What Happens When You Combine an Accelerated Academic Program with Workplace Exposure and Career Skills?

Mentor assisting female student with circular saw

New types of career and technical education programs are trying to prepare workers for an increasingly complex labor market. For high school students, this preparation can mean combining academic study with a strong career focus and hands-on work experience with an industry partner. MDRC is testing the effectiveness of this approach in an evaluation of the New York City P-TECH 9-14 school model. P-TECH 9-14 schools collaborate with local community colleges to allow students to earn high school diplomas and cost-free, industry-recognized associate’s degrees at the same time. During the six-year program, employer partners support P-TECH 9-14 schools by providing students with work-based learning experiences such as internships, mentoring, and job shadowing.

Interim results show that after three years, students in P-TECH 9-14 schools earn about two more credits than students at other schools. Students in P-TECH 9-14 schools also pass state-level proficiency exams earlier and pass at higher rates.

In this episode, Leigh Parise talks about the NYC P-TECH grades 9-14 high school model and MDRC’s study with Rachel Rosen, codirector of MDRC's Center for Effective Career and Technical Education and co-principal investigator on the study.

Leigh Parise: Policymakers talk about solutions, but which ones really work? Welcome to Evidence First, a podcast from MDRC, that explores the best evidence available on how to improve the lives of people in low-income communities. I'm your host, Leigh Parise.

A new generation of career and technical education programs is trying to prepare workers for an increasingly complex labor market. For high school students, this means combining academic study with a strong career focus and hands-on work experience with an industry partner, with a goal of preparing students for college and career, not one or the other. MDRC is testing the effectiveness of this approach in the evaluation of the New York City P-TECH grades 9-14 school model.Joining me is MDRC's Rachel Rosen, codirector of MDRC's Center for Effective Career and Technical Education and co-principal investigator on the study. Thanks so much for joining me, Rachel. I'm really excited to be talking to you about this today.

Rachel Rosen: Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here and to talk about our exciting findings from this study.

Leigh Parise: There's been a recent surge in career and technical education or CTE programs. And they're a little different from the previous generations of CTE programs. Can you explain how?

Rachel Rosen: Sure. One of the things that's different is that in an old-style vocational education, a lot of programs were aimed at trades and trying to track students who were presumed to not be college material, or not be going on to postsecondary education into those kinds of careers. Whereas the new career and technical education is really more about helping students to be ready for both college and career. A lot of the new CTE courses and pathways are meant to be aligned with growing labor market opportunities for students, so that they can be making choices and choosing courses that are going to help them get jobs that have growth opportunities in their futures. A lot of the new-style CTE is centered around things like digital IT, software, STEM careers, that kind of thing, that is presumed to have growth opportunities to help propel students into the middle class after they finish high school and after they finish pursuing some kind of postsecondary opportunity.

Leigh Parise: Great. The clarifications feel especially important, I imagine, for parents and students who are really thinking about these kinds of programs, but also, I feel like, more broadly for people who are engaged with schools and for policymakers as well. So thanks for that. Now, the study that we're here to talk about today is P-TECH. What is P-TECH?

Rachel Rosen: P-TECH is an innovative model of schools that are six-year high schools. The ones that we're studying in this particular evaluation are all part of the New York City Department of Education. They're a collaboration between the DOE and CUNY, which is the City University of New York. Students attend these schools for six years. They earn both a high school diploma and an applied associate’s degree within the six-year period. Each of the high schools also has at least one if not more industry sponsors who provides them with opportunities for work-based learning, such as internships, job-shadowing opportunities, and mentoring opportunities. Each of these associate’s degrees that students earn are related to the core work of the industry partners. One of the high schools is a high school in energy engineering and its partners are the local utilities. Students learn about energy engineering and technology, and then the degrees they get are in that. One of the other schools’ industry sponsor is IBM, and the students get applied associate’s degrees in fields that are related to the work of IBM.

Leigh Parise: Thanks for describing those three components: the high school, the college, and employer partner. Those do feel like pretty unique aspects for students to be able to engage in, in their high school careers. So what's the big takeaway from our evaluation of P-TECH? Can you give us a brief summary of the findings?

Rachel Rosen: We've just released our interim impacts report. In this first report, we've been looking at outcomes for students within the first three years of high school. Our final report will look at postsecondary outcomes and the outcomes related to the full six-year experience. In this report, what we looked at was outcomes related to student course taking, Regents exams, and attendance. The big takeaways are that we found that students in P-TECH schools, by the end of three years of high school they're earning approximately two credits more than students who are enrolled in the comparison schools. While most of these credits are being earned in CTE fields, they are not coming at the expense of academic credits. Students in the P-TECH schools are earning approximately the same number of academic credits in their first three years of high school as students in other high schools, but they're ending three years of high school two credits ahead.

They're also earning Regents exams — particularly in English language arts — earlier, and passing at rates higher than students in the comparison schools. In the New York City system, Regents exams — which are state exams that are required for students to graduate high school — students need to earn a 65 on the Regents exam to graduate high school, but they need to earn a higher score in math and ELA to be eligible to enroll in courses at CUNY. What we're finding is that the P-TECH students are earning more Regents exams and are more likely to earn those Regents exams in ELA at the CUNY-qualifying level earlier than students in the comparison schools. What that tells us is that the P-TECH schools are doing a good job of getting students prepared to dual enroll. A big part of the school is getting students to enroll in postsecondary, dual-enrollment credits before they get to the end of high school. What it looks like with these higher pass rates at the CUNY levels in Regents is that P-TECH students are more prepared to dual enroll in CUNY courses than students in the comparison schools. Those are the main takeaways that we're finding. We also find some limited impacts on increases in attendance, but those are mostly limited to the second year of high school for students in P-TECH.

Leigh Parise: I think it's striking — for people who are unfamiliar with high schools in New York — that there are opportunities for students like college access for all, for them to be able to take college courses if they want to. Can you say a little bit more about why it feels like a really important finding that students are getting to that CUNY passing rate on the Regents sooner in P-TECH than they are in other schools?

Rachel Rosen: What it means is that students in P-TECH will be eligible to start earning college credits through CUNY earlier, which means they'll be farther along in their ability to earn an associate's degree earlier in their educational careers than students in other kinds of schools. Just because students in other schools also have access to dual enrollment through College Now and those kinds of programs sponsored by CUNY, doesn't mean they're taking advantage of them or that they're eligible or prepared to take advantage of them. Whereas it looks like the P-TECH schools are really doing a good job of helping students meet those benchmarks to actually be able to take advantage of those opportunities.

Leigh Parise: I'm cheating a little bit, but I have worked on the study, so I know that there's also a pretty deep implementation research component where the team spends a lot of time doing interviews and being in the schools to really try to understand the P-TECH model. Can you say a little bit more about why you think the P-TECH model seems to be working? What were you seeing in the schools?

Rachel Rosen: One of the things that we're seeing in schools is that a lot of the curriculum is front-loaded early, so students are being pushed to do things earlier, both academically and taking Regents earlier and more often to reach those benchmarks. That's part of the model, because the overall goal of the P-TECH schools is to get students to get their postsecondary credentials. They're really pushing students to be able to be eligible for those opportunities, with the idea being that they really want students to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them.

Leigh Parise: It's really impressive to see some of these early impacts that the research team is finding. Can you say a little bit about the kinds of students that are being served by these schools?

Rachel Rosen: Sure. The design of this study utilizes the New York City High School admissions process, which creates random lotteries for students to get into schools. The students who are in our sample are the students who were placed in schools through a lottery process. Some students are admitted to P-TECH not through a random process, because they're high up on the list of priorities that schools want in their students, so they're admitted without being put into a lottery. The only students that are in our sample in the study are the students who were admitted to the schools through the lottery. What we found was that this sample of students was the lowest-performing students of any students in enrolled in P-TECH schools. More than two-thirds of the students in our sample were performing below proficient in math and in English language arts in eighth grade. So they were particularly low-performing students. One of the things that's pretty impressive about the results that we're seeing is that we're seeing them for students who did not have great academic success before and during ninth grade, and who seemed to be achieving these benchmarks of earning Regents earlier and earning more credits than other similarly low-performing students and weaker academic students. It's pretty interesting from a policy standpoint, because it seems to be an intervention that's providing success for students who maybe otherwise wouldn't be thought to be likely to have success in high school.

Leigh Parise: That's great, and that is a finding that I think is really important to be able to dig into a little bit more, so thanks for sharing that. So we've only so far been able to look pretty early in students' high school careers. Can you say a little bit more about what the P-TECH study is going to look at a bit down the road?

Rachel Rosen: Sure. In the next 18 months, we plan to release a small brief looking particularly at students' dual-enrollment credits and outcomes: What courses did they actually dual enroll in? This study shows that they were prepared to dual enroll, but we'll be able to look to see, did they actually dual enroll at higher rates than other students, and what kinds of courses did they take, and how did they succeed in that? And then at the end of the study we'll be able to look at postsecondary achievements. Were students more likely to earn associate's degrees than students in other kinds of schools? We may also be able to look at some limited earnings outcomes for some subsets of students: Did they have higher earnings than students who did not participate in P-TECH? For some groups of students.

Leigh Parise: Great, we'll look forward to that. I think as you shared earlier, there's a growing interest in these new and different kinds of career and technical education opportunities for students. Are there lessons that you would say you could share with school districts who are interested in offering a CTE program like P-TECH?

Rachel Rosen: Well, we're a little bit early in the evaluation to say what's the overall impact of P-TECH. It does seem that one of the things that's valuable is that students seem to be being engaged in these new kinds of curriculum. One of the other things that we looked at descriptively was the kinds of CTE courses that students were taking in P-TECH schools versus other kinds of schools. We found that more students in P-TECH schools were also engaged in courses that are related to what are expected to be high-wage, high-growth careers. So more courses in engineering, more courses in technology, and that kind of thing. It seems like students are being engaged in those kinds of courses, and that that may be important as schools think about what kinds of CTE programs they may want to build.

Leigh Parise: Okay. Tell us a bit about what is so exciting, you think, about the P-TECH model? Is there a particular problem that a school model like this is trying to address?

Rachel Rosen: Well, the original school that was founded in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was a collaboration between the DOE, CUNY, and IBM. Part of the impetus for IBM being involved in this new kind of school model was that there was this idea that schools are not doing a great job of preparing students with the skills and the talents that they need for the labor market as it exists. And that we needed to have closer articulation between industry and education about how students need to be prepared for the jobs of the future. That was some of the thinking around the establishment of the first P-TECH school in New York City. There has since been an additional — there are now, I think — eight or nine schools in New York City, and each one of them has a different industry sponsor. All of them are founded with the idea that there are particular careers that students need to be prepared for, that are going to be high-growth careers in the future. Health care, IT, advertising that's sponsored by the advertising industry. It's particularly to help students obtain the skills that they need to work in the careers of the future. That's something that I think industry has felt for a long time: that schools were lacking, that they were feeling that students were graduating from school not being prepared to take the jobs that industry had available and jobs were going unfilled, because they couldn't find people who had the correct skills. It's to try and marry more closely together the education pipeline into the career and jobs pipeline of the future.

Leigh Parise: Thank you so much for joining the discussion, Rachel. It's been great. If you'd like to learn more about MDRC’s Center for Effective Career and Technical Education, visit MDRC.org. Did you enjoy this episode? Subscribe to the Evidence First Podcast for more.

About Evidence First

Policymakers talk about solutions, but which ones really work? MDRC’s Evidence First podcast features experts—program administrators, policymakers, and researchers—talking about the best evidence available on education and social programs that serve people with low incomes.

About Leigh Parise

Leigh PariseEvidence First host Leigh Parise plays a lead role in MDRC’s education-focused program-development efforts and conducts mixed-methods education research. More