In the heart of Louisville, Ky., Rikaiya Long stood outside the courtroom recently, presenting oral arguments to the legal brief she wrote a week prior. Lawyers listened intently as she defended her position on strict liability.
Rikaiya isn’t a lawyer, though – she’s a high school student. And the lawyers were student professors from the University of Louisville.
This fake courtroom takes up half of Rikaiya’s classroom at Central High School. She is enrolled in the school’s Law Magnet program – one of its many “paths” that combine academics with exposure to careers in specific fields. These programs offer students the opportunity to take Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses that provide real work-based learning experiences.
Research has shown that such exposure makes students not only more likely to graduate from high school, but also more likely to enroll in college. Despite promising evidence, however, there remains little information available to families about the availability and quality of CTE secondary education programs.
Secondary school is meant to be a place of academic discovery that positions students for lifelong success. Without knowing the true breadth of programs available to them, students are unable to take advantage of valuable pre-career learning opportunities.
Related: The High School-College Hybrid That’s Reviving Careers
To determine whether schools are providing students with high-quality college and career options, states must release school-level data that tells us two key metrics: how many students are completing pathway programs and how many then enroll in university?
While vitally important, providing solid data on CTE and gateway programs alone will not guarantee that they are of high quality or that everything students are well served; we must also define the quality of pathways and promote equitable access to these programs where they exist so that all students can benefit from them.
That’s why GreatSchools, a national nonprofit, recently conducted an analysis of the national landscape of publicly available, career-specific data to determine if we could connect parents to this data through our school profiles. (This is part of our efforts to provide families with the most complete picture possible of school quality, including sharing information about school resources, practices and results – and whether they are evenly distributed.)
It turns out that only two states—Kentucky and Michigan—provide data that attempts to capture the quality of these programs, including information on student participation and career-specific program outcomes.
Secondary school is meant to be a place of academic discovery that positions students for lifelong success.
This data, combined with information on college enrollment and persistence, could help families understand how well a school is preparing students for life after high school. For some students, the plan might be college; for others, it may be a high-quality technical education, the military, or another skill-based vocation.
As a result of our analysis, we partnered with the Kentucky Board of Education to add information about career path offerings to our Kentucky high school profiles – connecting families across the state to this vital information. We hope it helps Kentucky families learn about educational opportunities for their teens, while showing other states the importance of making this data public.
Indeed, families in all 50 states and the District of Columbia should have this opportunity. The more students can learn about and benefit from CTE programs at their schools, the more likely they are to find the right path after high school.
While participating in the Law Magnet program, Rikaiya discovered that she actually didn’t want to be a lawyer after all. Now she’s determined to apply her business skills to a career in public relations. So far, she has applied to programs at three historically black institutions: Howard University, Florida A&M University and Xavier University of Louisiana.
To deliver on the promise of a high-quality career preparation curriculum for all students, states must prioritize increased data collection, publication, and transparency. As Kentucky and Michigan demonstrate, states can develop the infrastructure necessary to collect and report this valuable information.
Students rely on data from CTE programs to make decisions about their academic and professional future; they deserve information about all the possibilities.
John Dean is the general manager of GreatSchools.org, a national non-profit education association that supports parents at every stage of their child’s education. He brings over two decades of experience teaching K-12, having previously served as a math teacher and school administrator.
This story on vocational and technical training was produced by The Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Register for Hechinger’s newsletter.