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Concerns Raised Over Voc.-Ed. In Reform Era

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Anaheim, Calif--Vocational educators say they are worried that the pressures for more academic courses generated by recent national reports on improving education will diminish the numbers of vocational-education programs and students.

Although many state and local administrators attending the annual convention of the American Vocational Association here agreed that it is too soon to gauge how many programs or students have been lost in the states that have already increased academic standards for graduation, they warned that the reforms could lead to dramatic changes in the delivery of vocational-education services within the next few years.

"The long-term consequences are likely to force earlier choices, less flexibility, and more specialized [vocational] institutions," said Robert E. Taylor, director of the federally supported National Center for Research in Vocational Education at The Ohio State University.

Mr. Taylor said the U.S. Education Department has agreed, through its contract with the center, to pay for a national study to address what he calls "the unfinished agenda" of the various reports on education. A panel of experts from within and outside the vocational field, he explained, will examine the role of vocational education in the high school and offer recommendations for improvement.

The decision to convene the study panel was prompted in part by the disappointment of many vocational educators' with the virtual omission of vocational education from the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

'Narrow Perceptions'

Darrel Parks, director of vocational education for the Ohio Department of Education, criticized the excellence commission's report and other national studies for their "biased" and "narrow perceptions." None of the task forces or commissions, he said, considered vocational education important enough to study, nor did any of them include representatives from the vocational-education community.

But, Mr. Parks said, it would be "a major professional mistake if we became defensive about the reports." Changes in vocational-education programs are inevitable as higher-order skills become more important to the economy, he said.

N.J. Stafford Jr., Louisiana's assistant state superintendent for vocational education, agreed, but he also argued that vocational education should be at "center stage" in the discussions about educational excellence.

"I have a fear that in our haste to comply [with the recommendations of the various commissions], we may do irreparable damage to the system we have," Mr. Stafford said. The demand for more mathematics and science, he said, could have a dramatic effect on students' test scores. But in his state, where one-third of the population speaks French, he said, adding a French-language requirement to the curriculum will not "improve employment options" for those students who do not earn a college degree.

In Texas, according to Paul W. Lindsey, associate commissioner for occupational education and technology for the Texas Education Agency, the state's plan to attract high-technology industries is also having an effect on the schools' ability to offer traditional skills-training programs.

"As we increase math and science as a result of the addition of high technology and computer literacy to the curriculum, it has a tremendous [negative] effect on our ability to provide vocational education," Mr. Lindsey asserted.

In some instances, states have agreed to consider as an alternative to mathematics and science courses experienced-based programs that allow vocational students to meet the new standards while continuing their vocational studies.

Such a policy, approved by the Oklahoma Board of Education, will lessen the impact of new state education standards requiring one additional credit in both mathematics and science, according to Francis T. Tuttle, director of vocational and technical education for the state department of education.

Under that policy, students enrolled in a three-hour vocational program will be eligible for one credit in mathematics; two years in such a program will earn students one credit toward their science requirements.

Mr. Tuttle said his office had to demonstrate the kinds of mathematics principles used in vocational programs. "I'm convinced that if we had not [persuaded the board to approve the policy]," he said, "we would be hurt."

Responding to the criticism, Albert H. Quie, the former Congressman and Minnesota governor who served on the National Commission on Excellence in Education, said that "the greatest problem lay in the academic courses in the high school."

"We weren't pointing any fingers at vocational education at all," Mr. Quie said. But, he added: "My own feeling is we can't reverse [the commission's direction] and put more into vocational education and less into basics."

Despite the states' efforts to improve education, said Michael O'Keefe, president of the Consortium for the Advancement of Private Higher Education, problems in education will be exacerbated unless some teaching strategies are devised to cope with the demand that all high-school students receive more mathematics and science training.

Mr. O'Keefe said that vocational education should begin to re-examine its own goals, then link them with the overall goals of the high school. Such an examination, he said, "can be a means of making students' programs relevant."

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