Work-based learning offers students opportunities to deepen classroom learning, explore future career fields and demonstrate skills in an authentic setting. These experiences are increasingly a priority for states across all career and technical education (CTE) learner levels. Recently, provisions for work-based learning have been greatly expanded by the Strengthening Career Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V).
These provisions include the first formal federal definition for “work-based learning,” which allows a multitude of activities to count as a work-based learning experience. Given that this definition of work-based learning is broad, it is important that states consider what constitutes quality work-based learning so that each student’s experience is meaningful and results in tangible outcomes.
Perkins V also now supports work-based learning through the new secondary program quality indicator. States can choose from three indicator options: work-based learning, recognized postsecondary credentials (credentials of value) and postsecondary credit attainment (dual enrollment and articulation). These are all components of a high-quality CTE program of study, in addition to critical elements like rigorous standards, quality assessments, and alignment to high-skill, high-wage and in-demand career opportunities.
In October 2020, Advance CTE released a report titled, “The State of Career Technical Education: An Analysis of States’ Perkins V Priorities,” which examines how states have leveraged the development of the Perkins V state plans to expand quality and increase equity within their CTE systems. Advance CTE found that states largely took up the mantle of supporting and expanding work-based learning. Notably:
- Thirty-four states use work-based learning in their size, scope and quality definitions. This definition is used as a litmus test by states to determine Perkins V funding eligibility, among other uses.
- Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia are prioritizing work-based learning as part of their comprehensive local needs assessment process or local application process.
- Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia include work-based learning as a factor when approving new or existing CTE programs.
- Sixteen states are developing definitions, frameworks or related standards to further support the implementation of these opportunities with Perkins resources.
These findings indicate that states are still in the process of building systems and related supports to bring work-based learning to scale.
State Strategies to Advance Work-Based Learning
- In Delaware, student participation in a work-based learning experience is a required component of all state-approved CTE programs of study, and the state is funding a statewide work-based learning intermediary. Delaware takes these efforts even further in its Perkins V plan, ensuring close collaboration across state CTE and workforce development systems to provide youths and adults with disabilities the supports they need to complete work-based learning experiences.
- Texas is leveraging Perkins V to expand upon its work-based learning system and opportunities. With Perkins resources, Texas is making extensive use of virtual schools to allow learners to participate in virtual work-based learning experiences. This option is important in communities, especially rural areas, where work-based learning opportunities may be limited. In the short term, the option is even more critical given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Work Ahead
Perkins V structures the work-based learning program quality measure around student participation. As a result, states are not required to comparably structure this measure around completion or attainment. However, it’s important that work-based learning program quality measures are defined robustly and focus on completion of meaningful and rigorous work-based learning experiences that set students up for success. With over half of states now counting work-based learning within their Perkins V accountability systems, the work ahead is significant yet critical to scaling high-quality and equitable work-based learning experiences.