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Midwest Career Readiness Research Alliance

Download the alliance’s overview handout [120 KB PDF icon ]

Partnership Facilitator

Dominique Bradley

Research Liaison

Susan Burkhauser

Partnership Objective

Ensuring that all students leave high school ready for careers is a high priority for education stakeholders across the Midwest. Navigating the labor market can be challenging for graduates as rapidly changing technology causes some jobs to disappear as others emerge. To ensure a competitive workforce, states are using research and data to understand how best to strengthen career readiness supports and align curricula and instruction with labor market needs.

The REL Midwest Career Readiness Research Alliance (MCRRA) brings together practitioners, policymakers, and researchers from the Midwest to increase the region’s capacity to access, conduct, interpret, and make sense of career readiness research, as well as to use this research in state- and local-level decisionmaking. Additionally, the alliance seeks to examine and address the opportunity gaps experienced by certain student groups. MCRRA’s primary focus is career readiness in Minnesota. In addition, a community of practice connects key stakeholders across the region and is an active partner in the research process.

The Minnesota Department of Education is seeking to improve students’ career readiness. In particular, the department is focusing on how to provide equitable access to career readiness opportunities, especially for students living in underserved communities.


  • Mary Barrie, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Brandon Brooks, Minnesota Alliance with Youth
  • Thomas Delaney, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Kathy Funston, District 191 (Burnsville-Eagan-Savage)
  • Brian Gersich, District 191 (Burnsville-Eagan-Savage)
  • Jane Harstad, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Troy Haugen, Lakes Country Service Cooperative
  • Greg Keith, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Tim Lutz, Bemidji Area Schools
  • Paula Palmer, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Jeff Plaman, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Mark Parr, District 196 (Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan)
  • Sally Reynolds, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Robyn Widley, Minnesota Department of Education

Training, Coaching, and Technical Support Projects

Increasing the Reach of Career and Technical Education Training

REL Midwest staff facilitated a recorded webinar with school district staff in Indiana and Minnesota to describe the districts’ career and technical education (CTE) programs. The webinar includes a panel discussion with student, business leader, school administrator, and teacher perspectives on CTE. Materials such as a short video and handouts on CTE will be available for other educators to utilize to share more information about CTE.

Training for High School Counselors in Indiana and Minnesota on College and Career Pathways for Career and Technical Education Students

REL Midwest partnered with stakeholder groups in Indiana and Minnesota to study whether certain types of high school graduates or high schools have higher career and technical education (CTE) participation and whether CTE participation affects high school graduates’ college and workforce outcomes. REL Midwest is providing training sessions to school counselors and CTE staff in Indiana and Minnesota to walk them through the study findings and give them an opportunity to explore how they can apply the findings in their roles supporting students. The project will culminate in the development of resources for guidance counselors and CTE staff.

Data Use in the Continuous Improvement Cycle Training

REL Midwest conducted a training series with Change Inc. in St. Paul, Minnesota, to support data literacy knowledge. This project supported Change Inc. afterschool mentors and educational support staff in improving their knowledge of continuous improvement cycles and in using the data available to them to support their work with high-risk youth. Topics included how data literacy supports improvement in evidence-based strategies, how to connect data collection to a logic model, and how to develop data stories. Participants also conducted an interactive data review where they discussed the data to which they have access and created a data inventory. The slides from each training session are available online.

Implementing Competency-Based Education Strategies to Improve Graduation Rates With Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191

MCRRA members expressed an interest in learning about how to employ competency-based education (CBE) practices across districts. In this training series, REL Midwest is working with staff from Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 to help them better understand CBE strategies, identify appropriate strategies for their context, and develop plans to implement strategies and monitor their implementation. Participants receive support as they undertake rapid cycles of development, implementation, measurement, and assessment of CBE strategies during the 2020/21 school year. The materials from the first training session are available online.

Minnesota Alternative Learning Centers Networked Improvement Community Coaching

Based on a statewide survey of credit-recovery practices conducted through a previous REL Midwest coaching project, the Minnesota Department of Education identified that alternative learning centers (ALCs) needed support with using best practices in awarding credit, such as competency-based instruction and assessment. During the 2019/20 school year, REL Midwest helped the department develop a networked improvement community (NIC) of ALCs in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area. NIC participants tested and refined strategies for improving credit recovery through iterative cycles of design, implementation, and examination of outcomes, known as Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles. In 2020/21, REL Midwest coaches are supporting NIC participants as they learn how to use implementation science tools to continue implementing PDSA cycles and support further efforts to improve graduation rates in their schools.

Building from the previous NIC cohort, REL Midwest is facilitating a second NIC during the 2020/21 school year, focused on working virtually with ALC teachers and leaders in rural areas of Minnesota. Each participating ALC team is using PDSA cycles to test a classroom-level strategy grounded in competency-based education practices to help students move toward graduation or credit accrual. These coaching projects build on content developed through previous REL Midwest work on NICs, including a training for the Minnesota Department of Education on the purposes and principles of NICs and coaching for the Iowa Learning and Technology NIC.

Environmental Scan of Minnesota Credit-Recovery Programs

REL Midwest worked with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to conduct an environmental scan that identifies the practices and programs used by Minnesota public school districts to support students’ credit-recovery efforts. In a series of coaching sessions, REL Midwest supported MDE through the process of using an environmental scan to gain a better understanding of existing programs and efforts in Minnesota that are targeted toward credit recovery for high school students. The slide decks and a summary infographic are available online.

Iowa Department of Education Postsecondary Readiness Indicators Workgroup Coaching

In its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plan, the Iowa Department of Education identified postsecondary readiness as one of its school quality and student success indicators but did not specify how it would be measured. REL Midwest provided coaching to Iowa’s Postsecondary Readiness Indicator Workgroup to help the group develop the state’s postsecondary readiness indicator using a literature review of measures aligned to Iowa’s definition of postsecondary readiness and a scan of other states’ ESSA plans. The slides from the coaching session are available for download.

Networked Improvement Community Training

REL Midwest facilitated a one-day, in-person training to help the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and Minnesota schools and districts understand the purposes and principles of networked improvement communities (NICs). Through this training, MDE and district and school staff explored the possibility of using NICs for continuous improvement efforts.

Supporting the Minnesota Department of Education to Strengthen Its Workforce

REL Midwest worked with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to better understand how state-level staff can support districts in implementing their World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) plans. In 2017, REL Midwest conducted a review of WBWF plans from 200 districts and presented the information to MDE staff. With a better understanding of district WBWF plans, MDE staff and REL Midwest worked together to roll out training for districts to help them plan for implementing their WBWF plans. Based on REL Midwest’s review, MDE modified the WBWF submission template and identified gaps in districts’ understanding of how best to provide access to high-quality, diverse teachers.

Then, REL Midwest conducted a review of the 2018 WBWF submissions with a focus on equitable access to effective, in-field teachers; equitable access to diverse teachers; and strategies to address student achievement gaps. The scan’s findings provided MDE with information needed to develop resources for districts in support of students’ access to a high-quality, diverse workforce. REL Midwest also facilitated a training session for MDE staff to collaboratively make sense of the findings and a training session for district leaders to learn about the scan findings and share promising strategies for implementing WBWF plans.


Indiana and Minnesota Students Who Focused on Career and Technical Education in High School: Who Are They, and What Are Their College and Employment Outcomes?

Education policymakers in Indiana and Minnesota created career and technical education programs to improve high school students’ postsecondary and employment outcomes. This REL Midwest study examined whether high school graduates in each state who completed a large number of career and technical education courses in a single career-oriented program of study (concentrators) had different college and workforce outcomes from graduates who completed fewer (samplers) or no career and technical education courses (nonparticipants). Related infographics share key findings for each state.

Evaluating the Implementation of Networked Improvement Communities in Education: An Applied Research Methods Report

This report shares an evaluation framework and research tools that can be used to evaluate the implementation of continuous improvement processes by networked improvement communities (NICs) in prekindergarten–12 education settings. The report also covers findings from an evaluation of the Minnesota Alternative Learning Center NIC to illustrate the process of analyzing and interpreting data collected using these tools.

Postsecondary Education and Employment Pathways of Minnesota Public High School Graduates: Investigating Opportunity Gaps

This REL Midwest study examined differences in graduates’ postsecondary pathways one year after graduation and their college certificate and degree attainment and employment outcomes six years after graduation. A related video highlights the study’s key findings.

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