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August 25, 2020

by Patrick Bourke, Program Officer, Career Readiness

Last month the Department of Education approved the sixth and final wave of Perkins V State Plans. These plans allow states to use the funding allocated through the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, or commonly known as Perkins V, that was signed into law July 31, 2018. The funding provides for approximately $1.3 billion in federal funding to be directed to career and technical education each year.

One of the stipulations of Perkins V requires that every CTE program collect disaggregated data by race/ethnicity, gender, and special populations, which include individuals who are economically disadvantaged, youth who are in or have aged out of the foster care system, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, homeless students, students with a parent in the active military, single parents (including single pregnant women), out-of-workforce individuals, and students pursuing nontraditional careers.

Requiring this level of data collection can work to confront the history of inequity in CTE that resulted in tracking students of color into vocational programs that led to lower wage jobs. Equity gaps remain to this day, as men are much more likely than women to be in STEM CTE programs and African American and Latinx students have been found to represent a larger share of students in pathways, such as early childhood education, that lead to lower earnings.

Postsecondary CTE has long struggled with collecting quality student level data. The 2019 study, The State of Career Technical Education: Improving Data Quality & Effectiveness, revealed deficiencies in the methods used to collect and analyze data, as well as misalignment across postsecondary and workforce data systems. The study found that only about half of state CTE Directors believed their CTE data system provided them with “the information needed to assist in making decisions about postsecondary program quality and CTE initiatives,” and 86 percent reported that improving CTE data was a priority for their state.

These deficiencies make it difficult for practitioners to determine how to make adjustments to more equitably serve postsecondary CTE students, but ECMC Foundation grantee Advance CTE is meeting this challenge. Earlier this year, Advance CTE embarked on a multi-state initiative to improve the quality, availability, and effective use of postsecondary CTE data at both the state and institution level to support the success of postsecondary learners. They will recruit up to four teams from different states and provide them the support and tools needed to improve data quality and usage throughout each of their states. Key tools to assist state leaders with policy assessments and enacting changes will be made public after pilot testing this fall. This project will go a long way to improve how states collect and use the quality data necessary for postsecondary leaders to effectively address equity gaps.

But quality data is just the first step. Interpreting the data and making necessary adjustments at the program level requires additional effort. Fortunately, new provisions in Perkins V requires the completion of a comprehensive local needs assessment (CLNA). Under this requirement, local education agencies (LEA), such as community and technical colleges, must complete and update a CLNA every two years and specifically report on their “progress toward improving access and equity” among the aforementioned special populations along with a number of other topics related to student outcomes.

ECMC Foundation grantee National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) is working with states to help them execute their CLNAs by putting equity at the forefront. NAPE is helping 10 state postsecondary agencies and their staff, through their Equity Leadership Academy for States, by providing meaningful, focused, and effective technical assistance and support to LEAs as they implement CLNAs. The goal is to identify and close gaps in the participation, performance, retention, and completion of students based on gender, race and ethnicity, and the special populations previously referenced.

Quality, actionable data is just one piece of the puzzle to remedy the equity gaps that have existed in CTE for decades. But it can be an effective vehicle for making informed decisions that will lead to more equitable student outcomes, shaping not only the future of CTE, but our workforce as a whole.

ECMC Foundation is proud to support Advance CTE and NAPE in their pursuit of improving postsecondary CTE. The Foundation believes that quality data has the potential to better connect adult learners to family sustaining wages through credit bearing pathways.

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