Ohio Equity in Career-Technical Education

Young teacher helping teenager students at College

In developing the Ohio Perkins V State Plan for career-technical education (CTE), the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) collaborated with stakeholders to set ambitious goals to improve access, enrollment, engagement, and performance for all students, with an intentional focus on students in special populations who have historically been underserved in CTE programs. 

The plan outlined strategies to:

  • Identify and close equity gaps discovered through Regional Equity Labs;
  • Facilitate data-driven decision making using the results of comprehensive local needs assessments; and 
  • Strengthen program quality using tailored review processes and clearly articulated standards. 

In making these commitments, the state’s CTE leadership wanted to ensure their staff and staff in the state’s Career-Technical Planning Districts (CTPDs) had the tools, resources, and professional learning they needed to engage districts, schools, and teachers in this important work.  

Our team is so far from where we started. It’s such a process... this work has been so important for our office in tackling complex topics and truly focusing on what is best for each career-technical student.

- Becky Crance, Assistant Administrator in the Ohio Office of Career-Technical Education

AIR developed a tailored plan to address DEW’s needs through a mix of professional learning workshops and resources aligned with the Perkins V State Plan. In addition to creating a safe space to explore an often-difficult topic, the workshops provided staff with concrete opportunities to practice new skills and apply their learning by:

  • Identifying language and terms staff could use to invite discussion and dialogue about equity in today’s highly charged political environment, recognizing that even the term “equity” could detract from a chance to find agreement on shared values of fairness and opportunity. 
  • Practicing reframing communications, reworking statements that center students as the root cause of low performance to emphasize system-level responsibility. 
  • Participating in tailored scenarios of equity-linked conversations relating to hiring new CTE staff, conducting equity data reviews, and initiating annual program reviews. 
  • Reflecting with peers on personal experiences in small groups and using problems of practice protocols to highlight and tackle real-world challenges with advancing equity in CTE.

In addition to designing and facilitating professional learning, AIR developed three resources to strengthen system supports for improving equity in CTE: 

  • Recruiting Special Populations into Career-Technical Education, an Ohio Department of Education toolkit designed to: 
    • Help CTPDs implement strategies for recruiting special student populations into high-wage and in-demand CTE programs; and
    • Establish policies and supports that improve access and opportunity for each child, regardless of their family’s income level or their race, ethnicity, or disability status. 
  • Leveraging CTE to Bridge Ohio’s Skills Gap, a data story that provides an overview of how CTE can play a critical role in addressing Ohio’s skills gap. It allows users to review regional CTE participation and labor market data to initiate and inform local education-to-workforce conversations. 
  • Aligning Ohio’s Labor Market and CTE Programs, an interactive map that allows users to search by job vacancies in different industry sectors. It also identifies the location of secondary and postsecondary CTE programs in those industry sectors, providing students with valuable information for considering career pathways. 

A key lesson learned through this work is that improving equity in CTE is a complex undertaking that requires leadership and persistence. At the heart of this transformation is acknowledging biases that often influence attitudes, behaviors, and ultimately the decisions made personally and professionally. Leaders need to make space and time to examine these biases and create opportunities to hear from the constituents they impact the most, the students and their families. Doing so will create new frames of reference, shift perspectives and attitudes, and ultimately shape decisions towards change.