Programs of Study - A Cross-Study Examination of Programs in Three States
University of Minnesota
University of Louisville
University of Minnesota
In 2006, Congress enacted the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Act (also known as Perkins IV), which changed the name and broadened the scope and purpose of career and technical education (CTE). The initial charge of vocational education, established under the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, was to separate vocational education from academic learning and focus it primarily on preparation for jobs and employment. Perkins IV expanded that purpose to prepare individuals for both college and career, connecting academic learning with job skills and knowledge and connecting secondary and postsecondary education. The goal of Perkins IV was to develop a seamless system allowing all students the opportunity to prepare for work, college, and life.
One of the main components of Perkins IV was the creation of programs of study (POS), required for all states accepting Perkins IV funding. A major goal of POS was the development of a systematic connection of secondary and postsecondary programs through four components that, according to the law, should:
- Incorporate secondary education and postsecondary education elements;
- Include coherent and rigorous content aligned with challenging academic standards and relevant career and technical content in a coordinated, non-duplicative progression of courses that align secondary to postsecondary education;
- Lead to an industry-recognized credential or certificate at the postsecondary level or an associate or baccalaureate degree; and
- May include opportunity for secondary education students to gain postsecondary education credits through dual or concurrent enrollment programs or other means.
POS should provide non-duplicative courses that are aligned with academic standards, lead to industry-recognized certificates or college degrees, and offer opportunities for dual credit, allowing secondary students to work at the college level while still in high school. These major components represent a continuation of decades-old initiatives intended to reverse the separation of vocational and college or academic preparation started under the Smith-Hughes Act. POS seek to link academic and vocational learning and secondary and postsecondary institutions. An additional goal of POS may be said to be the preparation of individuals to assume roles as contributing citizens in a dynamic, 21st-century workforce and democracy.
The National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) has been conducting field-based studies of POS for several years. Three research efforts are longitudinal studies focused on the development and implementation of POS at the high school and college level. These studies examine the effects of POS on student secondary and postsecondary outcomes over time and the types of policies or processes in place that contribute to successful POS outcomes. A now-concluded fourth study, a qualitative case study of six states, attempted to explain how POS were developing at the state level and determine common elements and themes involved in the production of technical assistance systems produced to implement such programs as viable CTE initiatives.
This report describes a separate project, A Cross-Study Examination of Programs of Study, which was designed to examine selected programs and sites from each of the three field-based studies that had the most mature, well-established POS relative to other study sites as a means of identifying common elements or attributes that led to the successful implementation of POS. It was deemed critically important to the development of high-quality programs that we develop an understanding of the cross-study factors contributing to successful POS. It was suggested that such a study include the 10 elements of POS deemed by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) to be important to high-quality program development (OVAE, 2010). In pursuit of this goal, a team of researchers conducted visits to three of the sites identified by the three longitudinal studies’ researchers as strong implementers of POS. The goal of the current study was to review each site’s strengths, identify the contributing factors to their development of POS, and examine their implementation of the 10 elements of POS defined by OVAE. Using the six state study as a starting point, the research team developed five interview protocols and used those instruments to interview and observe key stakeholders in the identified POS sites.
More than 40 interviews were conducted with teachers, administrators, counselors, and business and industry representatives at these three sites, which were visited from December 2010 through February 2011. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using conventional analytic approaches (Maxwell & Loomis, 2002; Miles & Huberman, 1985), as well as through the use of qualitative software (NVivo9). The results of these analyses produced several themes and recommendations.
Six themes arose from our analysis of the data collected at the three sites. The first theme was engagement. At every site and in many interviews, people talked about the power of POS to engage students in learning, primarily through connecting academic learning to meaningful learning through work and other applications. NVivo9 analysis confirmed that engagement was the most frequently mentioned concept in the data.
The second theme that emerged from the data was a strong focus on student learning. POS in these sites were established to ensure that learning, both academic and skills-based, was the primary activity of students. Systems were put in place to aid in this process. At every level and in every situation, discussion focused on how each program and course could promote learning.
The third theme was the certification of knowledge and skills. At these sites, the career and technical components of the legislation were clearly intended to result in some kind of certification from business and industry. However, interviewees believed that academic knowledge also had to meet levels of certification or generate outcomes that could be measured against a set of standards. This was part of sites’ efforts to ensure articulation and rigorous academic learning in which all forms of learning could be verified through the demonstration of knowledge and skills.
The fourth theme was connecting secondary and postsecondary systems, with the goal of making CTE a seamless system, starting early in students’ educational careers and focusing on both academic and skills-based learning. Career education was much broader and more generic than job training, spanning a longer period of students’ lives and requiring planning and coordination for students to develop career goals.
The fifth theme indicated that POS raised the understanding of and respect for CTE among stakeholders. Although CTE has traditionally been perceived as a “dumping ground” for less able students, POS appeared to reverse that perception. Interviewees reported that students of all abilities were increasingly attracted to CTE, especially when several dual credit systems provided parity with highly regarded academic programs. At one site, POS dual credit courses counted the same as grades earned in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, providing an extra point on the grade point average (GPA) scale and increasing students’ ability to earn higher GPAs. POS efforts in these three sites appeared to raise the status of CTE to a level more equal with other academic programs.
The sixth theme derived from the data indicated that high-quality teachers made a difference in the delivery of programs. Such teachers were described as understanding how to integrate academic and CTE instruction, being able to establish comfortable and trusting relationships, being knowledgeable about their subject area, and being able to deliver instruction through project-based, integrated instructional programs.
Based upon the themes derived from our interviews and observations, we offer several recommendations for future POS implementation. First, continue developing POS models, because when implemented well, they demonstrate a strong potential to deliver on all major areas of outcomes and impacts, including improved attendance, improved grades, improved achievement scores, improved retention rates, and improved engagement of students to learn academic and technical skills and plan their future occupations.
The second recommendation is for the CTE field to consider expanded opportunities for funding through alliances with other educational reform initiatives. Some of those mentioned in the study, including civic education, service learning, and place-based education, all require academics to be integrated into community-based projects, involve coordination between schools and community learning settings, and require students to be active participants in the planning of their futures.
A third recommendation is to develop a more flexible system of measuring the outcomes of POS efforts. Requiring students to move directly from secondary to postsecondary education without any opportunity to obtain a job right out of high school creates a system that is too rigid and does not allow for some of the other positive outcomes that materialize for students in CTE programs. Participants at all sites discussed the difficulty of tracking students from secondary to postsecondary education and identifying those who were CTE concentrators and who had enough exposure to CTE to benefit from its programs and activities.
A fourth recommendation emphasizes the importance of continuing to concentrate on involving students in meaningful learning experiences. Developing more PBL initiatives that allow students to connect hands-on learning with academic applications and allow schools to employ block scheduling and community learning should aid in reaching more students and assisting schools and community colleges in connecting with all students.
A final recommendation is to focus energies on generating relationships. All sites identified the importance of relationship building as a means of fostering collaboration between educational systems and business and industry partners. Further, relationships between students and teachers, teachers and administrators, teachers and community college faculty and staff, and business and industry personnel and teachers or faculty all made programs operate more effectively and created environments that produced the integration and alignments that made curricular adjustments work.
This study of three sites selected from the NRCCTE’s field-based longitudinal research projects has produced important knowledge about how POS work and what needs to be done to continue positive trends in program outcomes and operations. The study has captured many of the strengths of the programs that contribute to engagement, learning, collaboration, and cooperation. As we contemplate the future renewal of the Carl D. Perkins legislation, the findings from this study may help inform future efforts in the expansion of POS and the creation of an integrated, seamless system of learning that will engage students in training for work, college, and life.
Shumer, R., Stringfield, S., Stipanovic, N., & Murphy, N. (2011, November). Programs of study: A cross-study examination of programs in three states. Louisville, KY: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Louisville.