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States are investing in work-based learning, but it is important to focus on creating policies that target equity and grow accessibility.

4 ways to support work-based learning


States are investing in work-based learning, but it is important to focus on creating policies that target equity and grow accessibility

Key points:

As work-based learning models grow in popularity, a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) highlights key themes in recently-passed state legislation that will support efforts to expand or improve such models.

A proven strategy, worked-based learning connects classroom lessons to the workplace, enhancing lessons with real-world relevance. A high-quality program can be complicated to craft because it requires schools to collaborate closely with local industries to develop innovative learning opportunities for students.

In the 2023 legislative sessions, 34 states and Washington, D.C., enacted laws related to this learning model, according to CAP.

CAP’s analysis reveals five main themes in how states are adapting to the increased interest in K-12 work-based education models. These strategies include:

  1. Promoting equitable access to work-based learning opportunities for marginalized student populations
  2. Providing dedicated funding to expand opportunities for students to build relevant career skills and experience
  3. Strengthening program requirements and data reporting to identify gaps in learner access and success
  4. Expanding opportunities through public-private partnerships
  5. Altering state-level work-based learning governance structures to promote higher-quality work-based education opportunities

“While states have recently made strides to increase the number of work-based learning opportunities, they must do more to include strategies that amplify these programs’ reach and center equitable access for all students,” said Tania Otero Martinez, a policy analyst for K-12 Education Policy at CAP and co-author of the report.  

“The modern economy requires more and more adaptation over the course of a person’s career,” said Paige Shoemaker DeMio, a policy analyst for K-12 Education Policy at CAP and co-author of the report. “Exposing students to high-quality work-based learning opportunities helps set them up to be successful lifelong learners, whether they plan to attend college or head into the workforce upon graduation.”

The report also includes strategies to help states strengthen their work-oriented learning infrastructure:

1. Establish a statewide work-based learning hub: One of the first steps toward providing accessible, high-quality work-based learning opportunities is for states to better coordinate work-based learning efforts. 

2. Require intermediary functions: Another promising strategy is to require an intermediary function within the work-based learning hub design.

3. Encourage greater employer involvement in program development and operation: States must increase opportunities for employer involvement in work-based learning program development to help students become successful employees, address the skills gap, and ensure the long-term success of the learning model.

4. Conduct targeted data collection: Targeted data collection, at a local or statewide level, provides context about whom programs are serving and insight into equity of access for underserved groups.

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Laura Ascione

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