Change of Focus, Location Proposed for Georgia's Vocational Effort
Georgia's 41-member Education Review Commission, established by Gov. Joe Frank Harris last year to revamp the state's public schools, has proposed major changes in vocational education that would shift the emphasis away from training for specific jobs and toward a greater concentration on academic subjects and general work-related skills.
Return to Academics
"The broad aim of the commission was to try to blend back together somewhat vocational education and academic education, and to ensure that a student has a broad enough base that he or she would be adaptable to different work environments upon graduation," said R. Lawrence Williams, lead staff member to the commission's vocational-education committee.
National studies and a survey of the state's vocational-education and business officials all indicated, he said, "that students need to be prepared in the basics, whether they're vocational students or nonvocational students."
The committee's survey of area business leaders indicated that 53 percent felt reading was the most important skill for high-school graduates to have. Other studies indicated that jobs to which graduates could aspire required three months' or less training, according to Mr. Williams.
He added that states such as Kentucky and Maryland are already us-ing their vocational curricula to reinforce basic skills. The commission hopes to see that instituted on a broader, more systematic basis in Georgia.
In draft proposals that are now being considered by the entire commission, the four-member vocational education committee recommended that most vocational education be limited to grades 9-12.
Vocational programs focused on a selected trade or industry, like construction, should not be offered until the 11th and 12th grades, the committee concluded. And even these programs should offer students the opportunity to sample all aspects of a particular trade, members agreed.
Only in the 12th grade, said the committee, should students be allowed to narrow their focus to an area as specific as electrical wiring in the construction industry.
"The testimony we heard and agreed with was that technology is changing very, very rapidly, and while vocational education remains an important part of a person's education, we feel that it must only be a part of that education," said Walter W. Sessoms, vice-president for Southern Bell for Georgia and chairman of the committee.
"We wanted to ensure that the students graduating from high school really had mastered the rudiments of education," Mr. Sessoms said, "and had a chance to sample many areas of vocational education and not be shunted off into some area of vocational education and reside there throughout their high-school career."
He said members of the committee agreed that because technology is changing so rapidly, "it was a little bit unfair to the school system to try to have them teach kids occupationally specific work which was a moving target."
Less Emphasis on Jobs
The committee also proposed a new system to evaluate vocational-education programs at the high-school and junior-high levels. At present, the success of those programs is largely based on how well they place graduates in actual jobs, Mr. Sessoms noted.
According to the committee, high schools should not be in the business of placing students in jobs. Instead, it recommended, the state should set specific learning goals for each vocational program and develop a testing system that would measure students' performance in terms of both vocational and academic skills.
The committee also recommended that the state raise the education re-quirements for teachers of vocational education. Currently, individuals with only a high-school diploma can receive a certificate to teach vocational education. The committee has proposed that in the future, teacher candidates have at least an associate-level degree. These teachers would then have six years to attain a bachelor's degree.
Within Academic Programs
To integrate academic and vocational education, the committee also advocated that educators set most vocational programs within a comprehensive or regular high school, rather than in magnet or area schools devoted solely to vocational training. Every school, said the committee, should offer a basic array of vocational-education electives, including agriculture, business, and home-economics courses.
In addition, committee members urged that all students have some exposure to vocational education and the world of work as part of a mandatory civics course.
The committee also recommended that a joint committee be set up to encourage better coordination between postsecondary and secondary-school programs. In particular, the committee proposed that skilled high-school students be allowed to take classes at the postsecondary level, so that high schools would not have to offer sophisticated electronics courses and other advanced vocational classes to the few students who were capable and interested.
The committee's recommendations will be forwarded to the Governor, along with the rest of the commission's proposals, within the next few months. The proposals would then have to be adopted by the General Assembly, whose members have been represented on the commission.