Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Evidence on CTE: A Convening of Consequence

In 2018, NCER funded a research network to build the evidence base for career and technical education (CTE). As with other research networks, the CTE Research Network comprises a set of research teams and a lead team, which is responsible for collaboration and dissemination among the research teams. On March 20, 2024, the Network held a final convening to present its findings to the field. In this blog, Network Lead Member Tara Smith, Network Director Kathy Hughes, and NCER Program Officer Corinne Alfeld reflect on the success of the final convening and share thoughts about future directions.

Insights From the Convening

An audience of CTE Research Network members, joined by educators, administrators, policymakers and other CTE stakeholders, gathered for a one-day convening to hear about the Network’s findings. Several aspects of the meeting contributed to its significance.

  • The presentations highlighted an important focus of the Network – making research accessible to and useable for practitioners. The agenda included presentations from four Network member researchers and their district or state partners from New York City and North Carolina. Each presentation highlighted positive impacts of CTE participation, but more importantly, they demonstrated the value of translating research findings into action. Translation involves collaboration between researchers and education agency staff to develop joint research questions and discuss the implications of findings for improving programs to better serve students or to take an innovative practice and scale it to other pathways and schools.
  • Brand-new and much-anticipated research was released at the convening. The Network lead announced a systematic review of all of the rigorous causal research on secondary-level CTE from the last 20 years. This is an exciting advancement for building the evidence base for CTE, which was the purpose of the Network. The meta-analysis found that CTE has statistically significant positive impacts on several high school outcomes, such as academic achievement, high school completion, employability skills, and college readiness. The review found no statistically significant negative impacts of CTE participation. The evidence points to the power of CTE to transform lives, although more research is needed. To guide future research, the review provided a “gap analysis” of where causal research is lacking, such as any impacts of high school CTE participation on academic achievement in college or attainment of a postsecondary degree.
  • National CTE leaders and experts put the research findings into a policy context and broadcasted its importance. These speakers commented on the value of research for CTE advocacy on Capitol Hill, in states, and in informing decisions about how to target resources. Luke Rhine, the deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) said, “The best policy is informed by practice [...] and the best practice is informed by research.” Kate Kreamer, the executive director of Advance CTE, emphasized the importance of research in dispelling myths, saying that “if the data are not there, that allows people to fill the gaps with their assumptions.” However, she noted, as research increasingly shows the effectiveness of CTE, we must also guard against CTE programs becoming selective, and thus limiting equitable access.

New Directions

In addition to filling the critical gaps identified by the Network lead’s review, other future research questions suggested by researchers, practitioners, and policymakers at the convening include:

  • How can we factor in the varied contexts of CTE programs and the wide range of experiences of CTE students to understand which components of CTE really matter?  What does it look like when those are done well?  What does it take to do them well? Where is it happening?
  • How can we learn more about why students decide to participate in CTE generally and in their chosen pathway? What are the key components of useful supports that schools can provide to help them make these decisions?
  • How do we engage employers more deeply and actively in CTE programs and implement high quality work-based learning to ensure that students are acquiring skills and credentials that are valued in the labor market?
  • What are evidence-based practices for supporting special student populations, such as students with disabilities, or English language learners?
  • How can we harness state longitudinal data systems that link education and employment data to examine the long-term labor market outcomes of individuals from various backgrounds who participated in different career clusters or who had access to multiple CTE experiences?

While IES alone will not be able to fund all the needed research, state agencies, school districts, and even individual CTE programs can partner with researchers to study what works in their context and identify where more innovation and investment is needed. The work of the CTE Research Network has provided a good evidence base with which to start, and a good model for additional research that improves practice and policy. Fortunately, the CTE research field will continue to grow via the support of a new CTE Research Network – stay tuned for more information!

This blog was co-written by CTE Network Lead Member Tara Smith of Job for the Future, CTE Network Director Kathy Hughes of AIR, and NCER Program Officer Corinne Alfeld.

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