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Unlocking Opportunities: Supporting English Learners’ Equitable Access to Career and Technical Education
Reports
April 2023

Unlocking Opportunities: Supporting English Learners’ Equitable Access to Career and Technical Education

Once considered a less-rigorous high school pathway, career and technical education (CTE) has experienced a renaissance since the 1990s, as more high-skilled and white-collar professions have been included in these elective course options. Research indicates that participation in CTE—especially taking more than one course in a single occupational area—is correlated with benefits in graduation rates and earnings as an adult.

As CTE’s scope and audience have grown, educators and advocates have brought attention to the need to ensure equitable access for historically marginalized student groups. For high school English Learners (ELs), who often face challenges to college and career readiness, CTE can play an important role in helping them stay engaged in school, graduate, and get on a path to a career providing a family-sustaining wage.

This report explores policies and practices that can support ELs’ participation in CTE courses. It includes an overview of how CTE has changed over time, state-level data on EL participation rates, and a close look at the opportunities and barriers to EL enrollment and participation, drawing in part on interviews with state and district CTE and EL administrators. The report concludes with recommendations for state and local educators seeking to further strengthen policy and practice.

Table of Contents 

1  Introduction

2  The Evolution of CTE

3  Federal Support through the Perkins Act

4  Participation of ELs in CTE

5  Opportunities and Barriers
A. EL Access to CTE Instruction
B. Fitting CTE into a Course of Study
C. Teachers and Professional Development
D. Student Recruitment
E. Connections across Administrative Offices
F. Challenges Combining Work and School

6  Conclusions and Recommendations