Report Looks at Success of Career and Technical Education in Milwaukee

Feb 10, 2017

Governor Walker’s proposed biennial budget calls for increases in funding for K-12 schools and the University of Wisconsin System.

But with unemployment and underemployment among the social issues that affected voter behavior in last fall’s elections, some are taking a closer look at how the education system is preparing students for the workforce. A key part of that equation is so-called Career and Technical Education, or CTE.

"It's a newer phrase for something that's been around for a long, long time. We used to call it vocational education, auto tech class, something like that," says Joe Yeado, a senior researcher at the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum.

The group just released a major report that attempts to quantify the impact and success of CTE in the Milwaukee metropolitan area. While some may be more familiar with terms like "vocational education," Yeado says the new term is more than a superficial change.

"The newer form of it, career and tech ed., really seeks to integrate academic subjects into these courses, but at the same time incorporate work-based learning and other project-based learning into core academic classes, so that the two are becoming more seamless, and preparing kids on that pathway college and career," he adds.

The Public Policy Forum had a variety of questions they wanted to answer about CTE courses: "We wanted to know how many students were taking these classes, what kinds of classes they were taking," Yeado explains. "We were interested in if there were differences in academic achievement between students who did and did not take CTE courses, and we also looked at the teacher workforce." 

Research has shown there's a shortage of young people looking at teaching careers, and career and tech ed. teachers have become even more rare. While 2/3 of students in the Milwaukee area take a CTE course at some point, Yeado says, "less than 30% of students will take two or more CTE courses in the same field." 

He says there could be a number of reasons - including schedule conflicts or student preference - but it may also represent an obstacle to progress. "If we think about CTE as a progressive sequence of courses, if students aren't really taking the sequence, are they really getting the full benefit of the curriculum?"

The study found that most students don't complete their CTE program, and many are not benefiting from internships and apprenticeships. Nearly 3/4 of CTE concentrators continued their education after high school, and 68% went on to a 4 year university. 

"One of the surprising things for me was, I thought there were would be more students that would go directly into the workforce from high school," says Yeado. "We find that about 17% do. Another surprising finding, looking at those in the workforce, was that only about 1/3 of them have a job that was related to their CTE training."