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Vocational Education Column

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Students do not need to be taught on the job to learn work-related attitudes and generic skills, such as problem-solving, according to researchers from the RAND Corporation.

A reliance on work-based programs, such as youth apprenticeships, may be unwarranted and needlessly restrict training options, the researchers suggest.

Their conclusions are based on ethnographic studies of eight high school classrooms that varied widely in subject matter, ranging from English to architectural drafting. But all shared common features.

Teachers in the classrooms had a mix of instructional goals that included complex reasoning skills, cooperative learning, and work-related attitudes, in addition to subject-specific knowledge.

They required students to work together on projects that resembled real-world activities. To varying degrees, they also tried to simulate actual workplaces, with an interior-design class running much like an interior-design firm, for example.

The role of the teachers was primarily that of expert consultant. Teachers did little lecturing and relied heavily on modeling to demonstrate how an expert practitioner carried out a task or thought through a problem. Learning was personalized and not regulated by a textbook or lesson plan.

Although such classrooms owed their success to the teacher, and not to the larger school context, the researchers found, autonomy appeared to contribute to the instructors' ability to design classrooms that worked. Among those studied, vocational teachers were given more automony because administrators considered them to be outside the school mainstream.

Copies of the reports, "Classrooms That Work: Teaching Generic Skills in Academic and Vocational Settings,'' and "Teaching and Learning Generic Skills for the Workplace,'' are available from the RAND Corporation, P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, Calif., 90407-2138; (310) 393-0411.


Even entry-level jobs in New York City's "competitive edge'' businesses, like financial and business services, will soon require a college degree or specialized training, according to a survey by the New York Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

More than half of the 316 executives surveyed gave a failing grade to the city's public schools. Four out of five business leaders said schools do not emphasize basic skills. Another 79 percent said students lack critical-thinking skills and 71 percent cited a lack of job skills.

Eighty percent of those surveyed for the chamber by the Price Waterhouse Survey Research Center said the school system suffers from poor management.
--L.O.

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