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Replace 'General' Track With Career Programs, Report Urges

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Washington

A new federal vocational-education report calls for replacing the "general'' track in high schools with career-preparation programs that meld academic and vocational studies.

The recommendation is one of dozens made by researchers in the National Assessment of Vocational Education. But it is the linchpin of the study's proposals to restructure education for students not bound for college.

"The general track in secondary education is the weakest,'' the report states.

It recommends that future legislation "encourage states and districts to eliminate the general track and to fold vocational education into a broader system designed to prepare students for careers.''

Under a model system outlined in the report, students would "major'' in an occupational or industry cluster. Course requirements would be flexible so that students would graduate from high school with a number of career options.

Some students in the health-care cluster, for example, would leave high school and become licensed practical nurses. Others might pursue further schooling, enrolling in a two-year college for training as a health-care technician or a four-year college in preparation for medical school.

Core courses such as American history, English, and math still would be taught, but, where possible, academic instruction would be given a vocational context.

Traditional vocational courses that train students in specific job skills would be limited to a few students nearing completion of the program.

Instead, the vocational component of a student's program would include study of all aspects of an industry. Carpentry students, for example, might study construction management, labor relations, and environmental regulations.

The Model in Use

Several states have already adopted programs similar in approach. Tennessee last fall adopted a new policy that, beginning in 1995, will require high school freshmen to select a curriculum path to prepare for either college or technical training. (See Education Week, Sept. 23, 1993.)

A number of the report's other recommendations continue the theme of marrying academic and vocational programs.

All new vocational teachers should be required to have a bachelor's degree with pre-service training in education, the report urges. Researchers found that 12 percent of current secondary vocational teachers do not have those credentials.

Academic teachers, meanwhile, should have "more of an orientation to the world of work,'' imparted through courses in business and technology or teaching methods.

The Education Department's office of educational research and improvement prepared the five-volume, 800-page study as a national snapshot of vocational education in high schools and post-secondary institutions. The department released an interim report in December. (See Education Week, Jan. 19, 1994.)

The final report includes seven new chapters covering such topics as educational outcomes of vocational courses and employer involvement and satisfaction.

A new survey of 2,800 employers nationwide that is included in the final report shows that 82 percent of those familiar with high school vocational-education programs in their area rate their quality as "good,'' "very good,'' or "excellent.''

Upcoming Perkins Rewrite

The report was mandated in 1990 amendments to the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, the main federal law affecting vocational education. It was intended to help Congress prepare to reauthorize the Perkins Act again in 1995.

A 1989 assessment recommended integrating academic and vocational programs, which became a main theme of Congressional work on the Perkins Act in 1990.

Many of the study's recommendations "seem to point in the same direction as the Clinton Administration is headed,'' said John F. Jennings, the chief education counsel for the House Education and Labor Committee.

The report's recommendations for increased academic standards, improved links between employers and programs, and better integration of academics and career planning build on the President's initiatives to promote national standards and improve the school-to-work transition, Mr. Jennings said.

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