Middle Grades CTE: Policy

June 30th, 2020

There is widespread agreement that high school is too late to begin to expose learners to careers and the foundational skills needed to access and succeed in careers, but there remains a lack of consensus about what Career Technical Education (CTE) and career readiness should entail at the middle grades level. 

Advance CTE, with support from ACTE, convened a Shared Solutions Workgroup of national, state and local leaders to identify the core components of a meaningful middle grades CTE experience. This collaboration resulted in Broadening the Path: Design Principles for Middle Grades CTE and a companion blog series exploring each of the core programmatic elements of middle grades CTE defined in the paper. In this last entry in the blog series, we will examine effective middle grades CTE policy.

Policy actions often play a critical role in expanding access to high-quality middle grades CTE opportunities. Through effective policy actions, state CTE leaders can remove barriers that may prevent learners from accessing middle grades CTE opportunities, ensure there is adequate funding to support middle grades CTE, and create environments to incubate and scale middle grade CTE opportunities.

In 2014, H.B. 487 was enacted into law in Ohio, requiring schools to provide CTE courses in seventh and eighth grades by the 2015-16 school year. As a result, Ohio became one of the only states that requires the availability of CTE courses to middle school students at scale. Districts that do not want to offer middle school CTE must submit a public waiver to the Ohio Department of Education. Since the passage of the law, Ohio has seen a dramatic increase in access to CTE programs, with 21,551 students participating in middle grades CTE in 2015 and more than 73,728 students participating in middle grades CTE in 2017.

Similarly, In 2017, the Maine Legislature passed L.D. 1576, which updated the state’s definition of CTE to include language about middle school, effectively allowing middle school students in grades six through eight to participate in CTE. To expand access to middle grades CTE, the Maine Department of Education developed a Middle School CTE Pilot program, which allows institutions to apply for grants to pilot CTE opportunities that provide hands-on and interactive activities to middle grades students, as further described in an earlier entry in this blog series. 

Numerous states plan to leverage the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), which allows states to use Perkins funding to support CTE as early as the fifth grade, to expand access to CTE opportunities for middle grades students. For instance, Massachusetts is awarding Perkins V reserve funds to eligible agencies to better integrate career planning from the middle school through the high school levels. In its Perkins V state plan, Florida provides guidance to include aligned middle grades CTE programs within programs of study and allow middle grades students to take high school-level CTE courses early. 

As state leaders reflect on effective middle grades CTE policy, they may consider the following questions:

  • What policy actions could be leveraged to remove barriers preventing learners from participating in high-quality middle grades CTE opportunities?
  • How does the state define CTE? Does the definition prohibit learners from participating in middle grades CTE?
  • What changes to teacher licensing laws, if any, need to be made to mitigate middle grades CTE teacher shortages?
  • What funding is needed to incubate and scale middle grades CTE opportunities? How can funds from Perkins V and other sources be braided to support middle grades CTE?
  • How can policy actions be leveraged to align middle grade CTE programs to high school CTE programs?
  • How can policy actions be leveraged to advance equity in middle grades CTE?

For additional resources relevant to CTE educators in the middle grades, check out the Middle Grades CTE Repository, another deliverable of this Shared Solutions Workgroup. To learn more about policy actions state leaders can take to advance middle grades CTE, read Expanding Middle School CTE to Promote Lifelong Learner Success

Brianna McCain, Policy Associate

This Week in CTE

June 26th, 2020

We have compiled a list of highlights in Career Technical Education (CTE) from this week to share with you.

VIRTUAL CONFERENCE OF THE WEEK

Nebraska Career and Technical Education (CTE) held a Virtual Symposium, which was the first of its kind for the state. There were more than 700 CTE district, state and national level attendees. Among them were Commissioner Matt Blomstedt and Scott Stump, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education for the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education.

During the symposium, winners of the annual Nebraska Excellence in Career and Technical Education Awards and Richard Katt Outstanding Nebraska Career and Technical Educators Awards were announced. Read more about the symposium and learn more about the award winners here

STUDENT OF THE WEEK

In Michigan, one student has shown great leadership by joining Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Return to Learn Council. Dominic Gonzalez is one of the district’s dual enrollment learners, which allows him to attend a local community college and earn college credit while still in high school. Dominic will be tasked with providing Governor Whitmer and the council a student perspective of what returning to school should look like in the fall. Read more in the article published by The Detroit News.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Texas CTE students did not let graduation or the pandemic stop them from completing one meaningful project. Engineering and veterinary science students developed a prosthetic paw for a local puppy who suffered complications at birth. View this video for highlights from the project, prototypes of the prosthetic paw and the student’s stories. 

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE OF THE WEEK

The U.S. Department of Education approved four more state plans under the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V): Arkansas, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee. 35 state plans are approved in total so far. Check out this chart to see which states have been approved, and links to the state plans.   

RESOURCE OF THE WEEK

Launched in 2016, JPMorgan Chase & Co. New Skills for Youth is a $75 million, five-year global initiative aimed at transforming how cities and states ensure that young people are career ready. The local investments from across the world – Innovation Sites – aim to identify and implement the most promising ideas in career education, with a special focus on communities with the greatest needs. Over the past year, Advance CTE has released a series of snapshots documenting the progress of the local investments. This week, Advance CTE released the final two snapshots featuring investments in the Greater Washington Region and Germany.

Brittany Cannady, Digital Media Associate

State Reentry Plans Prioritize Equity

June 25th, 2020

Many states are in the process of planning for learners to physically reenter school and college in the fall. However, the possibility of a “second peak” or “second wave” of COVID-19 (coronavirus) means that states are also preparing to provide high-quality Career Technical Education (CTE) to learners at a distance. States are preparing for an “accordion effect,” in which learners may spend some time in the classroom and some time engaging in distance learning. To help institutions prepare for different scenarios, state agencies have released guidance and plans for reentry. Specifically, many of the reentry plans call attention to the importance of advancing equity during the pandemic and ensuring that each learner has access to the supports needed to succeed.

In June, Arizona released a “Roadmap for Reopening Schools” that provides strategies and considerations for local education agencies as they prepare for reentry and periods of campus closures. Core to the guide is taking a learner centered approach through leveraging strategies related to leadership and instruction, such as strategies related to trauma-sensitive teaching and social emotional learning. The state recognizes that supporting learners during this time requires a community effort. To that end, the roadmap includes critical questions for institutions to consider as they build out their plans, such as “what partnerships are necessary to implement the plan (i.e., Tribal Nations, youth and community organizations, etc.)?” and “what can we do now to reduce the disparities in access to learning that will exist for vulnerable student populations if schools are forced to close?”  

Similarly, Kentucky released considerations for reopening schools. The resource includes key questions institutions should consider as they develop their plans, such as “how will schools and districts ensure students participate in and fulfill work-based learning placements?” and “how will schools and districts ensure the equity of instruction for students who are still choosing to learn from home or must remain at home due to safety restrictions?” State CTE leaders can leverage the key questions that are featured in states’ reentry plans to help inform what it means to provide high-quality work-based learning opportunities, access to industry-recognized credentials and access to other CTE opportunities during periods of remote learning.

In addition to questions for consideration, state reentry plans include strategies to advance equity during the pandemic. Virginia released “Recover, Redesign, Restart 2020,” which emphasizes the state’s commitment to ensuring equity and includes considerations, key steps and strategies to advance equity during coronavirus. Some key strategies include establishing processes and accountability levers to ensure that the implementation of reentry plans do not lead to disparate impacts and consequences and investing in equity. Specifically, the guide encourages institutions to prioritize funds, such as federal stimulus funding, to meet the needs of Enlgish language learners, students with disabilities, undocumented students and students living in proverty.

This is the first blog in a series that will examine state guidance and plans for reentry. To learn more about Advance CTE’s commitment to advancing equity in CTE, click here. To access resources related to equity and the coronavirus, click here.

Brianna McCain, Policy Associate

P-TECH High Schools: Bridging the School-to-Work Divide

June 18th, 2020

Traditionally, the secondary, postsecondary and workforce sectors have functioned largely in isolation from one another. All too often, learners are expected to navigate secondary education then transition to postsecondary education and subsequently transition into the workforce with little to no support. However, many education and workforce leaders have recently begun working collaboratively to better align these experiences and support learners to transition seamlessly along high-quality career pathways. 

MDRC recently evaluated one such example: the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) 9-14 education model in New York City. The P-TECH 9-14 education model was started as a partnership between IBM, seven New York City public high schools under the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York (CUNY), a network of 25 colleges. P-TECH 9-14 schools partner with local colleges, giving students an opportunity to earn a high school diploma within four years followed by a cost-free industry-recognized associate degree. During the six-year program, P-TECH 9-14 schools partner with employers to provide work-based learning experiences including internships, mentorships and job shadowing. All P-TECH 9-14 schools are Career Technical Education (CTE) focused. Students take accelerated high school coursework and New York State Regents exams, begin college coursework as early as their 10th grade year, and receive college/career transition support.

MDRC’s report examines the early impacts of the P-TECH 9-14 education model on student outcomes in their first three years of high school including course credit accumulation in both academic and CTE-related courses, Regents exam attempts and pass levels, and attendance. Because students in New York City are required to apply for high school using the New York City High School Application Processing System (HSAPS), the study takes advantage of the randomization created by HSAPS’ admission lotteries to compare admitted students to students who applied but were not admitted. The study found that:

  • Learners in P-TECH 9-14 schools earned significantly more total credits, largely in CTE and other non-academic subjects, by the end of both their second and third years of high school than peers who were not accepted through the lottery system. 
  • Learners in P-TECH 9-14 schools were much more likely to earn non-academic credits in work-based learning, technology, engineering and human service subjects than their peers.
  • Learners in P-TECH 9-14 students were more likely than their peers to attempt the Regents exam and pass the English Language Arts Regents exam with a score qualifying them for enrollment in CUNY coursework within the first three years of high school. This means more P-TECH 9-14 students were eligible for CUNY dual enrollment in earlier years than the comparison group.

These findings can have significant equity implications. The P-TECH 9-14 students in this study were mostly Black and Latinx, from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and underprepared for high school. These early findings suggest that P-TECH 9-14 schools are having success with students from historically marginalized populations. MDRC plans to issue additional reports from this study that recommend improvements in student outcomes related to high school graduation and college success.

Odds and Ends

NCES: The Condition of Education 2020

The National Center for Education Statistics has released the annual congressionally mandated report, The Condition of Education. Data in this report include enrollment levels, academic progress, educational attainment and

 financial status. The report indicators are organized into four sections: pre-primary, elementary and secondary; postsecondary; population characteristics and economic outcomes; and international comparisons. One highlight from the report is that the number of certificates conferred below the associate’s level by postsecondary institutions increased 87 percent from 553,000 to a peak of 1 million between 2000-2011. That figure has since decreased by 7 percent to 955,000 by the end of the 2018 academic year. 

The Urban Institute: Request for Information and Survey

The Urban Institute is seeking letters of inquiry for proposed research projects. Anyone seeking funding and/or research partners to support the implementation or evaluation of an intervention program or looking to suggest a promising approach for others to adopt or research can respond to this request. Potential respondents can include local, state and federal officials, service providers, employee groups, employers and employer associations, advocates and researchers.

Brian Robinson, Policy Associate

Navigating CTE During COVID-19: Equity Considerations for Re-entry

June 11th, 2020

For most learners, the academic year has ended. States are now in the process of planning for learners to re-enter school and college and how to best support learners who may not have had access to the resources and supports they needed to succeed during periods of remote learning. As state Career Technical Education (CTE) leaders prepare for re-entry, there are key considerations they should take into account to promote equity and access in CTE.

Leverage Early Warning Systems to Address Equity Gaps

As learners return to their institutions of study, it will be important to identify supports that learners who experienced disrupted learning may need to succeed in CTE opportunities. An early warning system is one tool that can be leveraged to help with this. Specifically, state and district leaders can adapt and expand predictive indicators of early warning systems to identify which students may need additional supports. Early warning systems often examine attendance, behavior and course performance to identify “at-risk” learners. These indicators can be modified to reflect the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) on learners’ ability to succeed in education and workforce programs. For instance, since the pandemic shifted the organization of learning experience to an individual/family effort, students’ participation in learning activities may be the most important “attendance” metric during the pandemic. Early warning systems provide a critical signal; however, states and districts’ responses to the early warning system indicators will need to be routinely analyzed and adjusted to ensure that the proper supports are provided to learners.

Provide Professional Development to Instructors and Staff

State agency staff and instructors are facing unprecedented circumstances. Educators were thrust into an environment that required them to use unfamiliar technology, reimagine their lesson plans and do full-scale distance learning instantly. Similarly, state agency staff had to develop creative solutions to support high-quality CTE programs during the pandemic. As institutions prepare for re-entry, it will be critical to provide professional development to instructors and staff to equip them with the skills and knowledge to close existing and new equity gaps that emerged because of the pandemic. Instructors and staff will need professional development on how to leverage tools, such as early warning systems, to identify and address equity gaps in virtual, blended and in-person environments. 

Apply an Asset Mindset to Planning

Core to advancing equity in CTE is constructing systems that support each learner. This means taking a learner-centered approach to developing systems and not placing the onus on learners to close equity gaps. More than a fifth of secondary learners did not participate in school during coronavirus closures, with larger truancy rates in high-poverty communities. The “COVID-slide” coupled with “summer melt” has the potential to place students at a learning “deficit” at the start of the new academic year; however, it’s critical that states take an asset mindset when planning how to support learners. An asset mindset focuses on the strengths and potential of a learner, rather than a learner’s “deficits.” While it’s important to acknowledge performance gaps, it’s essential that state and district leaders focus on the strengths of learners as well. State and local leaders at the secondary and postsecondary levels can work with learners and community organizations that represent the interests of different populations to identify the strengths and assets of learners to help them succeed during these unprecedented times. 

This is the third blog in a series of blogs that will map out how state leaders can continue to advance equity, quality and access during the coronavirus pandemic. Read the first and second blogs in the series here and here. To learn more about Advance CTE’s commitment to advancing equity in CTE, click here. To access resources related to equity and the coronavirus, click here.

Brianna McCain, Policy Associate

Advance CTE Announces Initiative to Improve State Postsecondary CTE Data Quality

June 8th, 2020

State or system leaders are invited to apply for a new, multi-year initiative to advance Career Technical Education (CTE) data quality, funded by the ECMC Foundation. Selected states will conduct a needs assessment with support from Advance CTE and develop a two-year action plan to strengthen their postsecondary CTE data.

With support from Advance CTE, the selected cohort of states will explore how robust, state-level postsecondary data systems can assist postsecondary institutions in offering career pathways that meet student interests and are aligned to a good career. The initiative will also identify strategies and recommendations other states can leverage to improve the quality and use of their postsecondary CTE data.

As part of this work, Advance CTE is offering selected states tiered supports to ensure they can achieve their stated goals and objectives. These supports include planning and implementation grants totaling $80,000, ongoing virtual and in-person technical assistance, access to a peer support network and 50-state resources and tools.

The application window is open today, June 8, through July 17, 2020. Learn more about the application process and how to apply here. Interested participants are also encouraged to attend an informational webinar on Monday, June 15 at 3:00pm ET.

For questions, please contact Austin Estes at aestes@careertech.org.

Help us share:
Tweet: .@CTEWorks (w/ support from @ECMCfoundation) is convening a cohort of states to improve the quality and use of their postsecondary CTE data. Apply Today! #CTEWorks https://careertech.org/initiatives

Navigating CTE During COVID-19: Remote Learning-Delivering Postsecondary Education

June 1st, 2020

The spring of 2020 saw postsecondary institutions close out semesters remotely due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus). The transition to distance learning was quick, forcing postsecondary systems and colleges to shift lesson plans and instruction methods in real-time. As the spring semester comes to a close, many colleges are expecting that the summer and fall semesters (at a minimum) will be delivered remotely as well- either in entirety or in some kind of hybrid. 

An article by Inside Higher Ed explored methods and challenges for delivering culinary, arts and Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) programs remotely. One instructor shares that he is trying to make the most of the online instruction by teaching the fundamental skills that learners will need to master the hands-on elements later in the program. Colleges are experimenting with transitioning courses into research and reading-based rather than hands-on learning, to accommodate the switch to remote education. Others are recording videos of themselves doing the work that the students would have been replicating. Instead of requiring students to mimic a technique, they may be required to write about what they learned.  

Across the country, postsecondary systems are doing what they can to support colleges. The Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) has a publicly available webpage with links to online Career Technical Education (CTE) resources to use during Coronavirus. The Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) has been cognizant of the full support services higher education students need during this time. One large component of this is ensuring all students have access to reliable internet. WTCS colleges are doing everything from providing free WiFi on campus, to extending WiFi access to parking lots so that students with cars can study from their vehicles. WTCS colleges are also striving to continue campus services remotely- such as counseling. Colleges are also making use of the campus food supply that is no longer needed. One institution donated all food, while another set up a food pantry.  

As colleges prepare for the summer and fall semesters, there are many considerations of how to deliver high-quality programs remotely. A survey of over 800 higher education administrators and faculty across 600 institutions by Bay View Analytics found that 97 percent of surveyed faculty had never taught online before, and 56 percent were using new instruction methods. This means that shared resources and professional development are needed now more than ever. Sharing out promising practices and strategies through publicly accessible websites is one way that the CTE postsecondary community can support each other.

Meredith Hills, Policy Associate

Getting to Know….Alaska

May 28th, 2020

Note: This is part of Advance CTE’s blog series, “Getting to Know…” We are using this series to help our readers learn more about specific states, State CTE Directors, partners and more. 

State Name: Alaska

State CTE Director: Deborah Riddle

Before becoming the State CTE Director for Alaska, Deborah Riddle was a teacher. She taught math, Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) and robotics in rural Montana. During her time as a teacher, she worked closely with high school teachers to create alignment between middle school and high school. After receiving an administrative certificate to become a principal, she decided to move back home to Alaska. Deborah became a School Improvement Title I Specialist before beginning her work in Career Technical Education (CTE).

About Alaska:

At the state level, CTE in Alaska is supported by a small but mighty team of five. The work of the state CTE office in Alaska is guided by the state’s commitment to address the education challenges in the state. A few years ago, the State Department of Education brought together a group of over 100 stakeholders, including legislators, educators and business and industry, to examine the educational challenges the state faces. From that gathering, Alaska’s Education Challenge was born. The initiative focuses on three commitments related to enabling student success, promoting the safety and wellbeing of students, and cultivating responsible and reflective learning.

Core to Alaska’s work is promoting access and equity for each learner. Alaska has a robust Native and rural population that can face unique challenges when trying to access high-quality CTE programs. Alaska has leveraged approaches such as virtual learning to meet the needs of learners. Additionally, Alaska has taken a culturally responsive approach to addressing equity and access issues for Native populations.

In the past, Native learners were removed from their communities and sent to boarding schools that failed to serve them equitably. This was done in part because of the lack of opportunities available in Native learners’ communities. Recognizing the importance of allowing Native learners the option to continue to reside in their communities for the majority of their time, Alaska created short-term residencies. During the short-term residencies, Native learners are able to travel to urban areas for short periods of time to participate in programs that require equipment not available in their communities and that allows them to earn credit or certifications. The short-term residencies allow learners to interact with business and industry and gain critical workplace skills.

Looking forward, Alaska plans to continue to focus on advancing equity and access in CTE and ensuring that each learner is on a path to obtain a high-skill, high-wage, in-demand career.

Brianna McCain, Policy Associate

How to Seek Funding to Support CTE Research Partnerships

May 28th, 2020

Over the past six months, Advance CTE and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) have worked together to highlight the power of Career Technical Education (CTE) research partnerships in improving quality and equity in CTE. In Michigan, years of close collaboration between the Department of Education and the University of Michigan has enabled state leaders to address critical policy questions like choosing a secondary CTE program quality performance indicator. South Dakota leveraged relationships in the research community to improve data quality and foster a data-driven culture at the state level. And in Massachusetts, state leaders are working alongside long-time research partners to identify critical access and opportunity gaps and build solutions that enable equitable access to high-quality CTE.

Partnerships like these provide measurable benefits by allowing state policymakers to make informed decisions that impact learner success and bolster state talent pipelines – but they do come at a cost. The partnerships highlighted in this series were supported via a combination of state, federal and foundation funds. Research grant funds are most often used to cover personnel time for work on the research project, both at the university or research organization and at the partner education agency. As many of the state agency interviewees mentioned, it is difficult to carve time out of their regular responsibilities to work on a research project. By securing dedicated funding to cover part or all of a person’s salary, a state agency can afford to spend time on a research project. In addition, research grant funds can be used to provide incentives for students, teachers and schools to participate in a research study, for the development and administration of surveys or classroom observation tools (to complement information available in administrative data systems), and for software and hardware to analyze and house the data.

With growing public support for CTE, fueled by urgent needs for skilled labor, CTE programs will be called upon to do even more. States should be prepared with a research and evaluation strategy to determine whether and which strategies are most effective (and cost-effective). So how should states go about establishing and funding new CTE research partnerships?

Options for Financing State CTE Research Partnerships

There are a number of avenues states can take to finance CTE research. Federal sources of funding for CTE-related research include the Department of Education, the Department of Labor and the National Science Foundation. Education research funding may also be available at other agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture. Private funding for CTE research projects is also available from foundations such as the ECMC Foundation[i], the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

The National Center for Education Research (NCER) at IES launched a special CTE topic in its Education Research Grants program in 2017 to encourage researchers to study CTE. Funded grants under this topic have examined CTE-related issues such as industry certifications, applied-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) CTE pathways and work-based learning. IES also funds CTE research under other programs and maintains a CTE Statistics webpage. In 2018, in partnership with the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), IES formed a CTE Research Network to increase the amount and quality of causal research in CTE. CTE Research Network members have been studying the impact of various CTE programs and delivery models on student high school, postsecondary and labor market outcomes. The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) began funding CTE research for students with disabilities in 2019.

New Opportunity to Apply for Federal Funding to Study CTE!

There is good news for state leaders and researchers interested in initiating CTE research partnerships. NCER has just released its Fiscal Year 2021 Request for Applications (RFA) for its Education Research Grants Program (CFDA 84.305A). This grants program, one of several in NCER, was established in 2002 to produce research that is scientifically rigorous and relevant to the needs of education practitioners and decisionmakers. NCER welcomes CTE-related research proposals under the CTE topic or under other topics (such as STEM, Improving Education Systems, and Postsecondary and Adult Education). NCSER has a separate RFA for its special education research grants program (CFDA 84.324A) and welcomes applications to study CTE for students with disabilities.

Research grant applications are due at midnight (Eastern time) on August 20, 2020. Letters of intent (not required but encouraged) are due on June 11, 2020. Each of the open RFAs, as well as archived webinars for applicants about the IES grant process, are available on the IES funding opportunities page.

Applicants should start early to make sure they have everything they need. In addition to viewing on-demand webinars, applicants should be sure to read the RFA closely and pay attention not only to the application requirements but also to the IES recommendations for a strong application. For example, applicants should describe their theory of change and any prior research on the issue; align their research methods to the research questions; describe measures and data source; and make sure the sample size offers adequate statistical power. This grants program is very competitive, and peer reviewers will be paying attention to whether applicants follow the recommendations. Everyone involved in the submission process should also familiarize themselves with the IES submission guide, which details the steps necessary to successfully submit an application online.

We are eager to hear any and all ideas! Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.alfeld@ed.gov) and Austin Estes (aestes@careertech.org) would be happy to discuss them, and Corinne can also provide technical assistance in writing research grant application to IES. She can be reached by email to set up a phone call to discuss project ideas.

This final blog post wraps up our series aimed at increasing state CTE research partnerships by highlighting ways to seek research funding. Corinne Alfeld, Research Analyst at IES and Austin Estes, Manager of Data & Research at Advance CTE, collaborated to create this blog series in the hopes that more state agencies would partner with researchers to examine research questions related to CTE using state data.

[i] The ECMC Foundation is a funder of Advance CTE’s work.

Navigating CTE During COVID-19: Principles for Supporting Work-Based Learning in COVID-19

May 27th, 2020

COVID-19 (coronavirus) has brought many challenges to Career Technical Education (CTE) over the past few months. One of the most persistent challenges has been providing work-based learning experiences – which offers an opportunity to reinforce and deepen classroom learning in a real-world setting – to learners amidst a health pandemic that has shut down much of the nation’s economy. With their doors closed, many businesses have had to cancel or indefinitely postpone any work-based learning programs. 

Amid these challenges, the response by schools, colleges, employers and work-based learning intermediaries has been largely ad-hoc. In some cases, employers have been able to maintain their summer internship commitments by onboarding and supporting interns remotely, just as if they were part of their staff who are already working from home. Certain industry engagement opportunities can be sustained virtually through video conferencing platforms. However, such piecemeal solutions can exacerbate inequities and further contribute to learning loss. 

As states address work to ramp up work-based learning and scale remote opportunities, they should consider the following principles:  Quality, Equity, Mentorship and Breadth. These principles should help establish a clear statewide vision for what work-based learning can look like in times of continuous disruption with a set of common expectations and resources for those managing work-based learning experiences on the ground. 

Reaffirm Quality: Learners should continue to be engaged in real work experiences that are aligned to their program of study and have opportunities to interact with colleagues and learn from professionals in the field. States can leverage intermediaries and build their capacity to support this principle. To ensure work-based learning experiences remain high-quality, states should maintain the high expectations they set for work-based learning experiences and:

  • Ensure that all work-based learning experiences require a strong training plan that focuses on technical and employability skill development. The learner, their instructor and employer should have clear expectations of what that training plan is. 
  • Encourage strategies for building relationships such as:
    • Assigning projects that can be completed remotely
    • Creating opportunities for regular check-in calls
    • Setting up opportunities for regular feedback. Feedback should not only support learner technical competency development but also employability skills- communication, teamwork, etc. 
    • Arranging virtual networking opportunities 
  • Develop and/or maintain a systems- and student-level approach to assessing equitable access, student participation and learning, and the overall quality of remote work-based learning programs. This includes assessing and disaggregating student and industry participation, student learning and attainment of knowledge and skills. Given the challenge of staying engaged in a distant environment, it may also be important to consider additional measurements such as tracking the number of engagements an employer has with the learner. 

Equity: Technology is the most obvious way to offer remote experiences along the work-based learning continuum. However, technology is not easily applicable to most career pathways and not all students have reliable access to broadband connections. Also, technology may not always be adaptable for students with special needs. States can promote equity by:

  • Examining demographic data to see which learners are getting access to remote internship and youth apprenticeship opportunities
  • Encouraging work that can be done remotely, without internet access.
  • Regularly checking in with local districts to help build capacity, if necessary (with an intentional focus on rural and urban districts)
  • Encouraging employers to continue offering paid internship and youth apprenticeship experiences or ensuring learners can earn academic credit as compensation for their work. To encourage compensation and relieve financial pressures put on employers to hire and compensate learners, states could:
    • Maintain employer incentives for offering work-based learning opportunities through tax credits or related policy levers.
    • Align existing summer youth employment programs with work-based learning activities.

Mentorship: Building relationships and networking is one of the most valuable experiences of any work-based learning opportunity. For economically disadvantaged learners, these relationships help build invaluable social capital that they can leverage throughout their careers.  As best as possible, states should promote these in-person networking experiences that a learner might receive in a traditional setting by:

  • Developing guidelines and templates for remote mentorship, including  mentor agreements that define the roles of the student, mentor and instructor
  • Identifying and making available technology that allows for virtual networking
  • Partnering with the state workforce agency, chambers of commerce and other industry associations to build remote micro-industry engagement opportunities such as virtual lunches and staff meet and greets at scale

Breadth: Some CTE programs of study, such as those in the Information Technology Career ClusterⓇ, are easier than others to transition to remote or virtual learning. While attending to all programs of study, states should address work-based learning experiences in the industry sectors that are more difficult to deliver in a remote or virtual environment. Intentional collaboration with industry experts, local businesses and chambers of commerce representing these priority CTE programs of study is one way to address this gap. Some approaches to expanding remote or virtual work-based learning opportunities to other Career Clusters include:

  • Investing in simulated work-based learning. West Virginia’s simulated workplace program has demonstrated strong outcomes, and many programs have weathered the transition to remote learning through creative solutions. 
  • Investing in virtual reality equipment or at-home laboratories to provide students with hands-on experiences.

These principles are intended to guide states in setting a vision for what work-based learning can look like in light of continuous economic and academic disruption. Given that these challenges are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, states have to rethink the way they deliver work-based learning. There must be intentionality behind providing remote work-based learning programs that maintain the same high standards as a traditional experience and extend opportunity to all students across geography or socioeconomic status. These principles are proposed to be the floor, not the ceiling, to what is possible during these novel times. States can build on these principles to create a policy environment that supports the needs of industry and puts learners to work. 

Brian Robinson, Policy Associate

Check out this resource from Advance CTE, Connecting Classrooms to Careers: A Comprehensive Guide to the State’s Role in Work-Based Learning, to learn more about setting a statewide vision for work-based learning in your state!

 

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