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Aurora Institute

Reflecting on Opportunities to Advance Equity and Student-Centered Learning in Career and Technical Education

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Alexis Chambers, Natalie Truong

Issue(s): Federal Policy, Leverage Career and Technical Education, Design for Educational Equity

Source: National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity

Recently, we attended the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) annual National Summit for Educational Equity (NSEE) and had the opportunity to reflect on how to advance equity through partnerships with career and technical education (CTE).

According to NAPE, the NSEE “brings together the researchers and practitioners in educational equity to build capacity, knowledge, and skills to transform education, enrich classrooms, and improve student success as well as share best practices and build a learning community of professionals.”

With the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act for the 21st Century (also referred to as Perkins V), states have the opportunity to rethink college and career transitions to be more meaningful in ensuring successful post-secondary pathways for all students. In January, the U.S. Department of Education released guidelines encouraging states to align their Perkins state plans to their ESSA state plans to create seamless postsecondary transition pathways to college and career via CTE. States and districts now have the opportunity to be more intentional about designing for equity in postsecondary pathways.  

Here are a few of our takeaways from the conference:

Some states are rethinking CTE learning experiences for historically underserved students.

Several sessions highlighted the work states like Delaware and Tennessee are leading to rethink CTE pathways to increase access, equity, and alignment to K-12 education and the workforce.

For example, a collaboration between the Delaware Department of Education and NAPE created the Program Improvement Process for Equity, or PIPEline Project. The goal of PIPEline is to increase the successful “enrollment, matriculation, graduation, and transition to postsecondary education and employment of students with disabilities through CTE.” The program is “a year-long professional development and technical assistance program model intervention” that challenges and addresses “the culture, climate, policies, and practices that hinder and fail to support students with disabilities” in CTE. PIPEline aims to increase the successful completion of postsecondary pathways and employment for students with disabilities.

Source: National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity

Tennessee officials are considering how to leverage Perkins V to increase stakeholder engagement and develop its state plan to close the equity gaps between historically underserved students in CTE programs. In 2018, a state coalition hosted three listening sessions in partnership with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition to conduct a needs assessment with a variety of stakeholders. Participants included local education agencies, state-level nonprofit organizations, community-level nonprofit organizations, local chambers of commerce, and business and industry partners. Participants agreed on one common theme: CTE is no longer just an alternative to college; it is the foundation to earning postsecondary credentials. The Tennessee Department of Education plans to engage diverse stakeholders over the course of the next year before submitting its four-year Perkins V plan in 2020.

States have the opportunity to rethink college and career pathways to be more student-centered and driven by equity by aligning CTE to statewide initiatives under ESSA and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Now is the time to rethink success for all students in a systematic way from K-12 to workforce preparedness.

Rethink postsecondary pathways with equity at the forefront.

Keynote speaker and co-founder of Teachers United, Nate Bowling, highlighted the urgency to “think and act systemically” to address the historical and present-day injustices in our society and educational models.

We were inspired to reflect on the need to change the systems and structures that have been put in place to disadvantage traditionally underserved students. Historically, low-income students and students of color were inadequately placed in low-quality CTE programs that did not set them up towards a pathway to success. There is a need to redesign CTE pathways to be inclusive with intentionality toward appropriately placing students based on career interest and aspirations and equipping them with the requisite postsecondary success skills. This can’t be achieved without culturally relevant instruction, personalizing learning based on student goals and meeting students where they are in their learning and development.

Consider opportunities for states under Perkins V to redesign education to work for all students.

Connecting with CTE leaders, practitioners, and policymakers at the conference provided insight into the opportunities available under Perkins V to engage with stakeholders around a new definition of success for CTE pathways that is learner-centered.

Perkins V provides a unique opportunity for states to redefine success for postsecondary pathways. The new federal law provides states with the flexibility for state-determined accountability control. This allows states and local education agencies to innovate and determine priorities for Perkins funding. States will need to measure and report on how school districts are making “meaningful progress toward improving the performance” of students of color, students from low-income households, English learners, and students with disabilities.  States have until this summer to submit their transition plans and are required under Perkins V to engage stakeholders in needs assessment and public comment period. States can consider how to design more equitable, inclusive and student-centered pathways for students through the following considerations:

  • Engage stakeholders to redefine student success by articulating the knowledge and skills students should have upon completing a CTE program or pathway;
  • Audit CTE programs to ensure students have meaningful access to CTE programs and career centers;
  • Audit CTE programs to identify equity gaps for special populations;  
  • Train CTE educators and leaders in culturally relevant teaching and how to serve students from special populations (this can include professional learning opportunities for CTE educators for subgroups such as English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and students from historically marginalized communities);
  • Develop dual-credit and concurrent enrollment, among other multiple pathways, to allow students to earn credit and skills based upon mastery not seat-time; and,
  • Consider the opportunities to align CTE plans with state ESSA plans to advance innovation in CTE programs, such as competency-based and personalized learning to meet the needs of diverse learners and empower students towards reaching their goals.
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