An Interview with Lul Tesfai, Senior Policy Director

CNA Education’s team has a new member! As Senior Policy Director, Lul Tesfai will lead the division’s efforts to strengthen the CTE research base and support current and developing CTE programs, particularly those focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Lul’s research expertise includes policy and strategy development for adult CTE. She most recently served as a Director of Policy for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, where she refined the reauthorization strategy for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and provided technical assistance to Congress. She also has experience in quantitative and qualitative research and analysis of discriminatory federal, state, and local government housing policies and housing mobility initiatives.

Lul holds an M.P.P. from the University of California, Berkeley, and a B.A. in political science and international studies from Northwestern University.

Q: How did you first become interested in education research and policy, and specifically in career and technical education (CTE)?

A: My entire professional career has been devoted to improving educational outcomes for students. After college, I worked as an elementary school teacher and then transitioned into being an instructional coach and consultant to both urban and rural school districts throughout the United States. I really enjoyed gathering and analyzing multiple sources of student and teacher data to determine trends in achievement and instructional effectiveness and using these data, along with research-based interventions, to support educators and leaders in developing and implementing strategic plans for school-based instructional and programmatic reforms. After doing this work for several years, I decided to attend graduate school to better understand how to assess the effectiveness of educational interventions, particularly those leveraging a collective impact approach. As a graduate student I became more exposed to CTE at both the secondary and postsecondary levels. I conducted research into the extent to which in-prison career training programs improved employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals and aligned with the workforce needs of state and regional economies. Through this work I saw how CTE is a powerful tool by which youth and adults, including those with barriers to employment, can gain the skills and industry-recognized credentials to achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Q: What are some of the most promising CTE policies in place? How will CNA Education use those policies as a catalyst for our work?

A: Fortunately, CTE is something that more and more students, parents, employers, policymakers, and legislators—irrespective of party affiliation—are rallying behind. And the reasons for this are clear—14 percent of working adults have low literacy skills and another 23 percent have low numeracy skills1 at a time when two-thirds of jobs will soon require postsecondary competencies and certifications.2

The passage and implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which represents a significant investment in career-oriented training, supports career pathways, a particularly promising strategy to help low-skilled youth and adults improve their foundational skills while acquiring marketable skills and industry-recognized credentials.

People often ask what works in CTE and workforce development, but it is important to dig a little deeper and examine what works for whom. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. CNA will continue to work with local and state education, training, and industry partners to design and implement evidence-based and evidence-informed interventions, such as career pathways and work-based learning, and will conduct rigorous evaluations to help build the evidence base around CTE and workforce development and scale up what works (for whom).

Q: What is one of the greatest challenges to assessing CTE effectiveness?

A: By nature, highly effective CTE programs require coordination and alignment among secondary, postsecondary, and business/industry partners, not just for program design and implementation but also for program evaluation. Unfortunately, data silos are all too common, which makes it difficult to understand the labor market outcomes of individuals who participate in CTE programs. Luckily, improvements to State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDSs) and recent federal legislation, notably WIOA, have gone and will go a long way to improve data systems so that service providers and states can assess the effectiveness of education and training investments and make modifications to better meet the needs of students, job-seekers, and employers.

Q: If you were not working in education research and policy, what would you do for a living?

A: I absolutely love working in education, but if I had to do something else I would be a food and travel blogger!



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