The Importance of Equity in Career & Technical Education: Past & Potential


Welcome to the Equity in Career and Technical Education Community of Practice.

I am delighted to serve as a subject matter expert for this newly-named community. You’ll see me here from time to time, facilitating and commenting. For the past two years I also helped guide the development of equity tools and resources that will soon be available here on LINCS.

It’s critical that the country strengthens its focus on equity, especially with regard to educational opportunities and outcomes. Many scholars are addressing the inequities in our schools, including uncovering and addressing obstacles that prevent many young people from reaching their full potential. One dimension of this work that is particularly important is the issue of equity in career and technical education (CTE). CTE plays a role in preparing students for postsecondary education as well as transitioning to the workforce. Thus, to ensure equitable long-term outcomes, it’s critical to understand how CTE can improve equity.   

During the 1980s and early 1990s there was a robust literature focused on uncovering evidence of class- and race-based tracking of students into CTE. Some evidence showed clear overrepresentation of students of color and students from lower-income families being pushed into low-wage and low-quality CTE programs. This literature also then demonstrated the poor outcomes associated with these experiences.

More recently, there has been scholarship that documents differences in CTE participation by gender (lower rates among female students), and higher rates of participation among students with disabilities. Most of this work has not been focused on the effects of these differences on student outcomes; however, a few studies have indicated better wage outcomes among males who participated in CTE, and slightly higher rates of college matriculation among girls who participate.

The most recently available data show lower levels of participation in STEM programs among female students and students with disabilities. Students with disabilities have been a particular focus of mine because of my connection to special education as a teacher and administrator in the past, as well as my knowledge that CTE has a long history of being a part of transition planning for these students. STEM is important because there is clear growth in STEM-related employment, including in CTE-connected fields that allow for immediate employment as well as the potential for career ladders. STEM is also of critical interest given other evidence of labor shortages in some areas.  

As a math teacher and assistant principal at a large public high school in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I saw first-hand how inequities could potentially influence young people’s opportunities. I am excited to interact with those of you in high schools and community colleges who teach and counsel students on a daily basis.  My hope is that my perspective as a former practitioner, and an active researcher with regard to CTE, equity, and education policy more generally, can help us learn together.


Shaun Dougherty

Assistant Professor

Neag School of Education &

Department of Public Policy

University of Connecticut