:

Research results are just the beginning

The webinar included two sequential break-out sessions, allowing participants to attend in-depth question and answer sessions with each of the study authors and their practitioner partners. A common theme emerged across break-out sessions: the results from all three research studies can be viewed as just the first step in what should ultimately be an ongoing continuous improvement process for CTE programs. For example, the REL Northwest study revealed gaps in CTE participation and persistence rates by gender, race/ethnicity, special education status, English learner status, and socioeconomic status. Based on this finding, a CTE leader might decide to conduct a root-cause analysis to identify the factors that contribute to these gaps and determine how to close them.

The REL Appalachia study assessed whether CTE programs in West Virginia are aligned to projected high-demand occupations by regions. The results of this analysis can inform some immediate changes to program offerings, but as the labor market in the state continues to evolve—as a result of both the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state's strategic workforce development efforts—the alignment analyses will need to be updated with new labor market projections.

The REL Southwest study also examined the alignment of CTE programs of study to regional high-wage, in-demand careers, and whether CTE graduates were prepared to enter those careers or to continue their education after high school. RRISD and other district leaders can take this information into account as they consider opening a new CTE high school.

As these examples illustrate, examining data on CTE programs and participants should constitute a regular part of the planning process for state and district leaders, rather than a “one and done” activity.

Want to learn more?

The materials from the webinar discussed in this blog are available here. Refer to the resources below to learn more about CTE programs and legislation, including the research studies featured in this blog.