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Vocational-Education Column

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School districts can enhance their vocational-education programs by placing caring and competent staff members in key positions, building in evaluations from the outset, and insuring that the curriculum covers four essential components--applied academics, vocational-technical education, job-search skills, and life-coping skills, according to a report released last month.

"Vocational Education for the 21st Century'' is based on a study of 10 federally funded projects that were designed to demonstrate vocational education's role in meeting the needs of at-risk students.

But the study's author, John V. Hamby, the former assistant director of the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University, noted that the findings could be used to enhance all vocational-education programs.

"While an evaluation of these models is still being conducted,'' Betsy Brand, the assistant secretary for vocational and adult education in the U.S. Education Department, writes in an introduction to the report, "preliminary signs are very positive. In some sites, a 90 percent retention and graduation rate is being reported.''

The programs were housed in alternative schools, schools-within-schools, vocational-technical centers, community career centers, and other sites. But Mr. Hamby found that they all had certain features in common.

These characteristics included a caring and competent staff, an emphasis on applied learning, community involvement, a strong district commitment to provide the necessary resources, and autonomy in day-to-day operations.

A new report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers says that educational institutions have neglected the need to prepare American workers for high-skill, high-performance jobs.

Unlike many countries with whom the United States competes, the U.S. system for job training and preparation is weak and often disconnected from the world of work, according to the study.

It recommends strengthening the basic-skills achievement of all students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds; linking schools, colleges, communities, and work; assessing skills and other outcomes that show what students know and can do; conducting comprehensive planning and coordination among federal and state programs; and developing incentives and accountability mechanisms that promote and insure success.

The report, "Building a Quality Workforce,'' was produced by SHEEO's committee on workforce preparation and catalogues a number of model programs. Copies are available for $10 each prepaid from SHEEO, 707 17th St., Suite 2700, Denver, Colo. 80202-3427.--L.O.

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