Report on Career and Technical Education Presents Strong Empirical Analysis

BOULDER, CO (June 14, 2018) – Research has shown that, after controlling for the lower test scores on average of students who take Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses, high school CTE programs are associated with higher high school graduation rates, overall educational attainment, and earnings than students in academic programs whose previous test scores are similar. But the mechanism underlying this relationship is not clear. A new report from the American Enterprise Institute hypothesizes that noncognitive skills mediate this relationship, and the report provides a sound test of this hypothesis. 

Professor James Rosenbaum of Northwestern University reviewed Hard Work and Soft Skills: The Attitudes, Abilities, and Character of Students in Career and Technical Education, and found it to be a strong, careful, and thoughtful empirical analysis of a strong dataset.

The report suggests that CTE may improve attainments by improving noncognitive skills. The key implication is that, instead of a narrow focus on academic skills, educators need to consider how to improve students’ other skills to improve education and job outcomes. While the reviewer agrees that this implication is reasonably drawn from the report, he cautions that educators need a clearer interpretation of these “noncognitive skills” and whether they are persistent attributes or highly changeable behaviors.

The review notes that the most remarkable feature of this report is the broad array of indicators it compiles, including how much effort students exhibit on a routine task (e.g., a long and boring survey in school), and teacher reports of student effort. Professor Rosenbaum concludes that, despite a few limitations, the report has constructed “innovative and impressive new indicators of noncognitive behaviors.”

Find the review, by James Rosenbaum, at: http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-CTE

Find Hard Work and Soft Skills: The Attitudes, Abilities, and Character of Students in Career and Technical Education, written by Albert Cheng and Collin Hitt and published by American Enterprise Institute, at: http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Hard-Work-and-Soft-Skills.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

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