Drop-out intervention is an ongoing challenge for many school leaders. Here in Montana, we began to look at the programs that all high schools, both urban and rural, already had in place. We suspected that students identified as homeless who were Career and Technical Education Concentrators (taking three or more CTE courses) would have lower drop-out rates. We also suspected that students identified as homeless who were involved in Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs) would have the lowest drop-out rates.
Why did we suspect better outcomes for CTE students experiencing homelessness?
All high schools in our state have at least one career pathway that links a CTE program to a Montana college or university that offers certification, or a 2-year or 4-year degree in a corresponding field. CTE teachers also serve as advisors for their corresponding CTSOs. This means that students involved in these courses and organizations would have access to an adult mentor. Advisors have links to community organizations and businesses that support student learning. More critically, CTSOs offer students opportunities to gain the professional skills necessary to find success both in higher education and in a career field. CTSOs create positive peer networks, networks of adult mentors, and foster important leadership skills. We also know that students who participate in extra-curricular activities more generally are more engaged in school, which leads to improved attendance, academic performance, and lowered behavior referrals. The long-term benefit to participation in CTE programs is that the corresponding post-secondary pathways lead students toward careers that offer a living wage, and the possibility of breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness. To determine the impact of CTE participation and CTSO membership, Montana’s Homeless Education Program partnered with the CTE Division to share data. We looked at drop-out rates for seniors who were identified as homeless during their senior year.
What we found was that for students experiencing homelessness, the completion of three or more CTE courses lowered the likelihood of dropping out by half. There were no dropouts among the students who participated in a CTSO.
Montana is excited about the new language in the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, recently signed into law, that requires state and local plans to address the needs of students identified as homeless. One of the many new provisions in the law is a requirement for states to reserve funds to recruit ‘special populations’ (which specifically includes students experiencing homelessness) to participate in CTE programs. In Montana, we are getting a jump start on the new provisions by providing professional development to our schools to help foster coordination and collaboration among CTE teachers, homeless liaisons, and Title I programs to tap into funds that can assist students in accessing supplies and materials, enrolling in dual credit courses, and in engaging in meaningful work-based learning opportunities.
The new law also requires that state plans be developed in consultation with McKinney-Vento State Coordinators. For more information about our collaborative efforts, or about how we looked at our data, contact: