Five things to know about Ohio’s vocational programs

Former Ohio governor Jim Rhodes wrote in 1969, “Many of today’s social and economic ills result from a lack of employment among the able-bodied. The lack of employment stems directly from inadequate education and training.” Governor Rhodes continued, asserting that vocational-training programs for young women and men could help to meet the demands of a changing modern-day economy.

Fast-forward forty-five years: Ohio has changed substantially, but as did Governor Rhodes, the state’s policymakers are again hitching their wagons to vocational education. Retro is in, and that’s a good thing: vocational education—a.k.a. “career and technical education”—has the potential to open new pathways of success for many teenagers.

Little, however, is widely known about how Ohio organizes its vocational-education programs or how students in them fare. Cue the state’s new report cards, which include helpful information about the state’s vocational programs. The following looks at the report cards, yielding five takeaways regarding Ohio’s vocational options.

Point 1: CTPDs and JVSDs are not the same

Ohio has two key entities in the realm of vocational education: (1) Career and Technical Planning Districts (CTPDs) and (2) Joint Vocational School Districts (JVSDs, also called “career-tech centers”). CTPDs are an administrative entity, while JVSDs are direct vocational-education providers. Both CTPDs and JVSDs are comprised of member school districts; however, while all districts are part of a CTPD, not all districts are part of a JVSD.

Throughout Ohio, ninety-one CTPDs oversee vocational programs. CTPDs have at least one member school district (often more), and each CTPD has a “lead” district that approves the vocational programs of its member districts, charters, and STEM schools. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) assigns districts and schools to CTPDs, and it issues report cards to CTPDs.

JVSDs are regional vocational centers—“vo-techs”—that draw students, typically in grades 11 and 12, from their member districts. One can determine the members of a JVSD’s by searching here, and nearly all JVSDs have an open-enrollment policy. Some JVSDs have statewide open enrollment; others are open only to a student residing in a district adjacent to a member district. State regulations allow charter- and private-school students to enroll in a JVSD, too.

Ohio has forty-nine JVSDs, and each one is a member of a larger CTPD. For those CTPDs without a JVSD—there are forty-two such CTPDs—their member school districts provide vocational education within the district.

Point 2: Ohio released its first CTPD report cards in 2013

The state’s new CTPD report cards contain data on “concentrators”—students who have left high school, either as a graduate or withdrawal, and who have taken a majority of their high-school courses in a particular area of vocational study. (There are sixteen areas of vocational study, including agriculture, health services, manufacturing, hospitality, etc.) Unlike a district or charter school’s report card, which generally accounts for students still in the school, CTPD report cards (with the exception of the “nontraditional-participation” metric) only account for students in the year that they left high school.

Across the state’s ninety-one CTPDs, 32,403 students were included in their 2012–13 report cards. The graduation and post-placement rates receive an A–F letter grade, and the report cards include the following metrics”

  • Technical Skill Attainment: passage rate on a technical assessment in student’s area of study
  • Academic Attainment: passage rate on the state’s math and reading Ohio Graduation Tests
  • Four- and Five-Year Graduation Rates
  • Dual Enrollment: percentage of concentrators who successfully complete an AP, IB, dual-enrollment, or CTE course that could be counted toward college credit
  • Post-Program Placement: the percentage of concentrators who are in a job, an apprenticeship, post-secondary education, or the military during the three to six months after leaving high school (placement rates are determined through a survey)
  • Industry Credentials: the percentage of concentrators who earned a credential during high school or reported earning a credential in the follow-up survey

A JVSD’s report-card results are displayed on the report card of its overseeing CTPD, though they do not receive any A–F letter grades. The report-card data for the two entities are practically equivalent in all cases; hence, it appears that the large majority of the vocational students in a CTPD with a JVSD receive their vocational education at that JVSD.

Point 3: Remarkably high graduation rates across CTPDs

Chart 1 shows that the average graduation rate among CTPDs was an exceptional 95 percent, above the statewide average of 84 percent. Odds are, then, that vocational students will cross the high-school finish line—and that’s great news. But due to the lack of variation across CTPDs, the graduation-rate indicator doesn’t help us compare the performance of one CTPD relative to another. In fact, when the graduation rates are converted into an A–F letter grade, eighty-one of the ninety-one CTPDs earned an A or B.

Chart 1: Five-year graduation rates are above state average and approach 100 percent

Source: Ohio Department of Education (and for Charts 2 and 3) Notes: Chart displays the five-year graduation rate for each CTPD (represented as a bar). Note the different vertical scale for chart 1 compared to charts 2 and 3. (No CTPDs had graduation rates under 75 percent.)

Point 4: Solid post-high-school placement rates, but…

CTPDs are required to survey students who left their schools in the previous year. The survey asks the students whether they were either in a job, an apprenticeship, post-secondary education, or the military within three to six months after leaving school. The survey response is strong: CTPDs report an average response rate of 94 percent. That being said, a few CTPDs reported low response rates. Cleveland Municipal CTPD, for example, reported a dismal 32 percent response rate.

Chart 2 displays the percentage of concentrators who reported a post-high-school placement on these surveys. The average placement rate is respectable 86 percent. There is one significant outlier: Lorain City CTPD reported a 26 percent placement rate (yikes!). Unfortunately, the report cards do not sort the survey data by whether concentrators landed in college, work, or military, and we don’t know anything about whether the employment, if applicable, is “gainful” or not. (I surmise that a fast-food job could count as “placement.”)

Chart 2: Post-placement rates for CTPDs are high, but “placement” seems broadly defined 

Notes: Chart displays the placement rates—the percentage of concentrator students who report on a survey that they are employed, in a post-secondary education program, or in the military—for each CTPD (represented as a bar). The average survey response or “status-known” rate is 94 percent.

Point 5: Few students receive an industry credential (with wide variation across CTPDs)

The CTPD report cards attempt to capture the percentage of students who earned an industry credential while in high school or shortly after graduation. The report-card data, however, indicate that just one-in-four vocational students earned a credential. Yet, as Chart 3 displays, there is tremendous variation in credentials earned across the CTPDs. Some CTPDs reported zero or close to zero students earning a credential, while others reported that upwards of 75 percent of their students earned one. U.S. Grant CTPD in Southwest Ohio and Trumbull County CTPD in Northeast Ohio topped the list at 92 and 93 percent, respectively.

The variation may be explained by the uncertainty around what constitutes a “credential,” since its definition is evidently a work in progress. (The credentialing standards still appear to be in draft form.) Perhaps Ohio’s CTPDs were unclear about how to report a credential earned during the first round of report cards in 2012–13. Or perhaps the variation is a matter of some CTPDs providing greater credentialing opportunities than others. The “industry credential” is in its infancy, but it’s an indicator worth keeping an eye on.

Chart 3: Percentage of vocational students earning an industry credential varies widely across CTPDs


Notes: Chart displays the percentage of concentrator students who earned an “industry credential” during high school or immediately after. Each CTPD is represented as a bar.

Conclusion: New CTPD report cards are a big step forward, but performance metrics need fine-tuning

Vocational education is a vital cog in Ohio’s education system, and the CTPD report cards greatly improve our understanding of the state’s vocational choices. When it comes to quality, we know this much for certain: CTPDs do a superb job ensuring that their students graduate high school.

Beyond graduation rates, however, things get murky. The results from the post-placement surveys are solid, but the response rates for a few CTPDs are low. If non-respondents are more apt to be unemployed or out of school, the post-placement rates for those CTPDs could be less rosy. Moreover, we have nary a clue from the surveys about the short-term labor-market outcomes for vocational students in terms of salary, number of hours worked, or whether the job is in their field of study. Meanwhile, the “industry credentials” metric remains ill-defined and is clearly in an embryonic stage.

Kudos to state policymakers for lifting up vocational education and for implementing a brand-new report card for CTPDs. However, as the state refocuses attention on vocational education—and perhaps spends more money on it—we cannot neglect improvements to how outcomes are tracked and reported for the state’s CTPDs and vocational centers. 

 

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