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Youth-Jobs Program Seeks Stronger Education Role in Training

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Changes in curriculum, teaching methods, and student assessment can help build a strong education component into job-training programs for disadvantaged youths, a new report by the Academy for Educational Development in New York City suggests.

The report documents the first two years of an experimental project involving four youth-employment programs in New York City operated under the federal Job Training Partnership Act. The period studied was from 1989-91.

Known as the Youth Employment Program Assistance Project, it set out to demonstrate that J.T.P.A. programs can help address the development of students' literacy, thinking, and social skills.

Such programs traditionally have focused more on technical job training and placement. In 1984, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the average length of remedial instruction in all J.T.P.A. programs was two weeks. The Job Training Reform Amendments of 1992 were designed, in part, to strengthen the quality of program services.

The Clinton Administration's failed economic-stimulus package had also sought to build a stronger educational component into summer youth-employment programs funded under the J.T.P.A.

'Build a Bridge'

The New York project was conducted at four J.T.P.A. sites, serving several hundred students, that were chosen through a competitive selection process. It was supported by the New York City Department of Employment and several foundations.

In addition to a small grant--$25,000 per year--the sites received ongoing support and technical assistance from the A.E.D., a nonprofit group that specializes in human-development needs.

"Most of the young people in these programs have dropped out of high school,'' said Alexandra Weinbaum, the academy's project director. "We were concerned about the mounting evidence that they are unprepared for and unable to access good jobs. ... Our task was to rethink the educational mission and content of youth-employment programs and to build a bridge between classroom learning and workplace learning.''

As part of the project, each of the programs set aside time for staff members to meet regularly to integrate educational changes into their curricula. The A.E.D. also encouraged them to develop broad learning objectives for students--such as the ability to work in groups--rather than to focus on discrete subskills.

When the project began, the A.E.D. found that writing, reading, and mathematics were taught as isolated subskills and that appropriate reading materials were in short supply.

Among other changes, the project began to use innovative reading and writing activities and technology across the curriculum. In addition, three programs developed thematic units to help integrate their vocational, academic, and life-skills classes.

New Assessment Techniques

Several programs also introduced new assessment techniques, such as portfolios of students' work.

In addition, staff members developed workplace simulations for their students and collected reading materials from worksites to use in computer and basic-skills classes.

Program staff members reported improvements in attendance and student engagement in learning, as well as an increase in the number of students attaining high-school-equivalency degrees. In one program, the number of students achieving their General Educational Development certificates quadrupled from four to 16 between the first and second years of the project.

To improve educational attainment in J.T.P.A. programs, the report recommends training to conduct workplace investigations in local companies where programs hope to place students; greater collaboration with the education community; more intensive staff development focused on educational issues; and the resources needed to devote to planning, reflection, and continued staff training. In addition, the report stresses, progress in learning, G.E.D. achievement, and placements in postsecondary education must be given equal weight with job placement.

Copies of the report are available for $8 each from the academy's office in Washington, 1255 23rd St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037; (202) 862-1900.

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