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To the Editor:

Wellford W. Wilms, in his Commentary uses many propaganda techniques and misuses a number of facts to make his case for dismantling vocational education programs. Since the luxury of a full page cannot be granted to a letter to the editor, I will address only one of the factual errors and some of its implications.

Perhaps the most glaring mistake is the statement that "placement data are comparatively rare.'' Each year, graduates of vocational-technical education are the subjects of a follow-up study. In Michigan, a response rate of close to 80 percent has been achieved for the last five years, giving validity to the results.

Our 1986 survey of the 1985 graduates showed that of the 47,772 completing vocational-education courses, 35,459 responded. Of the respondents:

  • Sixty-eight percent were employed full time.
  • Twenty-two and a half percent were employed part time.
  • Forty-one and a half percent were continuing their education.
  • A mere 7.1 percent, during a period when our state experienced a double-digit unemployment rate for teen-agers, were unemployed and seeking work.

Information of this nature is available from each of the 50 states.

And please note that the percentages stated above add up to over 100 percent. Why? Because many of these completers are both working and continuing their education, by working their way through college. In fact, of the 14,758 completers who reported they were continuing their education, the largest number (4,788) indicated they were attending a four-year college or university.

In addition, another large group (2,922) were enrolled in a liberal-arts curriculum at a two-year college. The second largest group (3,388) were attending a two-year college majoring in vocational-technical education. Are these students being admitted to colleges and universities without being able "to read, write, compute, and think,'' as Mr. Wilms alleges? The continuing education figures belie his statement.

Mr. Wilms should be considering the educational programs that result in students who are not motivated to learn, who have no focus for their educational experience, and who have developed little interest in becoming a person who can both contribute to and benefit from our economic system, as programs deserving critical attention.

Both college-prepartory programs and vocational-technical programs do prepare students for life after high school. Dale Parnell, in The Neglected Majority, points out that two out of every three dropouts come from the general-education program. We believe that this is where the attention of all educators interested in improving our system should be focused.

John O'Brien
Liaison Officer
Michigan Council of Vocational Administrators
Mt. Clemens, Mich.

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