Career and technical education (CTE) programs (programs that teach students specific workplace skills aligned with the labor market) may track data for lots of different reasons: to comply with funding requirements, to manage their services and continually improve, to measure their progress toward their goals, and to evaluate whether they are making a difference for students. When used intelligently, data can be powerful. Data can help a program refine its model, pinpoint successes, and communicate lessons with funders and stakeholders.
Yet if data are so important, why don’t more programs have successful data strategies?
Perhaps the reason is that there have been few guides available to help programs develop those strategies, even as CTE programs have received more attention and grown considerably in recent years. To fill that void, MDRC conducted a scan of leading CTE programs, starting with the projects affiliated with its Center for Effective CTE. MDRC research staff members and partners were interviewed about the challenges and opportunities data provide. MDRC also reached out to innovative leaders, consultants, and organizations in secondary, postsecondary, and workforce CTE — the three main areas of the field — to discuss their data strategies and the challenges they have faced.
This brief presents highlights from those conversations. It further outlines four basic steps programs can take to strengthen their own CTE data-collection and measurement activities and develop robust — and manageable — data strategies. Because so few CTE programs have been subject to rigorous evaluation, many of the recommendations in this brief are based on the interviews outlined above, and supplemented by MDRC’s work with CTE programs to strengthen their design and implementation.