NEPC Review: Hard Work and Soft Skills (American Enterprise Institute, April 2018)
A study published by the American Enterprise Institute seeks to illuminate how students in career and technical education (CTE) programs demonstrate higher high school graduation rates, overall educational attainment, and earnings than students in academic programs whose previous test scores are similar. Although those students who take many CTE courses by 12th grade tend to have significantly lower test scores, this study finds that these students have higher noncognitive skills (e.g., attendance and homework time). The most remarkable feature of this study 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. Using such data, the study suggests that CTE may improve attainments by improving noncognitive skills. The key implication is that, instead of the narrow policy focus on academic skills, educators need to consider how to improve students’ other skills to improve education and job outcomes. While this implication is reasonably drawn from the study, educators need a clearer interpretation of these “noncognitive skills” and whether they are persistent attributes or highly changeable behaviors. Overall, however, the study presents a strong empirical analysis of a strong dataset and should prove useful for policymakers.