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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

Implementing Competency-Based Education Strategies to Improve Graduation Rates at 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 Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 staff 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 (MDE) identified that alternative learning centers (ALCs) need support with using best practices in awarding credit, such as competency-based instruction and assessment. Now, REL Midwest is helping MDE develop a networked improvement community (NIC) of low-performing ALCs to test and refine strategies for improving credit recovery through iterative cycles of design, implementation, and examination of outcomes. The content of this coaching project builds on previous REL Midwest work on NICs, including a training for MDE 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.

Works in Progress

Assessing the Implementation of the Minnesota Alternative Learning Center Networked Improvement Community: An Applied Research Methods Study

This study is evaluating the Minnesota Alternative Learning Center Networked Improvement Community (NIC) with the goal of developing a methodology for evaluating the implementation of networked improvement communities generally. The first part of this two-part project is a formative evaluation that assesses the functioning of the Minnesota NIC. Then, REL Midwest will write an applied research methods report that describes a methodology for conducting a formative evaluation of the implementation of NICs.

Students Who Take Career and Technical Education Courses in Indiana And Minnesota: Who Are They and What Becomes of Them?

Many states face the challenge of helping students gain the skills necessary to succeed in college and the workplace. One way states are addressing this challenge is by developing career pathways and career and technical education opportunities aligned with those pathways. Stakeholders in Indiana and Minnesota want to know whether certain types of students or schools have higher enrollment and completion rates for career and technical education. They also want to know if participation in career and technical education courses affects high school graduates’ college and workforce outcomes. REL Midwest is assisting these stakeholder groups by examining high school graduates’ course-taking patterns, their enrollment in and completion of college, and their employment and earnings history.


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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