Vocational Education Column
Educators and researchers attending the A.V.A.'s convention in LOS Angeles noted that the education-reform movement's growing focus on school-to-work issues, the changes in federal vocational education law, and the stigma often attached to traditional vocational training are combining to force reforms.
"I see body language that tells me some of them are still saying, 'Convince me,' but still I see a change," said Carolyn Maddy-Bernstein, the director of the technical assistance for special populations program at the University of Illinois and a presenter at the convention.
In some cases, speakers at the A.v.A. sessions suggested, reforms have been driven by a survival instinct.
After watching enrollments decline, educators in Delaware launched a statewide campaign promoting the shifting emphasis of home-economics programs.
Their efforts focus on jobs available in such service industries as food service, housing, consumer affairs, and child care and show junior-high students and their parents how home economics classes prepare students for such jobs.
The campaign has boosted the standing of the state's home economics courses and brought more students to the classroom, said Mary Lou Liprie, who directs the campaign at the University of Delaware in Newark.
"It's going to take continued use over a longer period of time, but we're trying to project a professional image and say that home economics has a lot to offer," Ms. Liprie said.
Another traditional vocational-education course changing with the times in some districts is industrial arts, which has shown great appeal when transformed into computer-driven technology programs.
Even though the cost of replacing metalworking and woodworking tools with computer stations that teach programming, electronics, and manufacturing is high, the result has been increased enrollments for many schools that have made the conversion. The revamped programs have even attracted college-bound students.
Researchers at Texas A&M University told A.V.A. members that those trends have been seen in many new technology programs.
Retooled technology classrooms also are being used by science, art, social-studies, and language classes at some sites, helping bridge the gap between academic and vocational instruction, said LaVeme H. Young, an assistant professor at the university, and Mama Mouzes, a graduate assistant there.
"The typical shop programs have been closed down or phased out in a lot of schools because of the image attached to them," Ms. Young said. "Teaching students about technology of all sorts is more of a general education for everybody rather than skill training for a specific job."
Others at the Los Angeles meeting reported slow progress toward reforms.
Colorado State University researchers assembling a guide for teacher- and counsel or education programs on integrating basic academic and vocational skills found that, rather than being prepared to instruct students on "applied skills" as expected, colleges have yet to tackle such basic issues as defining integration and settling turf issues between academic and vocational educators.
The guide, expected to focus on applying basic skills in vocational classrooms, instead is a primer on the "integration" concept and explains how educators should team to combine academic and work skills.
"It was clear that integration would not occur unless attitudes changed," said Gene W. Gloeckner, an associate professor at Colorado State working on the teacher education curriculum.
Gene Callahan, the A.V.A.'s president and the superintendent of the Tulsa (Okla.) Vocational Technical School, said the growing interest in linking high-school vocational programs with both community colleges and middle schools, as well as efforts to update curricula and reach new groups of students, marks a turnaround.
"I think there's an upbeat feeling about vocational education across the country," he said. "I think we're beginning to be recognized as being an important part of solving the problems facing this country."
On more immediate matters, educators at the meeting used the eve of the comment period on the Perkins Act draft regulations to ask questions and plead for some changes in the U.S. Education Department's proposed rules.
Participants complained most often about the provision that would extend new reporting and performance standards across all vocational curricula rather than limiting the requirements to activities supported with Perkins Act funds.
Federal officials explained that the Congress envisioned the federal funds as a lever for overall program improvement and that measuring only activities funded under the act would not yield much useful information.
Final regulations are expected in the spring.--L.H.