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Ohio Panel Calls for Restructuring of Vocational System

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Cincinnati--An Ohio citizen's group that studies school policies has recommended that the state--which was the first to mandate that every public high school offer vocational training--restructure its vocational programs to place more emphasis on academics and promote closer links between schools and the employers for whom vocational students are preparing.

In a report summarizing the study upon which its recommendations are based, the Citizens' Council for Ohio Schools notes that fewer than half of the Ohio students who completed high-school vocational programs in 1982 found jobs in the field in which they trained. And a significant proportion of the students entered postsecondary programs to continue their training, the report found.

The report, "Student Outcomes of Vocational Education: A Cleveland-Area Study," also noted that about 41 percent of the state's 11th and 12th graders enroll in vocational programs.

"From a policy standpoint," the report states, "vocational-education planners, school-board members, and taxpayers must ask whether tracking so many high-school students into vocational education is justified when so few of them are placed in jobs related to their training."

Focusing on students and program offerings in five Cleveland-area school districts, the study is the second on vocational education released by the council since 1982. It is one of numerous recent efforts in Ohio to examine potential reforms in the vocational-education system.

In 1969, Ohio became the first state to require all high schools to offer vocational education, the report says, and it has one of the largest and most highly developed vocational-education systems in the country.

The council's report offers "some interesting and potentially useful insights into how vocational education across Ohio might be improved," said Darrell L. Parks, director of the division of vocational education for the Ohio Department of Education.

Job-Market Results

The council's study focused on the relative success of vocational students in the job market. Other findings include:

Only ll.2 percent of the statewide vocational class of 1982 remained unemployed in January 1983, compared with a 27.5 percent unemployment rate among 16-to-19-year-olds in Ohio. However, it noted that the statistics for all youths included those who dropped out of school. "Unfortunately," the report states, "data are not readily available that are sufficiently comparable to determine whether or not a vocational curriculum in high school gives a young person a better chance at a job after high-school graduation than a general curriculum."

In January 1983, less than a third of the blacks who completed vocational programs in 1982 were employed in the fields for which they trained.

Students completing full-day vocational programs were more likely to find jobs in the fields they studied than were students who completed half-day programs. However, the full-day students also experienced more overall unemployment than those who completed half-day programs. A greater percentage of those from half-day programs sought additional training and education.

In every field of training, vocational students from the Cleveland City Schools had higher unemployment rates and lower employment rates in their areas of training than those from the suburban programs studied in the report. A greater percentage of students who completed vocational programs in the city district sought additional training after high school. According to the report, "this was true although program offerings and program quality did not appear to be much different in the city than in the suburbs, and Cleveland training programs were just as consistent with projected labor-market need."

More than half of the junior and senior students in Cleveland schools were enrolled in vocational programs in the 1981-82 school year, "a much higher percentage than in the suburbs."

Based on those findings, the council recommended several major shifts in focus for vocational education.

First, the Ohio Department of Education's vocational division and the Cleveland City Schools should give higher priority to placing students in jobs than to recruiting students for vocational programs, according to the council.

In light of the employment statistics for graduates of full-day programs, the state department of education should revise its funding formulas to discourage full-day vocational programs and to encourage development of half-day programs that would "allow students to obtain the academic courses as well as the vocational courses they will need to be employable now and in the future," the report states.

Concerns Widespread

The council also urged that vocational districts, "and especially the Cleveland City Schools, "do follow-up studies on vocational graduates pursuing additional education to determine if vocational programs should be revised."

Mr. Parks of the state education department noted that the study's limited database and "manipulation" of some of the data made the findings and recommendations "inconclusive." However, he added, "Similar concerns are being addressed at the state level by the Ohio Department of Education's blue-ribbon study committee on vocational education," scheduled to release its report early this summer. And he cited similar issues in other states.

"The kinds of pressure that we are experiencing here in Ohio are being felt in various stages in most of the other states across the nation," Mr. Parks said. "This pressure for basic-skill competency and more academic credit for graduation is kind of a broad brush that is sweeping the country."

Long Commitment

The state committee's proposals, together with the outcome of 12 state-sponsored pilot projects in vocational education, are expected to foster closer links between the vocational and academic tracks, an increase in vocational opportunities for the handicapped and disabled, and greater proficiency and increased attention to the current needs of industry.

The state's long and substantial commitment to vocational educa3tion prompted the Citizens' Council to turn its attention to the program two years ago, said Carla Edlefson, director of the Columbus-based council. The new report grew out of the group's interest in examining the effect of Cleveland's five-year-old desegregation order on area vocational programs, she said.

The council was particularly concerned with questions of equity and program quality, and minority students' access to high-quality programs. But it found little evidence in Cleveland that black students were counseled into vocational education or into certain types of vocational programs.

"Equality of access to programs was not the biggest problem," Ms. Edlefson said. "The system has done a lot of work on that. In fact, blacks are slightly less likely than whites to go into vocational education. I don't mean to say that the problems are all solved. It is still true that there are programs that are racially identifiable and stereotyped by sex. We just didn't think that that's the major problem."

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