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Vocational Education Efforts Lack Focus, New Study Says

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A four-year study of vocational-education programs in the nation concludes that the federal government attempts to do too much with too little money; seeks results from the states without offering a plan for achieving the intended goals; and establishes policies without regard to the desires or abilities of the states to carry out those policies.

The document, "The Vocational Education Study: The Final Report," was authorized by federal legislation and conducted by the National Institute of Education (nie) in preparation for the 1982 Congressional reauthorization of the Vocational Education Act.

The bulky report was delivered to the Congress last week along with recommendations that future federal legislation be more explicit about goals and objectives to be achieved by the states.

Appearing before the House Education and Labor Committee, Henry David, who directed the nie study, said it is not possible for local authorities throughout the nation to provide "equal capacity" for vocational training, as federal rules require.

For all states to be able to provide the same level of employment training, he said, the federal government would either have to increase the amount of money it spends on vocational education or reduce the "scale of its objectives."

Mr. David was one of many interested parties scheduled to testify on the study before Congressional subcommittees on the future of federal employment and training legislation. Governor Pierre S. du Pont IV of Delaware, who also testified last week before a joint meeting of the Senate Subcommittees on Education and Employment and Productivity, urged greater involvement of the private sector in vocational training and employment programs.

Robert M. Worthington, assistant secretary for vocational and adult3education, told members of the Senate subcommittees that future training programs for economically disadvantaged workers should reflect "vital national needs" such as defense preparedness, domestic energy production, agricultural production, and economic revitalization of inner cities.

The U.S. Department of Education has been studying a plan, prepared for the 1982 reauthorization by Congress of the Vocational Education Act, that would give increased authority to the states and would address the nation's need for "economic revitalization."

The draft proposal recommends revising the current act to authorize funding to states through block grants and proposes to add new support services aimed at helping to solve national manpower problems.

But, the new $4-million nie study will more than likely influence greatly the decisions made by the Congress when it finally considers that employment and training legislation.

During his testimony, Mr. David said programs for the disadvantaged and handicapped have been most effective where "goals are not very high and states list their priorities." He said federal funds spent on vocational-education research and overcoming sex bias "seemed to have made a significant difference."

But, he said, civil-rights law and changing attitudes have also helped reduce sex bias and sex stereotyping in employment and training.

The nie researchers' conclusions came, they say, from their examination of the main provisions of the 1976 amendments to the Vocational Education Act of 1963 that form the basis of current federal goals and objectives. According to the report, they found a number of inconsistencies in state application and federal policy.

Citing what they found to be the major inconsistency, the nie researchers wrote, "If the purpose [of federal legislation] is to enable
poorer districts to maintain programs of the same quality as those offered in wealthier districts, the poorer districts should not be expected to spend an appreciable portion of their federal funds...on program improvement projects. Similarly, if federal dollars are to be used to provide programs and services for students with special needs, it is unlikely that they would be deployed to improve and extend services."

The provisions of federal vocational-education law evaluated by the researchers, and some of the findings of their study, are:

Funding distribution. The federal funding formula ignores differences in the "relative costs of education" and "differences in fiscal capacity" among the states. Current procedure favors states with low average income, without considering other fiscal factors.

"Consequently, some states that have high per-capita incomes but relatively limited fiscal resources and high costs of education receive less than states with low per-capita incomes but with ample fiscal resources and low cost of education."

Distribution procedures within a state are "ambiguous," "lack clarity," and are "faulty." Those procedures may also vary greatly among the states, obscuring the intent of federal policy, the report says.

Programs and services for special-needs students. Without a federal policy, states would "very probably not be devoting even the relatively modest resources they now do to serve handicapped, disad3vantaged and limited-English-proficient students." However, the manner in which the excess costs and matching requirements are interpreted and implemented may inhibit local officials from spending federal funds on programs and services for students with special needs.

And because of those interpretations there is a "disincentive" to mainstream "special needs" students into regular classes. "Since excess costs in separate programs are much easier to account for and the levels of reimbursement are much higher than those for mainstreamed programs, the regulations are an incentive to use Vocational Education Act funds for separate programs," the report argues.

Overcoming sex bias and sex stereotyping. Although there has been some progress made toward sex equity in vocational education, women's participation in predominately male technical programs remains "markedly low" and states have failed to take advantage of federal funds to correct the problem.

The proportion of women enrolled in technical programs, dominated traditionally by men, rose from 9.7 percent in 1972 to 17.5 percent in 1979. And all states have appointed "sex-equity coordinators," who conduct "consciousness-raising" activities for state and local administrators and teachers. But the study found federal funding inadequate for program development in states with large populations.

Planning state programs. The 1976 amendment to the vocael5ltional education legislation required that states develop a comprehensive and coordinated plan that took into consideration changing labor-market conditions. Those changes have had some positive effects, but their overall goal "remains to be realized."

Local planning for vocational-education programs "tends to be weak" and the enforceable planning requirements are aimed at states which in most instances "cannot even pretend to control local decisions on programs."

Further, coordination between vocational-education programs and3those funded through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (ceta) is weak at best, the report maintains.

Improving and expanding state programs. "Encouraging change and improvement in the nation's vocational-education enterprise is a key purpose of federal policy, but the Vocational Education Act lacks effective provisions for achieving this objective." And some provisions "are likely to be at odds" with other provisions of the law.

The states fund activities that reflect their own priorities and only in a few states do they coincide with federal priorities. And about one-third of the money for improvement purposes is spent on guidance and counseling services, which are not6considered an improvement program. Also, the federal funding formula, giving priority to applicants proposing programs for new and emerging occupations, "has not operated as intended."

Strengthening evaluations of state programs. A new provision of the vocational education act requires program evaluations to insure the relevance of state programs to labor-market demands.

The evaluation provision did stimulate evaluation action, but the criteria for gathering information were "of dubious validity and reliability" and for the most part did not provide "the kind of information needed to improve programs or decide on program offerings in line with changing market conditions."

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