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School Job-Training Programs Boosted in N.Y., California

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Vocational education has received strong positive endorsements from state leaders in California and New York.

A coalition of business representatives in California is supporting a a bill before the legislature that would provide schools with financial incentives to upgrade their vocational offerings.

And in New York, the state comptroller has urged an expansion in New York City of both the number of vocational high schools and the number of schools offering vocational coursework to meet the growing student demand for such offerings.

In both cases, proponents of the changes cite evidence that vocational education may help retain some students who might otherwise drop out of school.

State Comptroller Edward V. Regan of New York said last month that a three-year audit of New York City's vocational high schools showed that those schools have much lower dropout rates than other schools. Students taking vocational courses at academic schools, he added, were also less prone to drop out than other students.

During the 1983-84 school year, Mr. Regan noted, the yearly dropout rate in the vocational schools was 4.7 percent, compared with 13.5 percent for other schools.

Not only do the vocational schools have a lower overall dropout rate, he said, but data from the audit also suggest that a higher percentage of their entering students eventually go on to college or other postsecondary training.

Demand High

The report says that, currently, there are too few vocational schools in New York City to meet the demand, and Mr. Regan urged the city's board of education to consider increasing the number.

"Students are clamoring to get in,'' he said in releasing the report, "four times as many as can be accommodated.''

In the 1985-86 school year, 36,000 students applied for admission to one of the city's 19 vocational high schools, but only 9,000 were accepted.

"The board of education would have to open as many as 17 new vocational high schools and/or convert a number of academic high schools to vocational education just to accommodate incoming freshmen,'' the report states.
But doing so would help meet state and city dropout-reduction goals, the report says.

When the state auditors asked the board why more vocational high schools had not been established, they were told that the city has not set guidelines on determining whether a new high school will be vocational or academic.

The report says that the apparently unwritten policy against designating schools vocational "was reportedly based, at least in part, upon the desire to get away from the stigma that was attached to vocational schools as 'dumping grounds' for non-academic students.''

Given the current demand for the schools, it says, that argument "no longer seems valid.''

The report also recommends that the board make a more thorough study of local labor needs to identify the industries with the greatest potential for entry-level openings and tailor vocational programs to meet those needs.

California Labor Needs

Assessing the availability of entry-level jobs is also a key component of the industry-supported bill currently being considered in the California legislature.

The bill would provide schools that agree to upgrade their vocational programs $20 per student in 1989, $40 per student in 1990, and $60 per student in 1991, with an annual cost-of-living adjustment thereafter.

In turn, the schools would shape their vocational offerings to meetthe needs of the local job market. They also would coordinate their courses more closely with basic academic courses, allowing more vocational-course credits to count toward fulfilling mandatory graduation requirements.

Groups including the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers Association have strongly supported the bill, stressing the need for a balance between vocational and academic skills.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig also has supported the measure, saying it would strengthen overall reform efforts.

"We have required more academic study, longer school days, and an environment for students to strive for excellence,'' he said at a news conference earlier this month.

"This bill will help make vocational education a full partner in the reform movement.''

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