Study: Career-focused high school tracks have better graduation rates
- A study of 36 Massachusetts vocational and technical high schools conducted by researcher Shaun Dougherty indicated that students at these schools had substantially higher graduation rates (by 21%) than peers at typical high schools, Chalkbeat reports.
- Low-income students in career-focused schools also scored slightly higher on standardized tests than peers in traditional high schools; however, higher-income students saw higher graduation rates without the boost in test scores.
- The reasons for the increased graduation may be that these programs tend to boost non-academic skills such as grit, and that students find these studies more relevant and engaging because they have more of a voice in their course of study.
Career and technical education is gaining more attention and respect in recent days as the need for skilled workers has increased. While a CTE track is not right for all students, there is growing evidence that this option offers a greater chance for student success in terms of graduation and employability than once thought. In the past, CTE was sometimes considered the fallback option for students who could not make the grade in traditional high school pathways. However, new studies and economic needs are elevating the status of CTE and making it the pathway of choice for a growing number of students who see such studies as more relevant to their lives.
Other studies have resulted in the same conclusions regarding graduation rates. A California study that appeared in the American Educational Research Journal in 2017 concluded that “juniors and seniors in high school who complete career and technical education courses are more likely to graduate on time and less likely to drop out of school, compared to those who don’t participate in CTE programs.” And a report published this month by the American Enterprise Institute revealed that “CTE course takers are less likely to drop out of high school and on average have higher annual earnings by their mid-20s than students who take few or no CTE courses.”
The American Enterprise Institute study acknowledges that students on traditional high school pathways generally score better on academic tests but draws its own conclusion as to the success of CTE programs. The report states:
“Based on behavioral measures of noncognitive skills, we observe that CTE students exhibit more effort on routine tasks. According to teacher reports of student behavior, CTE students are just as attentive as their peers, just as likely to complete their homework, and much less likely to be absent from class. In sum, CTE course takers have on average higher noncognitive skills, compared to otherwise-similar students. This conclusion belies the image of these students as unmotivated and unfocused, and it belies the stereotype that CTE programs recruit substandard students. To assess the true value of CTE programs, one should look beyond their participants’ test scores.”