Actions against poverty: The impact of career technical education (Rabren et al. 2014)
Rabren, K., Carpenter, J., Dunn, C., & Carney, J. (2014). Actions against poverty: The impact of career technical education. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 37(1), 29-39.
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- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of participation in career or technical education (career tech) on post-high school employment for people with specific learning or intellectual disabilities who lived in relatively high-poverty areas.
- The authors estimated regression models comparing employment outcomes for youth who participated in career tech with those who did not, while controlling for differences in demographic characteristics.
- The study found that career tech participants were 0.235 times more likely than those in the comparison group to be employed when leaving high school. Career tech participants were also 0.064 times more likely to be employed at any point within the first year after high school (0.066 times for those who were unemployed upon leaving high school). These findings were statistically significant.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the study did not control for students’ degree of disadvantage. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to career tech participation; other factors are likely to have contributed.
Features of Career Tech
Students who participated in a career tech program had career and/or technical education included as part of their individualized education programs (IEPs) in high school. Career tech, although it could have been implemented slightly differently across the 23 study school districts, generally provided students with core academic, employability, and job-specific skills. Students had to participate in career tech for at least one semester to be considered part of the treatment group.
Features of the Study
The study implemented a nonexperimental analysis of the employment of 500 former high school students with a specific learning or intellectual disability who lived in relatively high-poverty areas. Career tech participation and employment data were collected in a 12-month post-high school survey. The analysis compared employment outcomes for those who participated in career tech and those who did not, controlling for differences in the demographic characteristics of the study participants.
- The study found that students who had participated in career tech were 6.4 percentage points more likely to have been employed at any point within the first year after leaving high school, compared with students who had not participated in career tech. The difference was statistically significant.
- The likelihood of being employed when leaving high school was 23.5 percentage points higher for those who had participated in career tech than for those who had not, a statistically significant finding.
- Among students who were unemployed upon leaving high school, those who had participated in career tech were 6.6 percentage points more likely to be employed at any point within the first year after leaving high school compared with those who did not participate, a statistically significant finding.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The authors did not establish that the treatment and comparison groups were comparable before the career tech intervention. The groups could have differed for several reasons. First, although all students lived in relatively high-poverty areas, there might have been differences between the groups in terms of degree of disadvantage, and the analysis did not control for such differences. Second, most, but not all, study schools offered a career tech program. Thus, the groups might have differed in terms of the schools they attended. The study’s geographic control variable did not adequately control for this issue. Finally, students’ decisions to participate in career tech could have been related to their levels of socioeconomic disadvantage. For example, students of parents with higher levels of education might have placed stronger emphasis on pursuing a college degree, making them less likely to take part in the career tech program. The impact estimates could thus reflect differences in outcomes between the treatment and comparison groups that were due to differences in these factors as well as the effects of the career tech program.
In addition, data on career tech participation came from individual responses to a survey conducted one year after high school graduation, rather than from school administrative records. Such data might have had problems with misreporting, which could have affected the precision or accuracy of the impact estimates.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the study did not control for students’ degree of disadvantage. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to career tech participation; other factors are likely to have contributed.