tech illo

CTE: Making a Difference in Post-School Lives

It’s no secret that taking career and technical education (CTE) classes can make a difference in the lives of students at both the secondary and post-secondary level. Offering students hands-on experience in any field, from construction to information technology, can give students a greater understanding of the purpose of their education, and in turn motivate them to graduate and even pursue higher education–93% of students who took CTE classes graduate high school nation-wide compared with 80% of regular students. Further, graduates with technical or applied science associate degrees may even out-earn bachelor’s degree holders by as much as $11,000 per year. But are these same benefits born out for students with disabilities?

Studies say yes. One report, out of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, followed Washington state children from preschool to post-secondary school and further, and shows that students with disabilities are more likely to graduate on time and find jobs if they took four or more credits of CTE courses in high school, compared to students with disabilities who didn’t. This builds on previous research that also found that students with disabilities in secondary CTE programs were less likely to drop out and more likely to be employed in full-time jobs in higher-paid competitive industries.

However, the details matter. Having a CTE teacher familiar with working with students who have disabilities and knowledgeable on how best to modify CTE lessons for individual students’ needs is essential. Firstly, CTE teachers need to be able to interface with other parts of the team that create a student’s IEP by a clear picture of what content their course will contain and what technical knowledge is pre-required as well as what social and learning skills are needed (interpersonal, ability to stay on task, etc) to establish if a course will be a good fit for a specific student. Further, CTE teachers must make sure that they teach in ways that are consistent with the abilities and goals of a student’s IEP, modifying mainstream teaching or industry practices if necessary (1).

The benefits of CTE courses for students with disabilities seem to flow from a similar source as the benefits for mainstream students–motivation, and purpose–but there may also be an additional element. Students with disabilities may have had less opportunity to see themselves as part of a workplace, as their special needs may have steered them away from holding part time jobs or internships as youths. Students with disabilities who took four or more CTE courses showed the benefits much more than students with disabilities who took a single CTE course, and students with disabilities who took CTE classes that contained actual work experience had better employment outcomes–higher wages, more hours, more continuous employment–than if they took classes that only simulated a work environment.

CTE courses then, which often include field trips, job shadowing, school-based businesses, apprenticeships, internships, cooperative education, work-study, and other real-world work experience, may play an important role in bridging this gap in self-image and helping students with disabilities build the confidence they need to step into the workforce.

ONEder Transition Curriculum: The 8 Steps to a Successful Post-School Life

Drawn from research by major organizations including The University of Oklahoma, The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition, and more, ONEder’s Transition Curriculum focuses on the 8 essential steps that students need to develop the “soft skills” employers say are fundamental to success in the workplace.

To get you as excited as we are, we’ve put some preview lessons in the ONEder library! If you log in and go to the library, you’ll find lessons from Course 1 – Identifying Personal Strengths.  This course helps students identify and articulate their personal strengths so that they can successfully transition to life after high school.

Units covered in Course 1 – Identifying Personal Strengths are:

  • Identifying Personal Strengths
  • Writing About Personal Strengths
  • Public Speaking
  • Active Listening

Sign up now and get a sneak peak at ONEder’s Transition Curriculum!

By Emma Eisenberg


(1) Despite these positives, many CTE teachers are only required to posses a “career and technical education certificate”. Additionally, English learners are often underrepresented in such programs.

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