Transitioning English Learners to Postsecondary Education

In 2000, Christine Vega Villarreal a high school senior in San Fernando, California, was still unsure of what she would do after high school. As a first generation student who grew up with immigrant parents from Mexico, she did not have the necessary tools and resources to support her as she considered her options. Likewise, her high school trajectory, due to “tracking,” did not provide Christine the support she needed while in high school. She faced marginalization due to her English Learner (EL) status and was placed in remedial courses. Christine struggled with meeting expectations regarding academic rigor, and found herself increasingly disengaged in class. She began to skip school. It was through the encouragement of her art teacher and classmates, and after many visits to the counselor’s office, that she was able to be placed in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. She struggled at first but eventually these AP courses made her re-engage fully.

Christine, Alfredo, and son, Janitzio

Christine Vega Villarreal with her partner Alfredo Huante, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Southern California, and their son, Janitzio Huante-Vega.

Christine is a first-generation U.S. citizen. Much like many EL students who are U.S. citizens, immigrants and refugees, Christine faced linguistic and resource barriers that limited opportunities. EL students, in fact, tend to face opportunity and achievement gaps and experience lower college going rates. By the time EL students reach 12th grade most have the necessary English skills for daily life but many lack the language proficiency needed to succeed in college. This expected language proficiency deals with mastery of academic vocabulary, discourse style, formality, and complexity of syntax. To successfully transition EL students like Christine to postsecondary education and training, both secondary and postsecondary institutions must understand the unique challenges EL students face and increase their support mechanisms for EL students. Without this understanding and support, entry into postsecondary education might not result in successful completion.

You may wonder whether Christine’s experience is unique. Data tell us it is not.

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Embedding a Continuum of Work-Based Learning Opportunities in Our High Schools

photo of Johan Uvin

Posted by
Johan E. Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to join the Second Annual White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools. Leading practitioners and researchers came together to discuss how to rethink the high school experience. The event built on the progress made at last year’s summit, which generated $375 million in private and public sector commitments. After researchers shared their findings on what works, and district leaders and students talked about their Next Gen High Schools, participants engaged in action planning sessions focused on key strategies and elements of these innovative schools. I participated in a team that focused on personalized, project-based and maker learning. We talked about internships as an essential element of any future high school experience we envision for our youth and came up with specific actions we agreed to take to make more internships available to our high school students. At the end of our session, we were asked to make a commitment. I pledged to conduct research on promising practices and identify a few examples of internship programs that illustrate clearly what we want. Our team completed its initial research. I am happy to share two great examples with you through this blog.

One great example of a Next Generation High School that makes internships a focal point of the student experience is the Academy of Information Technology (AOIT) at Apex High School in Wake County, North Carolina, a small school-within-a-school program that attracts students who have an interest in information technology. AOIT is organized around two pathways: programming and web development. Not all students who opt to enroll in AOIT are interested in future careers in computer programming or technology. One student who attended in the past year is interested in being an elementary school teacher and has been learning how to develop “apps” that could be used in the classroom. Another student intends to work in human services, such as at a domestic violence program, and has completed an internship in a medical facility learning how to create digital patient records.

All AOIT students are required to complete a paid 135-hour internship prior to their senior year. Most complete their internships in the summer between the junior and senior year of school at a variety of businesses in the Research Triangle such as SAS Institute, Verizon, EMC Corporation, and the Town of Cary, NC Information Technology Department. At least half of the hands-on experience must be technology-based. AOIT internships are different from a typical summer job because students are required to participate in variety of activities that help link what they learned in the classroom to what they experience at the work site. To help connect their internship to their academic learning, student interns are asked to create a Linked-in presence and contribute to an AOIT blog in which they share information about their internship experiences. A supervisor at the job site does an evaluation of the student. AOIT staff visit the workplace to review and discuss learning objectives with the student and the supervisor. When the students have completed their internships, they also are required to do a presentation about their internship experience at a special evening event.

Most AOIT students go on to postsecondary education. Many students credit their internship experiences with helping them understand critical elements of what they want to do in the future. On one hand, they might learn more about the possible requirements and challenges of their chosen field; on the other hand, they might discover that there is not a good match between what is required on the job and how they envision their future workselves – a potential computer programmer might learn that they would rather be part of a team rather than working alone on a problem. Their internship experiences help them to learn what they like, as well as what they do not like. Knowing this can help them make better postsecondary decisions.

Hartford Public Schools in Hartford, Connecticut is implementing internships at scale—paid internships are being implemented district-wide. Students who want a more focused education, different from a traditional comprehensive high school experience, can choose from among five career academies: the Journalism and Media Academy; Hartford High, Inc.; Pathways Academy of Technology; the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology at Hartford Public High School; and the Nursing Academy at Hartford Public High School. In coordination with the Capitol Workforce Partners, the local workforce development board, Hartford Public Schools places academy students in paid internships that are aligned with their academy theme. Some of these internships begin in the summer between their junior and senior year. Most of the internships continue in their senior year. Interns are placed in a variety of local businesses, community organizations, and non-profit organizations. For example, some Journalism and Media Academy students complete internships at the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, while students in the Engineering and Green Technology Academy have opportunities to work at Northeastern Utilities.

These internship models show how we can meaningfully connect academic learning with the workplace. But, internships are not the only work-based learning opportunities we can consider. There are many work-based learning activities along the continuum of career awareness and exploration, career preparation, and career training and application that we can consider leading up to paid internships including: guest speakers, tours of workplaces, job and career fairs, shadowing/observation and mock interview opportunities, project-based learning based on real workplace problems, community service learning, mentoring programs, just to name a few. Trailblazing Next Gen High School leaders put these activities in a sequence of opportunities that allow students to deepen their understanding of the world of work over time. When students have the opportunity to combine these practical work-related experiences with classroom instruction, they are better able to see the relevance of their education. Our goal should be to make these opportunities available to every student, preferably as part of a well-coordinated, increasingly hands-on sequence of learning experiences.

#ApprenticeshipWorks for High School

This article also appears on the U.S. Department of Labor Blog

Photo of Deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu gathered with students around a student sitting at a desk with a laptop opened.

Deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu hears from students at Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Washington, D.C. This unique public high school offers both college preparatory and vocational education dedicated to design professions and construction trades.

By offering pathways to career-ready skills, a paycheck and debt-free college credit, registered apprenticeship is the gold standard of work-based learning.

This program brings many high school students a future they never imagined. Bobby didn’t think he had many options after graduating from high school in rural Kentucky. Apprenticeship changed his life forever. During Bobby’s junior year of high school, he entered an apprenticeship program in advanced manufacturing with an employer in his hometown. After graduating, Bobby earned 30 college credits paid by the employer and completed over 1,700 hours of on-the-job training. Now, he works full time for the same company and is set to earn more money than his parents ever dreamed of for their family.

Employers see apprenticeship as a powerful tool for finding and developing talent. Parents and students see the value in a structured, earn-and-learn postsecondary pathway. Academic leaders see apprenticeship as a clear strategy for ensuring their high school and college graduates have the skills and competencies they need for tomorrow’s jobs.

While the average U.S. apprentice is 30 years old, other countries target younger workers. In countries like Germany, Switzerland and the UK, apprenticeships bridge the education system and the world of work, introducing high school students to jobs in a variety of industries. This European model enables students to connect to employment opportunities and access postsecondary education at an earlier age.

Successful registered apprenticeship programs across the country are connecting students to careers in critical, high-paying, in-demand industries such as IT, health care, and advanced manufacturing.

  • In North Carolina, the NCWorks Youth Apprenticeship program offers high school students opportunities to earn credit for secondary Career and Technical Education coursework, college credits, and on-the-job training with a registered apprenticeship sponsor. After graduation, students complete their apprenticeship along with their associate degree, which is paid by the employer. Siemens and Ameritech are part of a consortium of employers that work with local high schools and Central Piedmont Community College on this workforce pipeline.
  • In Wisconsin, the Youth Apprenticeship program, the oldest in the country, requires students to complete two years of 450 work hours per year and four semesters of related classroom instruction. Students work in advanced manufacturing with employers such as Harley Davidson and LDI Industries.
  • In South Carolina, Apprenticeship Carolina has over 100 youth apprenticeship programs sponsored by different employers such as Agape Healthcare, IFA-Rotorion (advanced manufacturing) and Hull Hospitality Group (culinary arts). Students earn their registered apprenticeship certificate before or after high school graduation.
  • The Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) youth pre-apprenticeship program is a business- and industry-driven program designed to create a pipeline for high school students to enter postsecondary apprenticeship training in manufacturing, welding, electrical work and carpentry. Employers are able to tailor the program for their specific needs and to select the career and technical education courses and students for their apprenticeship pathway. Students receive a nationally recognized credential at little or no cost.

As high schools and community colleges look for innovative ways to ensure students graduate with career-ready skills, registered apprenticeship is a ready-made solution. More employers can join this movement by partnering with local high schools. Interested in finding out how you can bring youth apprenticeship to your state? Check out the Office of Apprenticeship’s website for more resources and talk to your Office of Apprenticeship state director and CTE state director.

Editor’s note: Join the conversation about how #ApprenticeshipWorks during National Apprenticeship Week 2016 by using the hashtag on social media.

Eric Seleznow is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training. Kim R. Ford is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education for Career, Technical and Adult Education.

Kim R. Ford
Posted by
Deputy Assistant Secretary, OCTAE
Eric Seleznow
Posted by
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training, U.S. Department of Labor

Responding to the U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults

It is an unfortunate truth that our country incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation.  There are an estimated 2.2 million people incarcerated across the United States, compared to 500,000 just 30 years ago. The vast majority of incarcerated individuals will eventually leave prison and jail and reenter our society.  Becoming productive members of society, is just another challenge for a formerly incarcerated person to overcome in an increasingly competitive economy.  Today’s job market requires more advanced skills and industry recognized credentials than ever before. While no single solution may exist to assist justice involved individuals with reentry, correctional education has proven to be an effective tool.  In addition to helping individuals gain the skills they need for reentry, evidence suggests participating in correctional education programs decrease their chances of recidivating by 43%.[1]

On Tuesday, November 15, 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), released a report, Highlights from the U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults: Their Skills, Work Experience, Education, and Training: Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) 2014, assessing the skills, education and training of our incarcerated population.  This report provides us with fresh data on the current state of literacy and numeracy competencies of incarcerated adults in state and federal prisons in the U.S.  The data demonstrates the continued need to nurture rigorous and effective correctional education programs not only as a means for individuals to improve their situation, but also as an effective public safety measure.

Read Secretary King’s Dear Colleague letter to learn more about the report, and to find out about other measures ED is taking to ensure incarcerated and justice-involved individuals have a fair shot at a successful reentry.

[1] Davis, L. M., Bozick, R., Steele, J.L., Saunders, J. & Miles, J. N. V. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A MetaAnalysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2013. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR266.html

White House Encourages More Virtual and Augmented Reality in Education

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy added their voice to the national conversation on leveraging virtual and augmented reality to improve education. The blog mentioned the $680,000 EdSim Challenge that prompts virtual and augmented reality developers to create learning tools to support career and technical education that are “… as compelling as the best video game.”

The blog was published in advance of the EdSim Challenge Informational Webinar scheduled for Wednesday, November 16 at 3:00pm Eastern Time. You can find more information about the EdSim Challenge on the challenge website and register for the webinar here.

Six Federal Agencies Commit to Make College Access and Completion a Reality for More Americans

Today, Secretary of Education John King announced the release of a federal interagency letter, Aligning Federal Supports and Program Delivery for College Access and Completion. The interagency letter highlights the latest guidance and resources that clarify how existing provisions within federal programs of the U.S. Departments of Education, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Treasury can be better aligned for postsecondary access and completion. Secretary King made the announcement at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities’ annual meeting in Austin, Texas, an event that gathered over 1,300 senior leaders from public higher institutions from across North America.

By 2020, an estimated two-thirds of job openings will require some postsecondary education or training. Studies have shown that college graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn about 66 percent more than those with only a high school diploma and are far less likely to face unemployment. Over the course of a lifetime, the average worker with a bachelor’s degree will earn approximately $1 million more than a worker without any postsecondary education. However, too many students fail to complete their education due to resource constraints. Because now, more than ever before, a college degree is a necessity for individual economic opportunity and competitiveness, alignment of federal programs and policies towards completion is essential. The strength and long-term success of our nation’s economy weighs on a robust higher education system that helps all students succeed.

The interagency letter lists actions taken by each of the six agencies to better help individuals make one the most important investments one can make in his or her future a reality. For example, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued guidance clarifying requirements that designated public school district homeless liaisons inform all unaccompanied homeless youth identified by the district of their eligibility for independent student status on the FAFSA, and this guidance is linked within the letter. Independent status can help homeless students access more aid to cover tuition and books, as well as help secure reliable room and board. Another example is guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicating that students attending an institution of higher education through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) Employment and Training program at least half-time are exempt from the SNAP student rule and, as a result, potentially eligible for SNAP.

In addition to the joint interagency letter, the U.S. Department of Education released the Innovating and Partnering to Support Completion and Success in Higher Education fact sheet spotlighting the results of initiatives made under the Obama Administration that have helped thousands of Americans enroll in and complete college. Such investments have helped Black and Hispanic students earn over 270,000 more undergraduate degrees in 2013-14 than in 2008-09; and a million more Black and Hispanic students enrolled in college in 2014 than in 2008.

The Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, along with its federal partners, is committed to ensuring that federal provisions and other initiatives fulfill their promise of breaking down barriers to accessing the knowledge and skills needed to attain a well-paying job, support a family, and contribute to our community. With the help of state and local partners, together we can strengthen coordination of programs that connect more people to postsecondary opportunities and leverage federal policies that more effectively serve our communities.

Tune in Tomorrow to the EdSim Challenge Webinar

Remember to register for the informational webinar!

Graphic with text that reads: EdSim Challenge, Calling for next generation education simulations. $680,000 in cash awards plus additional sponsor prizes. Learn more at edsimchallenge.,comThe EdSim Challenge is moving forward after a fantastic launch and we are excited to host an informational webinar tomorrow, Wednesday, November 16th from 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM Eastern Time. The webinar will include an overview of the EdSim Challenge and a live Question and Answer session. Join the webinar to learn more about the vision of the U.S. Department of Education for educational simulations, as well as the Challenge timeline, submission process, eligibility, awards, and criteria.

Please register here to receive connection and login information in advance of the session. For those unable to attend the webinar, a recording of the webinar will be posted later on the Challenge blog.

We look forward to a sharing information on the EdSim Challenge and expanding virtual and augmented reality in education!

EdSim Challenge Launched to Bring Virtual Reality to CTE

OCTAE is excited to launch the EdSim Challenge with a cash prize pool of $680,000 and additional sponsor prizes from IBM, Microsoft, Oculus, and Samsung. The Challenge calls upon the virtual reality, video game developer, and educational technology communities to submit concepts for immersive simulations that will prepare students for the globally competitive workforce of the 21st century.

Successful simulations will pair the engagement of commercial games with rigorous educational content that strengthens academic, technical, and employability skills.


Simulated environments, such as virtual and augmented reality, 3D simulations, and multiplayer video games, are emerging approaches to deliver educational content. Research indicates that simulation-based learning provides students with enriched experiences in information retention, engagement, skills acquisition, and learning outcomes.

Those interested in entering the Challenge should submit their simulation concepts at edsimchallenge.com by January 17, 2017.

Want to learn more? Sign up for our informational webinar on November 16, 2016 from 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM EST to hear an overview of the Challenge and ask questions.

You can also view the complete Federal Register Notice here.

We look forward to seeing what innovators from around the country envision for the future of learning!

Opportunity@Work and OCTAE Announce Partnership

It Is Time to Rewire the Labor Market, Particularly for Those Americans Who Get Overlooked Too Often

The current system of hiring- where employers hire for open positions based on a person’s education and job history- is outdated, overlooks millions of people, and leaves too many jobs unfilled. Opportunity@Work and a growing number of public and private agencies are working to transform these outdated hiring practices by proving to companies that they can hire based on mastery rather than pedigree by giving everyone a chance to show what they can do. If you have the skills to fill a vacant job, then you should get the job.

Tess Posner, Managing Director of TechHire for Opportunity@Work, Kim R. Ford, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning and Management, Carmen Drummond, Chief of Staff, Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, and Yolanda Townsend, Senior Vice-President and General Counsel for Opportunity@Work take a moment to celebrate the agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and Opportunity@Work to support TechHire and other communities interested in using demand-side approaches to get more Americans to work.

Tess Posner, Managing Director of TechHire for Opportunity@Work, Kim R. Ford, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning and Management, Carmen Drummond, Chief of Staff, Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, and Yolanda Townsend, Senior Vice-President and General Counsel for Opportunity@Work take a moment to celebrate the agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and Opportunity@Work to support TechHire and other communities interested in using demand-side approaches to get more Americans to work.

“If employers want to solve the skills gap, the solution is to hire for skills mastery rather than resume history.” — Byron Auguste, CEO and Co-Founder, Opportunity@Work

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Improved Reentry Education Grantee Recognized by the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council

The Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) is an industry-led, training, assessment and certification system. Their mission is focused on advancing the core skills and knowledge needed by the nation’s front-line production and material handling workers to allow workers the opportunity to demonstrate that they have acquired the skills needed for technology intensive jobs. MSSC recently highlighted work being done to help incarcerated individuals who are returning to their communities secure jobs, increase public safety, and save money.

OCTAE is pleased that one of the Improved Reentry Education grantees, Washburn Institute of Technology, was highlighted as an organization which features a MSSC pre-release program. The program allows students to obtain a Certified Production Technician credential, thanks to a partnership between Washburn University, the Kansas Department of Commerce, the Kansas Department of Corrections, and the Kansas Workforce Center. These programs help individuals acquire certifications and credentials, allowing them to succeed in the labor market and break the cycle of incarceration.

An important part of this programming is tracking student outcomes to help ascertain success, and the Washburn students excelled in the program. Of 184 students who participated in the program, almost 1,000 credentials were earned, including over 500 full Certified Production Technician credentials.  Since March 31, 2016, 70 students had been released, with 60% of them obtaining gainful employment after reentering, and only 12% of students re-incarcerated.

Learn more in the following linked resources:

OCTAE’s Office of Correctional Education

The Reentry Education Toolkit, designed to help programs and communities improve services for returning citizens

A Community Practice for Correctional Educators, with over 700 participating members

Nondegree Credentials in Correctional Education: Status, Challenges, and Benefits (Department of Education, 2016)