Balancing Career and Technical Education With Academic Coursework: The Consequences for Mathematics Achievement in High School

With renewed attention being paid to college and career readiness, many wonder whether career and technical (CTE) courses—formerly known as vocational ed—enhance academic achievement. Using the Educational Longitudinal Study (or ELS) for students attending high school from the 2000–01 to 2003–04 school years (prior to the passage of the latest Perkins reauthorization, the federal program that funds career tech), this new report from RAND and RTI examines the relationship between CTE courses and math achievement. After controlling for selection bias as well as possible, the authors look at both the effect on math achievement for each additional CTE course taken in high school and whether having a higher balance of CTE courses relative to academic courses increases math achievement. The top three findings: First, exposure to CTE is common, with 64 percent of students earning at least two CTE credits and 43 percent earning three or more. Second, the total number of CTE courses taken is unrelated to the number of questions answered correctly on the math assessment, but the more CTE courses one takes, the lower one’s gains at the most advanced levels. And third, all else equal, those who take a mix of CTE and academic courses, those who take mostly CTE courses, and those who take mostly academic courses all have similar predicted scores. In other words, learning gains in math are not compromised when CTE courses are taken at the expense of academic courses. Of course, we must bear in mind that students who take mostly CTE courses tend to be lower achieving—but that’s attributable not to the courses but to the characteristics of those students. In short, CTE courses do no harm—but then again, they do not bolster achievement either.

SOURCE: Robert Bozick and Benjamin Dalton, “Balancing Career and Technical Education with Academic Coursework: The Consequences for Mathematics Achievement in High School,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 35 (2): 123–38.

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