Eighteen months of a pandemic laid bare widening inequities embedded in our education system, our economy, and many other aspects of our society. Among the many gaps exposed by the crisis are significant disparities in students’ access to career and technical education (CTE), and success in those programs. A recent discussion among teachers and program coordinators prompted stark observations of problems in work-based learning, which has a mission to provide real-world professional experience and networking opportunities to students through internships, apprenticeships, and other forms of hands-on job training. In a remote environment, the differences between students who succeeded and those who struggled were especially apparent.

In April, CTE stakeholders and providers from across the country gathered with representatives of MDRC’s Center for Effective CTE to discuss how a year of remote services revealed the urgent need for changes to address inequities in the field. The group first met a year ago, mid-pandemic, and discussed how providers adapted work-based learning experiences for a world where in-person interactions were severely curtailed. Learning in a virtual environment changed both the composition of program participants and how employers engage students.

To improve access to and success in programs with diverse, often disadvantaged students, CTE practitioners are rethinking how they use remote learning, how they view employer partnerships, and how they measure student competency.

  • New and different students engaged in virtual programs.
  • Employer roles in CTE partnerships grew, and programs want to keep it that way.
  • Educators advocate changing assessment criteria for CTE credentials.
The field must grapple with pressing equity questions.

As the worst phase of the pandemic recedes, CTE leaders are trying hard to reshape their programs based on the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis. These are some of the most salient issues they are addressing:

  • How can educators recognize competency-based mastery, and what can researchers help the field learn about their impact on equity measures?
  • What can research reveal about the relative value to employers of offering work-based learning experiences, and how those experiences might reduce broader racial, gender, or socioeconomic inequities over the longer term?
  • How can new federal and state policies and investments address current infrastructure inequities, particularly when it comes to the digital divide?

Read the full article about inequity in work-based learning by Erika B. Lewy at MDRC.