How Ohio is using New Skills for Youth to shape its CTE ambitions

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In a recent blog, I described an initiative called New Skills for Youth (NSFY) that aims to help states transform their career-readiness sectors. The multi-year grant competition awarded $2 million grants to ten states—including Ohio—to expand and improve career pathways for high school students over the course of three years.

With the first year of the grant finished, NSFY released a snapshot highlighting the work of all ten participating states. The concluding page provides an index of eleven focus areas of improvement and identifies the states that made significant progress in those areas. Ohio is identified in six sections: communications, dual credit, employer engagement, graduation requirements, program quality, and work-based learning.

Based on the information included in Ohio’s individual snapshot, here’s a brief overview of the state’s work in each focus area.

Communications

During phase one of Ohio’s work with NSFY, the project team conducted a statewide survey tailored to a variety of stakeholders, including business leaders, parents, students, teachers, and secondary-school and higher-education administrators. The survey, along with supplemental information from focus groups and data analyses that were part of a broader needs assessment, revealed that, although 71 percent of students expressed interest in career-focused options, most were unaware of the opportunities available to them. To combat this lack of knowledge, Ohio’s NSFY project team created SuccessBound, a communications strategy aimed at increasing student enrollment in career readiness programs that align with employer needs. So far, the initiative has produced videos and student profiles of success stories, informational and social media resources, and a toolkit for families (toolkits for businesses and schools are forthcoming). Six regional conferences were also convened that provided attendees with the opportunity to learn more about the initiative and network.      

Dual credit

When folks in Ohio talk about dual credit, they’re usually talking about College Credit Plus, a statewide program that offers college-ready students the opportunity to earn high school and college credit simultaneously. But there are also additional pathways toward college credit available to students enrolled in career and technical education (CTE) courses. For example, Ohio has developed statewide articulation agreements that allow high school students to count certain CTE classes toward postsecondary degrees. These agreements are known as Career Technical Assurance Guides, or CTAGs. The Ohio Department of Higher Education maintains a list of all the available CTAG courses (in areas like virtual design and imaging and electrical engineering technology) online, and offers a search tool that helps students identify which of their CTE credits can transfer to the next level.

Employer engagement

Ohio’s efforts to bridge the gap between education and industry started long before the NSFY grant. For instance, towards the beginning of Governor Kasich’s administration, he created the Office of Workforce Transformation (OWT) to improve the state’s workforce development efforts. From its inception, OWT has prioritized making connections between K–12 and postsecondary education and employers. The Executive Workforce Board, which guides all of OWT’s work, has members from the business, government, and education sectors. In the most recent state budget, the legislature tasked OWT with developing a regional workforce collaboration model that would provide businesses and stakeholder groups (like postsecondary institutions and the College Tech Prep Regional Centers) with guidance on how to partner to provide career services to students. The final guidelines highlight the work of some truly innovative partnerships, like the Central Ohio Compact.

Graduation requirements

Similar to its efforts in employer engagement, Ohio had already incorporated career education into its graduation requirements prior to the NSFY grant. Back in 2014, the legislature created three pathways students could take to earn a diploma; one of these pathways requires students to earn a specific score on the WorkKeys exam and an industry-recognized credential. WorkKeys is a job-skills test that measures how well prepared students are for the workforce, and students who receive a certain score can earn a National Career Readiness Certificate in addition to their Ohio diploma. As for credentials, Ohio offers a vast array of them in thirteen different career fields, including engineering and information technology. And students can now earn a job readiness seal that’s garnered support from a variety of Ohio businesses and schools.

Program quality

The federal government defines “career pathways” as combinations of rigorous, high-quality education with training and other services. Ohio has a variety of career pathways, but it previously lacked a way to determine whether programs were high quality. That’s why the Ohio NSFY team developed criteria to evaluate programs and help local decision makers ascertain which ones to expand or phase out. The criteria identify four aspects of successful, high-quality, and in-demand pathways: 1) business and community engagement, 2) career-pathway design, 3) educator collaboration, and 4) learning environment and culture. Ohio’s NSFY team is working to scale career readiness models that fulfill these criteria.

Work-based learning

Work-based learning (WBL) is designed to help students master a combination of academic, technical, and professional skills. In Ohio, students are jointly supervised for the duration of their WBL by their employer and a representative from their school. Supervision is based on a learning agreement that all three parties must agree on. In an effort to increase student engagement, the recent budget bill required the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to develop a framework for schools to use to grant high school credit to students who demonstrate subject competency through WBL. Traditional districts and charter schools will be required to follow ODE’s framework during the upcoming school year. Schools have two options for issuing credit to students: They can enhance a course by offering work-based learning as part of course requirements, or they can replace a course with WBL via their credit flexibility policy. According to the NSFY snapshot, Ohio is still working on how to reliably measure work-based learning participation and evaluate performance—including the possibility that WBL indicators could be added to the state’s accountability system.

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Ohio still has plenty of room for improvement. But the work outlined above is both significant and encouraging. As career and technical education continues to grow in prominence and scope at the national level, Ohioans should feel fortunate to have access to CTE programs that are already so far ahead.

 
 
Jessica Poiner
Jessica Poiner is an education policy analyst in the Fordham Institute’s Columbus office. She was a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked and taught in Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District.