Our Network’s Ongoing Commitment to Equity-Centered Research in Career and Technical Education

Our Network’s Ongoing Commitment to Equity-Centered Research in Career and Technical Education

This post is the second in a series exploring equity in career and technical education research. The Equity in CTE Workgroup, an effort of the CTE Research Network, is developing the series. View part 1.

A crucial need exists for an explicit and persistent focus on equity in career and technical education (CTE) research, especially given the legacy of vocational education’s systematic racial, gender, class, and disability tracking in the United States. In 2020, the CTE Research Network outlined our commitment to deepening the field’s understanding of equity in CTE research. As a first step, we surveyed network members to gauge how our research teams are addressing equity through their internal practices, including the types of questions they are studying and the extent to which they are engaging the communities that will be most affected by their findings. In this post, we discuss how we designed this survey, highlight some key findings, and explore implications for future research, both for our network and the field.

Background on the survey

The overarching goal of the network's equity survey was twofold. First, we wanted to establish a baseline measure for how our research teams are addressing issues of equity in their projects. To meet this goal, we asked about the equity-oriented research questions the teams are studying, as well as other elements of their research practices that support effective equity research. A second goal was to engage the teams in reflective practices focused on equity. To meet this goal, we encouraged network members to respond to the survey not as individuals but rather collaboratively as a research team, regardless of the stage of their research projects.

In March 2021, we distributed the survey to the five research teams that made up the CTE Research Network at the time (a team led by the RAND Corporation joined the network after the survey took place). We then collected responses from each team about their research project and practices and shared the results with the network in meetings during spring and summer 2021.

Survey findings

Overall, we had some encouraging findings related to the research teams’ alignment to CTE equity goals. In addition, we identified some gaps and areas for growth.

All five network research teams are examining equity-related questions. Overall, our teams are examining equity through research questions that focus on subgroup analyses within their larger studies. Additionally, several teams are examining the extent to which the CTE program or intervention under study is addressing equity. One team is exploring to what extent students experience bias in their CTE programming.

Our network teams conceptualized equity in two key ways. First, the teams defined equity as a similarity in outcomes to the same intervention or degrees of differences. For example, one team stated that “if program impacts are the same, . . . this could be evidence of equitable impact.” Some teams also conceptualized equity through the frame of access and opportunities—that is, different populations may have different experiences as relates to access and historical or implicit biases.

All five network teams are involving community stakeholders in the research process. Promisingly, most of the teams reported sharing results with relevant stakeholders on a frequent basis, as well as partnering with stakeholders on the study design throughout the stages of the research. In addition, some teams are using focus groups to further incorporate multiple perspectives and better understand multiple lived experiences.

Gaps and future topics

The survey also identified important places for improvement within the network. For one, the racial diversity of our research teams is lacking; the majority of team members are White, highlighting the characteristic divide between the groups conducting research on school systems and the groups that make up those systems. Similarly, only one of the network’s research teams is developing a pipeline for scholars from historically underrepresented groups as a function of their project. Also, many of the network’s research teams noted that equity was not originally in the scope of inquiry for their projects. While this initial lack does not prevent equity questions from arising and being addressed throughout the research process, it certainly is a space to consider making shifts in the future.

Finally, we uncovered a handful of new research questions to ask that directly address CTE and equity, some of which the network teams may be able to incorporate into current projects and some of which may require new studies. First, more than one team mentioned the need to examine admission to CTE programs, so as to better understand how eligibility and admissions criteria may dissuade some applicants from applying to CTE programs. Another theme was the need to more closely explore equity concerns related to workforce outcomes. For example, one team noted that “CTE literature has shown that student exposure to workplace experiences differs by gender” in some historically gendered careers, such as nursing and information technology (IT). In what ways might those differences play out in workforce outcomes? Last, network teams noted the need to continue examining the trade-offs of CTE programming—whether CTE courses come at the expense of more traditional college preparatory courses—and any implications for equitable student access and outcomes.

Looking ahead

This survey represents a small, first step in the CTE Research Network’s commitment toward equity-centered CTE research. We identified areas where we are making progress and also exposed several important issues to address, including a focus on diversity within research teams that better reflects the schools and students we are studying, the development of goals and practices to implement within our projects that may be applicable beyond our work, and areas for future examination, such as questions of access and gender sorting.

As a network, we will continue to identify equity-related gaps and work to address them in the months ahead. We’ll keep you updated along the way!