National Research Center for Career and Technical Education

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), intends to conduct a new competition in the form of a 3-year contract for a national research center (Center) to carry out scientifically based research and evaluation [  * see definition  ], and to conduct dissemination and training activities consistent with section 114(d)(4) of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006. We are seeking input from States on research topics and issues, and on types of dissemination activities and technical assistance to States that address education, employment, and the training needs of student in career and technical education programs.

In addition, we are particularly interested in any input you may have regarding future research and technical assistance concerning the following topics:

  • Career pathways and programs of study
  • Distance education and online learning for students in CTE programs
  • CTE and at-risk youth
  • Dual enrollment

Brief overview of Center

The Center, currently known as the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, was originally authorized by the Education Amendments of 1976 and reauthorized by four Carl D. Perkins Acts (1984, 1990, 1998, and 2006). The current Center will complete its five year grant period July 31, 2012. It is the Department’s intent to complete the completion and award the contract for a new Center by August 1, 2012. To learn about the work of the current Center and for available reports of research from the current and previous centers, please go to their website:

Process for submitting input

The deadline for submission of input is October 21, 2011, so that we can analyze the input and recommendations as we finalize our plans for the competition. We are encouraging all interested parties to submit comments in the comment section below. As an alternative to submitting comments through this blog, commenter may submit ideas directly to the Department by sending an email to: National Research Center for CTE

Please note that ideas posted via e-mail will be posted on the blog. Please click here to review comment policy.

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Scientifically based research means research standards that:

  1. Apply rigorous, systematic, and objective methodology to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to education activities and programs; and
  2. Present findings and make claims that are appropriate to, ands supported by, the methods that have been employed.

The term includes, appropriate to the research being conducted:

  1. Employing systematic, empirical methods that draw on observation or experiment;
  2. Involving data analyses that are adequate to support the general findings;
  3. Relying on measurements or observational methods that provide reliable data;
  4. Making claims of causal relationships only in random assignment experiments or other designs (to the extent such designs substantially eliminate plausible competing explanations for the obtained results);
  5. Ensuring that studies and methods are presented in sufficient detail and clarity to allow for replication or, at a minimum, to offer the opportunity to build systematically on the findings of the research;
  6. Obtaining acceptance by a peer-reviewed journal or approval by a panel of independent experts through a comparably rigorous, objective, and scientific review; and
  7. Using research designs and methods appropriate to the research question posed (20 U.S.C. 2302(25) and 9501(18)

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  1. One of the studies that I really want to see at national level is the return on investment, but not to the individual – return to the society: how many more jobs are created due to a more skilled workforce/higher wages, how many more taxes and any other economic indicators.
    In addition there are other studies that would be useful to see and that would influence policy:
    1.Programs of study research: Do they work? I think you need to wait several years, as they are established and the students go through them.
    2.Dual credit policies are very different from state to state. I think that everybody wants to know how it works in other states than their own. This kind of research has the potential to influence national policy.
    3.A study about transfer of CTE courses to universities and how that works with accreditation standards/requirements (and I am not talking about the existence of an agreement between a community college and a university – I mean something simpler, if that exists). Even though Perkins does not fund universities, the programs of study and the law looks at a continuum into a Bachelor degree program. That continuum should not be broken at the whim of some individuals.
    4.Research regarding the effectiveness of placing at-risk youth on a CTE pathway vs a pure academic one. Are they more successful? Definitely, we need to define “success” at both secondary and postsecondary level. It is a tricky issue because you don’t want to be accused of “profiling” but I think it can be done with cohorts of at-risk students in CTE or not.
    5.A study that connects skills with labor market outcomes. Something like, if the students were taught broader skills, are they more successful than those who were taught more specific skills?
    6.I would like to see a study that looks at wages/success of CTE students and the relationship to debt (include parent loans not just student loans), lost wages while in school etc.

  2. The NRCCTE has been extremely helpful to our state especially with the Math-In-CTE work and the integration of academics and CTE. We need to continue to hammer away at the impact that this integration has on students that participate in CTE as opposed to those that don’t.

    Another area that needs continued focus and research is the value-added by Career and Technical Student Organizations. It has been a few years since the NRCCTE addressed this issue but it needs continued attention.

    Programs of study is the other area that I suggest be a focus of research for NRCCTE.

  3. I would be interested in the following areas:
    1. Adult (post-secondary) programs of study. Research showing the value of post-secondary programs of study. Education that enables adults to gain the skills needed to be employed in an occupation that is in demand and earns a living wage.
    2. Secondary to post-secondary programs of study. Working with younger students, and seconday to post-secondary transitions, what is the best way to measure success. Are there models already out there?
    3. Benchmarking studies – What is a realistic goal for graduation and retention/transfer for post-secondary institutions? Looking at two year community or technical colleges, striving for 100% graduation can be the ultimate goal, but what are reasonable increases per year and is there a point short of 100% that would be more in line with the post-secondary population we serve?

  4. One of the weakest links in CTE is the assessment tools used to measure if knowledge has been gained or skills have been obtained that can be consistently performed in many different contexts. The Research Center should be all about evaluation tools and credentialing associated with CTE Education

  5. Research on participation and performance of students in non-tradional CTE fields is needed. Women are underepresented in many CTE fields (especially STEM related fields) that provide better wages and opportunities than “traditionally” female fields, and men are similarly underrepresented in nursing. We need more research on what challenges/barriers students of all ages face in participating in non-tradional fields and recommendations for change.

    How to develop better and more consistent data collection systemst to track of students in CTE would also be beneficial. Better data helps to know if you are meeting goals, identify specific problems in the “pipeline” and good data fuels good research.

  6. I have worked the Center for the last several years on the Math-In-CTE Project and other projects. I have always found the Center to be willing to help. I believe the Center needs to be more aggressive in getting research data to state leadership and school superintendents. We know that CTE helps students achieve at higher levels in the academic areas, but that information does not always make it to the ones who control the purse strings. In these days when “everyone” is supposed to go to college, we need to realize as a society that that is not reality. Those students, who for whatever reason, don’t go directly into post secondary training need to be able to make a living wage. The Center needs to be more aggressive in getting that message across.

  7. I suggest that we need a research center conducting research to guide public policy on career and technical education quality components and best practices. We also need a technical assistance center funded by the federal gov. to provide practical translations of research into practice. We need far more webinars and fact sheets.
    The issues that are foremost for me are: how do we effectively serve special population students outlined in Perkins; how do we increase the data literacy and accountability literacy needed to prove ROI for CTE investments; how do we help local providers of CTE evaluate programs and market the results and ROI; how does CTE connect with all the major educational initiatives including teacher effectiveness, closing achievement gaps, STEM, building literacy through each discipline, engaging business partners in the core of CTE planning, implementation and evaluation as suggested by the recent Harvard article and the content and format of effective professional development for all CTE stakeholders.

  8. These are the areas that I would like to be studied by the center:
    1. In some countries, at a high school level, there is strong CTE coupled with rigorous complementary science and math courses. A number of middle level workforces are trained in such vocational/CTE schools. In the US, the community colleges seem to have taken this role of the high schools. I do not see why the students should wait until they reach college age to be trained as electrician, electronic technician, plumbers, nursing assistants, bricklayers, auto mechanics, computer technicians, dental assistants, etc. How can we develop a CTE system at a high school level that is well integrated with science and math and that gives the students the opportunity for both career and further education in the area related to their training?
    2. A comparison study of the US CTE or Vocational Education system with other countries, like China, Germany, Japan, etc. needed to conducted. What are the lessons and best practices that we can draw from other countries?
    3. What should be the role of trade unions, business, and industry in in developing and implementing more efficient, flexible, and more effective CTE at high school and college level to meet the demands of business and industry?
    4. What should the training/education of CTE teachers and faculty look like?
    5. How do schools and colleges attract competent CTE teachers/ faculty to the teaching job competing with the business and industry in the labor market?
    Thank you.
    Adane Kassa, Ed.D

  9. My lived experiences inform me that guidance counselors are not strong supporters of CTE and they tend to focus on the wonder kids that do well in school even without their assistance. I would like to see research regarding how guidance counselors understand and perceive CTE. Research should also exam the impact guidance counselors have on CTE enrollment. I believe it is likely that such research would find that guidance counselors have a poor understanding of CTE, its value, and related student outcomes while exercising huge control over which kids get registered for CTE programs of study. From this initial research an intervention strategy (if needed) could be designed and tested, e.g., does short a program of study change how guidance counselors understand and / or perceive CTE and does such an intervention change how they register students?

    How can CTE create pathways for students with multiple jump points. For example, several two year programs could have shared courses / resources for the first year and then more specialized courses and resources for the second year. Each of the secondary programs could be articulated from one to several postsecondary / apprenticeship programs. Within the programs of study there need to be several junctures that are marked by certifications. With each additional certification the students are able to get a higher paying or more technically challenging position. However, along the pathways “cross-walks” should exist that assist students in traversing to a different pathway(s). That way students could gather the knowledge, skills, and certifications that will assist them directly. It seems like it would also make CTE programs more agile. The keys would be to look for the knowledge and skill sets that are inherent in within a variety of jobs / occupations and then to assemble programs ways that allow students to make transitions across pathways.

    CTE needs to insert itself into the “soul craft” conversation. This is difficult to explain. The same people that are impressed by people that run a shop that builds wooden sail boats or a bike shop that creates and assembles customized bikes would scoff at the idea that we need more CTE in schools and that all kids should have CTE based learning experiences no matter what content areas they are interested in.

  10. 1. Which best practices increase the:
    A. the number of females who successfully enter technical fields that have been male-dominated?
    B. multiple entry/multiple exits for those low-income adults who need living-wage employment while supporting a family?
    C. the number of adult students who know what career cluster and pathway will allow them to obtain living-wage employment and best fit the particular student’s interests and abilities?
    2. What are the most effective approaches for assessing technical skill attainment at the post-secondary level?
    3. What are the most effective approaches for accelerating time-to-degree for CTE completers at the post-secondary level?

  11. Our institution is entrenched in career and technical training at the high school and post secondary levels in construction trade registered apprenticeship. However, there is little research being conducted to track student progress and completion rates. I would like to see quantitative and qualitative research conducted to track the origins of our career student population. Where do they come from and why do they choose registered apprenticeship? How many completers actually continue with their AAS and beyond. The AAS is offered as a part of their curriculum and since the beginning of the construction down turn, I have seen an noticeable increase in the number of students seeking the AAS debgree and we do have an articulation agreement with a 4-year university. The problem is the lack of technology and tech support to track these students and, therefore, the inability to improve our transfer rates. I am available to offer any assistance or more information about our programs.

  12. CTE teachers need assistance with understanding and being able to use true project-based learning where the teacher moves from the stage to the sidelines. CTE teachers know how to use projects. They do not, however, know how to move students to project-based learning. An initiative on this topic could revolutionize CTE and learning.

  13. I think the work of the current NRCCTE is outstanding. I have utilized their Math-in-CTE research with both CTE and math colleagues, as well as our Assistant Superintendents of Curriculum and Instruction. I am looking forward to additional data on student performance in core academic subjects areas when CTE is a vital component, particularly the completion of the literacy and science studies. I am convinced that there will be much less need for remediation on the college level if students are given secondary content in context. Rather than having all students take four years of traditional math, what if all students took a 4th year math class that was career related? This could be as varied as actuarial science, architecture, engineering or theatre design. We know that we retain 75% of what we learn by doing but only 5% of lecture material. This should give us confidence in CTE’s efficacy for all students; however we need the research data to prove this.

  14. I would like to see some research/clarification of what CTE is supposed to be at the high school level. What is the student supposed to be able to do at the end point of a CTE pathway? We have career pathways, tests, etc. However, when programs are filled with students who are not Advanced Placement students or high academic achievers, how can we expect to be turning out potential engineers, etc? What would happen if one had to “test in” to a CTE program (ie have math, reading and other skills)? It seems to me like there are conflicting purposes. I’m not in favor of one over the other but someone has to talk about and perhaps conduct research about the “elephant in the CTE classroom.”

    • I concur. This is needed. What high school programs of study result in gainful employment or post-secondary readiness? This is the essential question.

    • Well said,

      I think it’s hard for educational policy folks to reconcile the current research data

      A large percentage of students participating in technical education did not meet their States academic standards as measured by State assessment; then these students go to CTE and earn “Industry Credentials” that appear to have NO parity to the State assessment or that of an AP level course

      What college acknowledges these credentials for credit?

      How does an employer recognize the accomplishment?

      We seem to be spending a considerable amount of money for naught.

      I’m concerned with what I believe is a bias in current research.

      The current organization appears to have a close relationship with State directors and ACTE.

      This quote by the deputy director of NRCCTE is troubling.

      “Given current policy and budget pressures, CTE needs to advocate for itself and develop it’s own ROI strategy. Otherwise, ROI for CTE will be conducted by others, with results the field may not like”.

      Pradeep Kotamraju
      Deputy Director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education

      Measuring the return on investment for CTE
      ACTE Techniques (September 2011)

      The research on CTE should be transparent and unbiased!

  15. We need studies on what makes successful CTE programs and CTE schools (technical high schools, technology centers and community colleges). What are the common attributes of high performing programs and schools to replicate? We also need examples of how pathways are being developed to include 4-year institutions. Leadership preparation for CTE has been an area long ignored and is critical. Training of University faculty on conducting high quality research in CTE to add to the research base for CTE.

  16. I would like to see a comprehensive study of the leadership in career and technical education. Specifically, I would like to know what processes and practices do effective leaders employ that lead schools to demonstrate exemplary student outcomes (student outcomes in academics and career and technical performance, in particular.) In PA, for example, we use the NOCTI as an end-of-program assessment to measure student achievement of technical skills, and we use our state’s high stakes test (PSSA) to measure academic performance. Vanderbilt University completed a study of school leadership funded by The Wallace Foundation. The research defined key processes and core components that effective leaders demonstrate. Do some of these have a stronger association with high student achievement than others? Are the key processes and core components found in non-career and technical education schools that lead to high student achievement the same as those demonstrated in career and technical education schools? What are the exemplary career and technical education school leaders doing that others are not doing? Not just what are they doing, but how are they doing it? (Knowing what to do is not the same as knowing how to do it.)

    As budgets become so might tighter in education, CTE is under severe pressure to demonstrate a positive impact on student academic achievement. In the field, we need to know what attributes we should seek, encourage, and further develop in our school leaders that will make a positive impact on student achievement.

  17. The number one need from a Research Center for CTE is to provide a compendium of abstracts that describe the results of applicable scientifically based research that could improve learning for our students. This Perkins Act requirement needs to be documented and published with advice from qualified practitioners so that the information is digestible by school and college staff. While it should be searchable and online, the dissemination should be agressive including regional workshops and state staff assistance. Above all, get these results to the local educator.

    My second suggestion is to focus hard on successful programs at the two year college level to get students with academic development needs to stay to completion of an associate’s degree.

    A third recomendation would be to focus on hybrid online programs that integrate occupational skills and knowledge with academic concepts.

    I appreciate this opportunity and I would be happy to elaborate on my ideas or to help in any other way.

    John McDonagh

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