Leveraging Career and Technical Education Programs to Support English Learners

Posted May 16, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young asian man smiles while sitting at a table in a library setting.

Career and tech­ni­cal edu­ca­tion (CTE) pro­grams can help young adults who are learn­ing Eng­lish stay engaged in school, grad­u­ate and ulti­mate­ly find employ­ment. It’s a top­ic explored in Unlock­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ties, a new report from the Migra­tion Pol­i­cy Insti­tute.

A high school degree or equiv­a­lent is an essen­tial step­ping stone for pur­su­ing post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion and employ­ment. CTE pro­grams offer stu­dents work-based learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, such as intern­ships or appren­tice­ships. At the same time, they con­nect stu­dents to col­lege cred­its and indus­try-rec­og­nized cre­den­tials, such as cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and licenses.

Unlock­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ties looks exclu­sive­ly at Eng­lish learn­er involve­ment in CTE pro­grams and shares rec­om­men­da­tions for strength­en­ing poli­cies and prac­tices for these stu­dents. The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion fund­ed the research.

Career and tech­ni­cal edu­ca­tion is an impor­tant tool for facil­i­tat­ing high school com­ple­tion and strength­en­ing con­nec­tions to careers,” says Rani­ta Jain, a senior asso­ciate with the Foun­da­tion. The Migra­tion Pol­i­cy Insti­tute’s find­ings pro­vide informed, prac­ti­cal guid­ance that pol­i­cy­mak­ers and school dis­tricts can imple­ment to sup­port Eng­lish learn­ers and their con­nec­tion to CTE programs.”

How to Help Eng­lish Learners

CTE cours­es can help Eng­lish learn­ers apply what they’ve learned as they pre­pare to enter the work­force. How­ev­er, accord­ing to Julie Sug­ar­man, the publication’s author, four major obsta­cles pre­vent Eng­lish learn­ers from ful­ly ben­e­fit­ing from CTE pro­grams. These are:

  1. Eng­lish learn­ers still expe­ri­ence dis­crim­i­na­tion that keeps them from access­ing these oppor­tu­ni­ties and this dis­crim­i­na­tion is present despite strong fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion encour­ag­ing participation.
  2. Eng­lish learn­ers have addi­tion­al Eng­lish lan­guage devel­op­ment class­es they need to grad­u­ate and this can make it dif­fi­cult for them to find time for CTE.
  3. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion bar­ri­ers can pre­vent non-flu­ent stu­dents and their fam­i­lies from receiv­ing need­ed edu­ca­tion­al guidance.
  4. Stu­dents who are immi­grants with­out autho­riza­tion may hes­i­tate to enroll because in CTE pro­grams for many rea­sons, includ­ing an inabil­i­ty to earn a state license or need­ing to pri­or­i­tize work to sup­port their families.

The report out­lines sev­er­al ways that pol­i­cy­mak­ers and schools can strength­en CTE pro­grams to bet­ter ben­e­fit Eng­lish learn­ers, including:

  • Dis­ag­gre­gat­ing CTE par­tic­i­pa­tion and com­ple­tion data — includ­ing Eng­lish learn­er par­tic­i­pa­tion — by school.
  • Cre­at­ing poli­cies that pro­hib­it schools from deny­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in CTE cours­es based on Eng­lish lan­guage proficiency.
  • Ensur­ing the avail­abil­i­ty of school coun­selors and CTE out­reach tai­lored to non-flu­ent stu­dents and their families.
  • Devel­op­ing poli­cies or pro­grams, such as night cours­es or work-based learn­ing cred­it pro­grams, that encour­age work­ing stu­dents to remain in school.
  • Cre­at­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for Eng­lish learn­ers and CTE edu­ca­tors, admin­is­tra­tors and coun­selors to share knowl­edge and resources.

CTE Research Findings

The Migra­tion Pol­i­cy Institute’s report high­lights sev­er­al impor­tant find­ings dur­ing the 201920 aca­d­e­m­ic year. Among them:

  • In most states, Eng­lish learn­ers were gen­er­al­ly includ­ed in CTE pro­grams at rates rough­ly pro­por­tion­ate to their pres­ence in the high school pop­u­la­tion. These learn­ers were also rep­re­sent­ed pro­por­tion­ate­ly in 16 fed­er­al­ly defined career clusters.
  • Eng­lish learn­ers were under­rep­re­sent­ed in Alas­ka, Indi­ana and Rhode Island CTE programs.
  • Eng­lish learn­ers were over­rep­re­sent­ed in Ida­ho, Cal­i­for­nia and Vir­ginia CTE programs.
  • In-depth data from the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion describ­ing Eng­lish learn­er par­tic­i­pa­tion by school or dis­trict is lacking.

While state and local admin­is­tra­tors have access to detailed stu­dent par­tic­i­pa­tion and com­ple­tion data, their data sys­tems are often unable to dis­ag­gre­gate data by mul­ti­ple cat­e­gories, notes Sug­ar­man. As a result, data on Eng­lish learn­ers typ­i­cal­ly can­not be bro­ken down into use­ful sub­groups, such as dif­fer­ing lev­els of Eng­lish proficiency.

CTE Pro­gram­ming Background

Between the 2019 and 2020 aca­d­e­m­ic years, less than 7% of U.S. high school school­ers were Eng­lish learn­ers, says Sug­ar­man. These learn­ers also held one of the low­est four-year high school grad­u­a­tion rates — with 71% grad­u­at­ing — of any stu­dent group.

The 2018 Strength­en­ing Career and Tech­ni­cal Edu­ca­tion for the 21st Cen­tu­ry Act includes sev­er­al pro­vi­sions to encour­age the inclu­sion of tra­di­tion­al­ly mar­gin­al­ized groups, includ­ing Eng­lish learn­ers, in CTE pro­gram­ming. The leg­is­la­tion requires states to per­form two key actions:

  1. Dis­ag­gre­gate data to show the par­tic­i­pa­tion and achieve­ment for each of these groups and use this data to iden­ti­fy and close sys­temic oppor­tu­ni­ty gaps.
  2. Con­sult with com­mu­ni­ty rep­re­sen­ta­tives as they devel­op detailed, mul­ti-year plans that demon­strate how they will pre­pare stu­dents for skilled and in-demand occupations.

Read about the chal­lenges fac­ing young immi­grants in the U.S. job market

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