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Recommendations to Increase Equity and Inclusion in WBL


In Wisconsin, K-12 Career Readiness must include an Academic and Career Planning (ACP) process in grades 6-12. Oftentimes, ACP activities include Career-based learning experiences (CBLEs), business-connected opportunities that allow K-12 students to participate in career awareness, career exploration, or career development.

Work-based learning (WBL) experiences are a subset of CBLEs that meet the following six quality and rigor requirements for career and technical education (CTE) as defined in the federal Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V):

  1. Involve sustained interactions, either paid or unpaid, with industry or community professionals

  2. Take place in real workplace settings (as practicable) or simulated environments at an educational institution

  3. Foster in-depth, firsthand engagement with the tasks required in a given career

  4. Align with a course (generally should be a minimum of one semester). Districts are strongly encouraged to provide credit for the work-based learning experience as well as credit for the school-based course.

  5. Must include a training agreement between the student, employer/business, and school that defines the roles and responsibilities of the student, the employer, and the school

  6. Business and education partners work together to evaluate and supervise the experiences, which must be documented with training or learning plans and evaluation forms.

The purpose of this brief is to provide recommendations to school districts that will increase equity and inclusion in WBL programs. Recommendations have been divided into two categories: 1) policies that cultivate belonging, and 2) practices that build a student- and relationship-centered program.

Policies That Cultivate Belonging

  1. Regularly evaluate for bias the criteria and processes used to select students for WBL programs. For example, using teacher recommendations and grades as a selection tool can unintentionally create barriers to WBL programs for students that would most benefit from participation. If possible allow open enrollment to the WBL programs; when making selections, pay special attention to students that identify with populations that have historically faced barriers in the workforce or professional spaces.

  2. Commit to partnering with employers that represent diverse populations whenever possible. This could include businesses owned by women or traditionally underrepresented persons. It might also include partnering with companies that employ a diverse workforce and have proven their dedication to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

  3. Use disaggregated data to understand who is participating in your WBL programs and who is NOT. For example, break out your student data by race, gender, those who have disabilities, those from economically disadvantaged families, English learners, those experiencing homelessness, those who have aged out of the foster care system, are in nontraditional pathways, and are single parents. For districts that receive federal Perkins V funding, this analysis should be a part of the Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment grantees are required to conduct every two years.

  4. Once WBL participation gaps have been identified by disaggregating your data, explore the root causes of those gaps and develop innovative solutions to help mitigate barriers to WBL participation. One of the best ways to identify root causes of lower participation is to conduct focus groups with students from the identified underrepresented group(s). Keep in mind, to obtain actionable feedback, trust-building with focus group participants is incredibly important.

  5. Create a vision statement that includes an explicit equity focus for your WBL program. Then align your policies, practices, and procedures with the vision.

  6. Establish or revise policies and procedures to ensure that partnering employers do not discriminate when hiring, supervising, evaluating, or terminating student employment in your WBL program. Policies may include:

    1. Employment decisions are based on job-related criteria.

    2. Evaluations are based on objective and measurable performance indicators.

    3. Employers will engage in supportive coaching whenever possible prior to pursuing termination and will provide constructive feedback to the student and school when a termination has to take place.

    4. Supervisors of WBL students will participate in equity training

  7. Use an equity lens for all decision-making and action points regarding WBL opportunities. As a part of this process, annually review your WBL marketing materials, policies, practices, and procedures for potential bias and discrimination. Update and refine marketing materials, policies, practices, and procedures that are creating barriers for students participating in WBL. Seek feedback from students participating in WBL about their experience.
    RESOURCE: Equity Mindset Cards

Practices That Build a Student- and Relationship-Centered Program

  1. Include underrepresented stakeholders, especially students and families, in your WBL planning meetings so they are involved in program decision-making. If planning meetings cannot be scheduled at a time that accommodates student and family schedules, consider creating an advisory group of students and families from diverse backgrounds. Keep in mind, trust-building is key to getting useful and actionable feedback about what is or is not working. Allow opportunities for anonymous feedback from students and families.

  2. Create outreach strategies that include underrepresented groups not currently participating in your WBL program.

  3. Provide time, professional development, and support for all K-12 staff to:

    • Develop regular relationship-building practices to help students identify their interests and strengths.

    • Use Xello, or other tools, to identify students’ interests and strengths in order to refer or plan an appropriate WBL experience.

    • Help each student connect with resources to be successful.

    • RESOURCE: Xello Assessments

  4. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Provide employer mentors with training and support that is specific to working with high school-aged students from different cultures and backgrounds. Training should also include learning how to set collaborative goals so that both the student and employer get the greatest benefit from the experience.