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Promoting work-based learning efforts in Connecticut and Kentucky

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October 10, 2012 04:42 pm

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A new case study from the Alliance and the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) focuses on efforts in Connecticut and Kentucky to support work-based learning. The brief, “Promoting Work-Based Learning: Efforts in Connecticut and Kentucky,” discusses how states can help reduce barriers to work-based learning opportunities in order to prepare more students for college- and- career success.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, work-based learning opportunities integrate academic coursework with field training and include job shadowing, internships, apprenticeships, and service-learning, among other opportunities. When incorporated as part of a broader strategy, these experiences can ensure more students can graduate from high school ready for college and careers. 

Recognizing these potential benefits, Connecticut and Kentucky have taken tangible steps to promote higher quality work-based learning opportunities. Both states have defined what it means to be engaged in a quality work-based learning. Both states have also removed key barriers students face in going this route. For example, Connecticut created a state-level worker safety team composed Connecticut’s Departments of Education, Labor, and Public Health that ensures students’ safety while they participate in work-based learning.

Kentucky is working to ensure that students participating in certain work-based learning opportunities receive academic credit equivalent to a Carnegie unit. These steps make it easier for schools and employers in these two states to connect and provide students with the highest quality work-based enrichment to their academic portfolio.

Why work to provide students with these opportunities? We’ve all heard it before: economic success in the future requires that more students graduate high school college- and- career ready. As teachers and school leaders work to provide students experiences that achieve this goal, a common challenge emerges: it’s often much easier to identify experiences that prepare students for college than it is to identify experiences that prepare students for careers.

On the college front, many schools are equipped to ensure students are on track with academic coursework: providing AP courses and dual enrollment opportunities; prepping students for ACT and SAT exams; informing about and arranging college campus visits; and assisting with student aid forms. Of course, this oversimplifies a very complex process, and far too many students remain unprepared for college, but at the least, fundamentals are in place to prepare students for college. The issue of how you prepare students for 21st century careers is less clear.

There are many possible reasons for this lack of clarity. For one, some teachers may not know how to connect the dots between school and employment. Many teachers know the craft of education, but some may feel less comfortable making connections to other fields. What’s more, it is sometimes hard for teachers to know what knowledge and skills students need to succeed in fields like engineering or business administration.

Many educators, including career and technical education teachers are faced with a long and pernicious history of tracking – placing seemingly academically gifted students on a college trajectory and other students into lower quality vocational programs –  that is still a reality in many schools across the country. Today teachers must contend with the fact that preparing students for either college or careers does not necessarily prepare them for the future.

Teachers across the country face the question, “How can schools and teachers provide their students with rigorous and relevant educational experiences that prepare them for both college and careers?” Work-based learning may be one good answer to this question.

When implemented effectively, work-based learning can get beyond tracking, offer meaningful opportunities for collaboration between schools and community partners, and provide students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and careers, not one or the other. When work-based learning experiences are integrated with academic course work, they can reinforce and strengthen academic competencies.

By allowing students to apply what they learn to real problems of significance, work-based learning opportunities can help build important skills like problem solving, teamwork, and project management. Further, by providing students first-hand exposure to jobs and industry professionals, relationships facilitated through work-based learning can broaden career aspirations, employment options, and employable skills.

Of course providing these opportunities across a district or state is anything but easy. Lack of clear definitions around what constitutes quality work-based learning threatens to compromise quality; issues around transportation and compensation threaten to compromise access; and state and local seat time requirements, which fail to grant students credit for experiences, threatens to access meaningful linkages to education.

The examples provided in the brief show states engaging in the hard work of overcoming some of these potential pitfalls. It’s our hope that this brief will help continue the conversation of how states can take tangible steps to providing students with quality work-based learning opportunities and put those students and their states on a positive economic trajectory.
We’d love you to know your thoughts and comments in the comments section below.

The complete brief is available at https://all4ed.org/files/WorkBasedLearningCT-KY.pdf.

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