American education is taking a welcome and overdue interest in curriculum, but there’s no reason to expect that to result in sudden and dramatic gains in student achievement, especially for our lowest-performing children. Curriculum does not exist in isolation; schools are complex institutions with competing priorities, almost hard-wired to metabolize and neutralize any “fix.” Curriculum advocates should brace themselves for years of struggle, identify allies doing the actual work, and prepare to protect their flank.
2019 WONKATHON THIRD-PLACE ENTRY: Follow schools’ leads to embrace personalized learning and academic rigor
We are enjoying the early stages of a surprising and encouraging curriculum moment in education marked by robust attention and interest in scientifically-sound reading instruction. Among veteran advocates for knowledge-rich curriculum, it feels like a long overdue and welcome change in the weather.
Here’s how it could end: A few years from now, maybe by 2025, imagine yet another doleful round of NAEP scores showing that kids still aren’t making significant progress. The bottom that dropped out of NAEP in 2019, with our poorest performing children falling further behind, still hasn’t recovered. Now imagine these depressing results follow a few years of fascination and flirtation with high-quality curricula—schools, districts, even entire states, converted to the cause of curriculum and content, turning to EdReports to select curricula that are aligned with standards, knowledge-rich, and of sufficient rigor to challenge students. As analysts digest another round of depressing test scores, a consensus forms about curriculum-based reform, and quickly calcifies: We tried it. It didn’t work.
Two weeks ago in this space, David Steiner of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy looked at our emerging love affair with high-quality curricula and materials (a renaissance he helped spark as the architect of EngageNY) and concluded that “any celebration is utterly misplaced.” No one should expect to see a surge in student outcomes because “we have built a system that not only fails to support the sustained use of demanding curriculum—but actively produces powerful disincentives to its use,” he wrote. The list of those disincentives is long: state assessments unaligned to content; teacher evaluation systems that valorize “student engagement” conspiring against challenging material; and intervention schemes for struggling students that privilege content-agnostic basic skills and pull kids away from core curricula—a thorny and vexing problem that was the subject of this year’s Fordham Wonkathon, winners of which are heralded in this week’s issue of the Education Gadfly Weekly.
At Saturday’s ResearchEd conference in Philadelphia, the keynote was delivered by Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises, who struck a similar theme with a stirring bit of straight talk on what she describes as “educational redlining.” Students in majority-white classrooms are more likely to get engaging, high-quality lessons and grade-appropriate work, she noted. Citing studies on low-quality student assignments from both TNTP and the Education Trust, she put the matter in sharp relief, quoting one student preparing for the same AP exam as students in other schools. The more fortunate students were reading The Odyssey, while in her school the assigned text was The Hunger Games. “There’s nothing wrong with The Hunger Games. I love The Hunger Games. I read it when I was twelve,” the girl said. “It really struck me as unfair.”
Dr. Santelises is a compelling figure who spends her days at the intersection of knowledge-rich curricula, research-based practice, urban education, and low test scores. Few district superintendents are more well-versed or more committed to knowledge-rich curricula. And she knows it’s exactly what the 85,000 kids whose education she is responsible for need, and what they’ve mostly been denied due to “educational redlining.” She’s also exceptionally clear-eyed, and her experience should sober those of us who have long championed curriculum as a reform lever and who might be tempted to think we’re winning the argument.
“I want to be honest,” she cautioned. “I’ve never said it’s just about curriculum. What I’ve said is that if you don’t have a strong curriculum, you’re not even starting in the right place.” But ultimately it’s teachers who bear the responsibility of figuring out how to deliver it. They will determine, Santelises warned “whether this content-rich curriculum, this shift back to science-based reading instruction, is actually going to take hold.” When teachers are ill-prepared themselves to teach challenging material, or when students are denied the opportunity to grapple with complex texts and given simplistic or overly-scaffolded work with low cognitive demands, gaps will only persist and widen. “If we don’t figure this part out,” Santelises said, “all of the research in the world is not going to move what happens every day with kids.” She’s exactly right.
Speaking afterward, Santelises went even further, describing the adoption of a knowledge-rich curriculum as “the first half of Chapter One.” This is the part that curriculum advocates, and frankly most single-issue advocates in education, miss. Every structure, impulse, imperative, and habit in a large school system works at cross-purposes. Teacher training rarely valorizes it on the front end, once on the job the pressures of testing and accountability functionally demands bad practice by expecting visible results now. As Steiner observed, “Is it any surprise that over 95 percent of America’s teachers use multiple, self-curated internet materials mixed together in an utterly eclectic and incoherent fashion with their district’s curriculum?” And no, the answer is not “scaffolding,” the most common “solution” suggested to teachers whose students are far below grade level. Santelises drew hearty laughs during her ResearchEd talk when she quipped that school administrators “sprinkle [scaffolding] like its pepper on a Caesar salad. ‘You just need to scaffold!’ You can get to the standards, just scaffold!’” Such facile and simplistic answers “are actually going to undermine the absolute right intent of having a more rigorous curriculum,” she explained. Right again.
It’s certainly bracing that American education seems poised to rediscover the centrality of what teachers teach and what students learn. But curriculum advocates (and I count myself as one) should not underestimate the enormity of the challenge or the long odds of success. Mostly they—we—must not allow ourselves the luxury of thinking or allowing others to believe that the battle is won at adoption.
Schools are complex institutions with competing priorities almost hard-wired to metabolize and neutralize any “fix.” Curriculum does not exist in isolation. The road to results is long and steep. Having leaders like Santelises at the helm of a major American school district is important. Buying time for thoughtful reforms to take root is even more important.
If I may offer some unsolicited advice to my fellow disciples in the cause of research-based teaching and knowledge-rich curricula: widen your lens, embrace complexity, forget top-down initiatives, counsel patience, brace yourself for years of struggle, identify your allies doing the actual work, and prepare to protect their flank. In sum, abandon single-issue curriculum advocacy, which is naïve, unrealistic, and self-defeating. It paves the way for more of the wild, fad-prone gyrations that we see over and over in this field.
Curriculum is not the missing piece of the puzzle, it’s the foundation for the rest of what schools do. It’s great to see a new seriousness emerge about instructional materials and the work we ask children to do. But we are not nearing the end of the story. As Santelises observed it’s the first half of Chapter One.
Editor’s note: This was the first-place submission, out of nineteen, to Fordham’s 2019 Wonkathon, in which we asked participants to answer the question: “What’s the best way to help students who are several grade levels behind?”
“When it’s too easy, I feel like I’m getting all of the questions right, that I’m not even learning anything.”
So said a second grader in a recent interview conducted as part of an effort at NWEA, the K–12 assessment not-for-profit where I work, to envision how we might better support learning for all students.
This remark stuck with me because it states simply what we in the education space already know: If we want to accelerate learning for every student, we must engage every student in productive struggle. Call it jargon if you want, but even our young students know they need to be appropriately challenged if they are going to reach their highest potential.
We need to move beyond binary thinking about growth versus proficiency, or “meeting kids where they are” versus “teaching them grade-level content,” and focus on blended approaches that help educators identify and embrace the tension points that help propel each student toward rigorous learning targets. This is relevant for kids at all levels, but it’s especially critical for students who are several years behind. They must make big leaps in their learning if they are to leave the K–12 system ready to succeed.
To make this happen, every student should have the opportunity to learn based on where they are and be exposed to grade-level content. These can understandably feel like mutually exclusive goals. As former chair of the Smarter Balanced Executive Committee, I am proud of how far we have come in creating more rigorous academic standards for students. And while some states have moved away from consortia, they have not shifted away from high expectations. But we still need to put lots of energy into supporting educators with the very real challenge of helping students—many of whom are several years behind—meet the high bar that has been set.
It’s important to be realistic with this goal. To demand that educators make up for three years of learning in one year is out of touch and demoralizing. At the same time, if students are significantly behind, we cannot be satisfied with average growth. Simply saying, “Are they growing?” isn’t sufficient. The question should be, “Are they growing enough? Over time, will they acquire the skills and knowledge they need to be ready for what’s next?”
Focusing on how skills scaffold within and across grades to accelerate growth
To generate this kind of growth, we must ensure that we are focused on what students are ready to learn—even if a stretch—not on what they can already do. We also need to stop thinking about a “ladder” of content that we march kids through on a regimented calendar and, instead, identify the concepts and skills that are most critical in helping them access what’s next. The more we know about these “sparks” that accelerate growth, the more successful educators, parents, and students will be in facilitating the big learning gains required to achieve equity in outcomes.
How do we do this? It requires looking at state standards in a nuanced way so that both curricula and assessment results provide educators with ideas and examples of how to increase or decrease complexity with more on-grade access points for students across a range of achievement. In other words, just because a student isn’t yet proficient does not mean he can’t engage in beginning or developing level content within that grade. Or maybe there are just a couple of concepts from the grade below that, once learned, will unlock the student’s ability to master on-grade content.
Imagine how it might feel to be a fifth grader with a third-grade book put in front of you. Would you feel motivated to learn, or would you feel embarrassed to let your classmates see? Conversely, what will result in college and career readiness—moving a proficient student into content from the grade above, or helping her develop advanced levels of understanding before moving her into content from the next grade? Focusing on deeper learning and the way that concepts and skills scaffold on each other—both within and across grades—can help all students learn more comprehensively and efficiently.
Moving toward an asset-based mindset
This kind of approach will help us move away from talking about students and schools from a deficit mindset. We can talk about the growth we are seeing and the goals we are meeting instead of just asking, “Are we proficient or not?” It could also mean eventually moving from grade-based education to competency-based systems, or providing more flexibility and time within grade-based systems for teachers to attend to learning gaps (e.g., year-round school or more flexibility in time to complete K–12 education).
But we can’t change from traditional age/grade-based education systems to more individualized ones overnight. In the short term, we need to:
- Start with conversations about what we value and show that looking at growth in the context of proficiency can help us attend to equity.
- Unify state and district assessments so that they are working in concert toward the same goal: improved learning.
- Be intentional in how we use technology for learning and assessment. It will only be effective if it fosters agency in the learning process and strengthens the impact that a caring, professional educator has on students.
In the long term, we need to learn more about learning. We can do this by:
- Gathering empirical evidence about what those “sparks” are that can turn quickly to flame.
- Identifying the different learning paths that students might effectively take to get from point A to point B.
- Moving beyond a linear understanding of how learning scaffolds to a more diverse, network of possibilities.
This multidimensional approach will go a long way in accelerating learning for all students and closing opportunity and achievement gaps.
Increasing coherence across systems of teaching, learning, and assessment
So where does that leave us? We have the high standards. We have accountability plans that consider multiple measures for a more holistic view of school and student performance. Now it’s time to increase coherence across systems of teaching, learning, and assessment.
- Districts must be committed to adopting curricula aligned to the standards and achievement levels defined in the state.
- Assessment providers must ensure that tests are equally aligned and results support teachers in both personalizing instruction and teaching grade-level content.
- Teachers must be committed to finding the point of productive struggle for every child.
- State and district administrators must support them in this effort by valuing the growth that occurs along the pathway to proficiency and providing the tools and time needed to spur the levels of growth required for every student to succeed.
As another young student recently said to me, “I think they should do more of encouraging us to accomplish our goals and stuff. If we like science, helping us become a scientist and getting a good job in that.” It really is that simple. We don’t need to start over or rewrite the Every Student Succeeds Act or choose growth over proficiency (or the other way around) to help all kids unlock their superpowers. We can do it now, together, even though it isn’t easy.
2019 WONKATHON RUNNER-UP: Teachers and curricula aren’t enough for below-grade-level students. They also require scalable strategies tailored to their needs.
Editor’s note: This was the second-place submission, out of nineteen, to Fordham’s 2019 Wonkathon, in which we asked participants to answer the question: “What’s the best way to help students who are several grade levels behind?”
Meet William. As he entered seventh grade at a Philadelphia Mastery Charter School, William (not his real name) was struggling with basic math concepts. On the nationally normed MAP assessment he took that winter, William scored in the 12th percentile. Like too many students across the country, William was frustrated in math class.
But thanks to a new, more strategic approach to teaching middle school math implemented last year, students like William started showing impressive progress. Last spring, his MAP score placed him in the 31st percentile nationally. This fall, as an eighth-grader, William no longer needs those supports and is spending more time on grade-level math work, and early signs show continued progress. On a recent benchmark test, William scored at the network median in math.
It might seem a classic paradox but, from our experience, students like William are often the rule not the exception. Because of this, we felt it was our obligation to the families we serve to take this challenge on directly, and we felt well-positioned to do so. Mastery is a public network of twenty-four schools serving over 14,000 students in Philadelphia and Camden. Sixteen of our schools are turnarounds of previously struggling district and charter schools. We are the largest turnaround school operator in the nation.
Two years ago, we committed as a network to deeply tackling our math problem. Nearly one-third of our students were in the lowest quintile in the nation and performing below basic on state assessments. These students were several grade levels behind and unlikely to catch up without intense intervention.
As Chief Academic Officer, I know effective teachers and high-quality curriculum can accelerate student achievement. However, to reach our students with the most unfinished learning we needed more than that: The challenge required a multi-pronged strategy that was tailored to meet their needs while also fitting into our broader organizational instructional culture. And we needed it to be executed at scale. As I scanned the field, hoping to buy a packaged intervention program to address the magnitude of our challenge, I came up empty handed.
Were we trapped in an impossible conundrum? In a word, no.
We began the work by partnering with an external math consultant with deep knowledge of the Common Core. We identified the students targeted for this new program: children who were in the bottom decile nationally and not yet meeting expectations on state assessments. We designed a scope and sequence of content that prioritized the major work of the grade, and we made the hard choice to deprioritize up to one-third of the additional math standards. We wove prior grade lessons into daily instruction (thirty minutes per day), sometimes going back two, three, or four years to spiral foundational concepts. We packaged the lessons together into student and teacher workbooks so the experience for both children and adults was similar to core math instruction. We rostered these students together for the new math course, called Foundations Math, and added more time so students have ninety minutes of math instruction daily. Finally, we defined the intellectual preparation routines and professional development experiences for our teachers. The entire program was then enveloped with a strong focus on mathematical mindsets to build student confidence.
This is the second year that our schools are implementing the Foundations Math course in middle school. In its short life to date, this new program has shown promising growth: Students are growing faster as measured by MAP and more students are moving out of “below basic” on Pennsylvania and New Jersey state assessments. William, in fact, moved from below basic to basic on his state assessment last school year.
Foundations Math is one example of a strategy for how to help students who are several grade levels behind, at scale:
- Packaging materials to support teachers’ focus on strong lesson execution;
- Prioritizing the major work of the grade and intentionally spiraling prerequisite content, linked to the grade level learning;
- Allocating extra time for students to practice grade level content and prior grade skills;
- Investing in professional learning experiences and intellectual preparation for teachers to strengthen both their content knowledge and practice.
Our design approach to Foundations Math is based on an obsession about quality execution at scale.
While this approach is showing positive results in its early stages of implementation, we are aware that certain conditions must be in place if it is to succeed at scale and over the long haul. First and foremost, it requires talented teachers with the requisite experience, who feel comfortable in classrooms where differentiation is the norm. It’s also essential to have high-quality materials in place (Foundations Math is built upon EngageNY’s open source materials).
William’s story is still unfolding along with the story of Foundations Math. But what we’ve seen so far validates our new approach to differentiated middle school math instruction.
With this, we offer a call to action to the field: In order to close the tenacious opportunity gap, we need vetted solutions that can be sustained at scale and we must commit to these solutions for all students, not only our students with unfinished learning but also students with special needs and English language learners.
We are excited to keep tracking progress and sharing what we have learned so others can learn from our experiences.
2019 WONKATHON THIRD-PLACE ENTRY: Follow schools’ leads to embrace personalized learning and academic rigor
Editor’s note: This was the third-place submission, out of nineteen, to Fordham’s 2019 Wonkathon, in which we asked participants to answer the question: “What’s the best way to help students who are several grade levels behind?”
Despite enormous effort across the education sector over many years, persistent and pervasive gaps in educational access, engagement, and achievement exist for students across the country. To this day, the majority of black, Latinx, Native American, and low-income students do not receive the education they need to meet grade-level standards and be ready for college or career. Students who fall below grade level rarely catch up, even when schools make concerted efforts to accelerate growth. As the figure below demonstrates, only a tiny minority of elementary and middle schools successfully support low-performing students to achieve gap-closing levels of growth.
Figure 1. Proportion of schools with low-performing students averaging 1.5 years of growth in mathematics
In response, two seemingly competing schools of thought have emerged among education policy leaders and the creators and consumers of instructional materials and curricula—one focused on attaining grade level proficiency for all, and the other focused on individualized student growth.
The proficiency-focused group identifies the problem in the fact that when students enter the classroom performing below grade level, they are too rarely given opportunities to learn grade level content. These students are disproportionately low-income students of color. Proposed solutions from this camp: grade-level materials and rigorous, grade-level aligned expectations, to allow students to rise to expectations and truly catch up. Those in this camp are likely to advocate for curricula aligned with rigorous grade-level standards, or accountability measures focused on communicating high expectations, as well as increased support and direction for teachers on instructional techniques that can bring students to grade level and beyond.
The growth-focused school of thought sees teachers struggling to effectively support students with a broad range of abilities as the problem, which results in students progressively disengaging from work that seems too difficult. They want to enable teachers to understand and address students’ individual needs and to engage students with instructional materials that challenge them from where they are now. They often use technology to help make the process of personalization attainable. And they favor growth-focused policy incentives and school/classroom models that break the mold of grade-level groupings.
To the wonk-o-sphere, this might seem like an intractable clash, especially when it comes to effectively supporting students who enter the classroom far below grade level. But leaders in the field must stop perpetuating the myth of a divide. Our recent research showed us schools and classrooms across the country where educators and students disprove this binary thinking on a daily basis. They know that closing learning gaps requires students to be motivated and engaged to grapple with challenging, grade-level skills and knowledge—while also having their individual learning needs met.
Through our research, we found that three key things are true of schools that succeed at accelerating growth among students who start off below grade level:
- Students have access to meaningful learning experiences that actively engage and challenge them, and respond to their individual needs, interests, and contexts. This kind of learning experience requires educators to have deep personal knowledge of their students. Knowing a student deeply is not superfluous—it is a foundation on which to build relationships and can be a powerful lever for engagement.
- Educators and school leaders have supports and professional learning opportunities that are individualized to each teacher, collaborative across grade levels, grounded in student data, and embedded in strong school systems and culture. In successful schools, teachers are prepared to lead dynamic classrooms where students are constantly engaged in rigorous work. Teachers constantly assess and act on students’ strengths, needs, and gaps, leveraging variety of materials and tools to do so. Leaders and administrators in these schools share and communicate clear expectations about how to use and adapt instructional materials in support of students’ goals.
- Instructional materials are robust, coherent, and actually usable. High-quality core instructional materials and supplemental aligned supports and tools for intervention, often leveraging technology and data, are critical to classroom practice. These materials form the backbone of rigor and personalization across every classroom. The most successful schools spend significant time and effort putting these pieces together and adapting them to meet student and teacher needs.
Sadly, schools where all three realities exist are still a rarity. But by following the lead of these educators, leaders and policymakers can ensure more students achieve their college and career goals.
What needs to change in our policies and systems to bring about these conditions in more schools? The short answer is: a lot. There is no one solution to meet the needs of students far below grade level, or one clear policy barrier standing in the way of progress. For example, the vast majority of states’ accountability systems value both proficiency and growth, which was not the case just a few years ago. The long-term answer must include a peace agreement between the growth and proficiency camps, and moving forward, a shared commitment to improvements in instructional materials and educator development.
The definition of quality in instructional materials and educator development should center on what we know from learning science, educational research, and schools doing this work every day: Facilitating growth and aiming for excellence are entirely compatible goals, and each can reinforce the other.
Right now, teachers are the ones left to navigate the complexity. Teachers are currently on the receiving end of too many mixed messages in preparation programs and professional development about what it means to achieve grade-level rigor and “stick to the standards” while also cultivating deep relationships and personalized learning opportunities for individual students. Within schools, better educator development means creating space for collaboration, building shared understanding of student data, and emphasizing both rigor and personalization. It may be that achieving this kind of learning environment will require new kinds of school and classroom organizational structures.
There is currently a significant amount of work happening in the field to bring high-quality instructional materials into classrooms, but little reason for vendors and content providers to collaborate and make their systems work better together for end users. If we want more schools to adopt the highest-quality instructional materials, those materials ought to be flexible enough to attend to the needs and interests of a diverse group of learners, and should also play nicely with all the other functional components of a classroom and school, from attendance to assessment.
Teachers should be meeting students where they are academically, and supporting students to reach rigorous, grade-level expectations. In order to help them to do this, policymakers at the district, state, and federal level, as well as private funders, can step in to exert pressure via procurement policies, accountability structures, curriculum adoption measures, and other incentives. At the same time, innovation, quality, and impact evaluation all take time, and expecting results in three-year funding cycles can stifle innovation.
Our research efforts lead us to the conclusion that achieving dramatic outcomes for students (especially those who need it most) will require a system-wide and holistic approach. This might not be the simple policy-change answer some wonks hope for, but it is the kind of change students and schools actually need.
In the United States, there are more than 34,500 private schools. Tuition-charging high schools run the gamut from small religious institutions that serve dual academic and social purposes, to larger schools centered around a certain pedagogy, to elite academies that draw highly-motivated students from far and wide. The landscape is different in the United Kingdom, where they’re smaller, more academically focused, and concentrated on the more elite end of the scale. Ain the Oxford Review of Education examines private schools in England to see whether, and how, such schools might confer an academic advantage on their pupils over those in what the study’s authors term “state schools” (what we would call “public schools” in America).
The University College London research team used an existing longitudinal data set called Next Steps, which followed a representative cohort of English children born in 1989 and 1990. Data were collected annually between 2004 and 2010, with a follow up in 2015. The private school study included data such as social class, parental education level, income, housing status, ethnicity, gender, and test scores. Additionally, since state schools in England base attendance largely on catchment areas, geographic locations of private school students were also collected for comparison.
The research team focused on those students attending private versus state schools during their upper secondary studies—roughly speaking, equivalent to the last two years of American high school—in which students with college plans must participate. The team identified 5,852 students in the sample who met the criteria of actively working toward college admission and whose test scores were available. 14.6 percent of these students were in private school, mirroring theof 15 percent private school attendance. Their research questions: Are privately educated students in upper secondary schools likely to take more courses which will facilitate college admission? Do private school students perform better in those courses than those in state schools? And do private schools confer any other advantage on their pupils for getting into an , or indeed into any university?
The results: The number of college prep courses taken is higher for students in private schools, but only slightly. And that boost disappears when student demographics are similar between private and state school students. Performance on end-of-course exams follows a similar pattern. The more similar students are demographically, the more similarly they score on exams, regardless of school type attended. However, previous research has identified a hierarchy of courses within the college prep framework—and end-of-course test scores—that are more likely to facilitate students being accepted into a university. This new report indicates that students in state schools are far more likely to take courses lower on that hierarchy than are their private school peers—courses which have the weakest correlation with facilitating university acceptance. This then results in an overall boost for private school students in attending a university, especially increasing attendance at elite universities.
The details matter here. Saying that private schools confer an academic advantage on their students is true in a very general sense, and the report reinforces that high-level view. But data show that this “advantage” weakens or even disappears the more demographically similar two students are, indicating that much more is at work than just school environment. And the finding that state schools serve up far more courses that fill time and do not lead to university acceptance is highly alarming. Aby the Center for American Progress reached a similar conclusion here in the United States: The number, type, sequence, and rigor of high school courses all matter mightily in making a diploma equal a ticket to college. Any school, public or private, that can hold the line on rigorous and relevant coursework for its students will confer the “advantage” that matters most: college readiness.
SOURCE: Morag Henderson, et. al., “,” Oxford Review of Education (November, 2019).
A new study by CALDER investigates how career and technical education (CTE) course-taking affects college enrollment, employment, and continuation into specific vocational or academic programs in college.
The researchers use postsecondary and unemployment insurance data from the Education Research and Data Center (ERDC) from 2014–16 to study the postsecondary outcomes of Washington State’s high school graduating class of 2013. Postsecondary data are limited to students who enroll in public colleges and universities in Washington State, and the final analytical sample includes 38,987 students whose eighth-grade achievement data can be linked to high school completion records. With about 43 percent of the sample qualifying as having concentrated in career and technical education—high school graduates who complete at least four CTE credits—the authors compare concentrators to otherwise similar non-concentrators by controlling for academic achievement prior to high school.
They find that students who concentrated their coursework in CTE are less likely to enroll in college, but are more likely to work full-time and for longer than other non-college-goers in the three years after high school. Specifically, 59 percent of CTE concentrators enrolled in college, as opposed to 65 percent of non-concentrators. This may be explained in part by the fact that CTE students are more likely to be disadvantaged, e.g., have learning disabilities (by 2.5 percentage points), be English language learners (by 4 percentage points), or qualify for subsidized lunch programs (by about 10 percentage points), and consequently, less likely to enroll in college.
Among students who do not enroll in college, CTE students are 1 percentage point more likely to work full-time in the three years following high school graduation, and are more likely to work full-time for an average of 0.11 more quarters within the three-year period.
And among students who do enroll in college, CTE students are significantly more likely to enroll in and complete vocational programs, primarily at community colleges and particularly in applied STEM fields—i.e., information technology (network systems, information support services, and interactive media pathways) and manufacturing (maintenance, installation, and repair pathways)—and public safety fields, such as correction services, security and protective services, and law enforcement services.
One important limitation of the study is that it does not include enrollment data for students in private nonprofit and for-profit colleges or out-of-state public institutions. In the analysis, these students are incorrectly coded as not attending college, and because it’s rare for students to enroll in two-year colleges out of state, this classification error likely skews the overall college enrollment and four-year college enrollment regressions. Additionally, the findings are limited to the state of Washington, where some minority groups that may benefit from vocational credentials, such as blacks and Hispanics, are underrepresented, compared to the overall U.S. population.
Still, it’s a comprehensive study, considering the data available, and it shows that the relatively high rates of transition into certain vocational programs can’t be fully explained by differences in academic preparation or other observable student characteristics. These positive impacts of CTE participation among Washington State high schoolers suggest positive effects on credential attainment and subsequent earnings, and that isn’t something to ignore.
SOURCE: James Cowan, Dan Goldhaber, Harry Holzer, Natsumi Naito, and Zeyu Xu, “Career and Technical Education in High School and Postsecondary Pathways in Washington State,” CALDER (November 2019).
On this week’s podcast, Sarah Sparks, a reporter and data journalist for Education Week, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to talk about the possible link between students’ screen time and reading scores. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines whether we learn more from failure or success and what that could mean for students.
Amber's Research Minute
Lauren Eskreis-Winkler and Ayelet Fishbach, “Not Learning From Failure—the Greatest failure of All,” Psychological Science (November 2019).