Published: August 24, 2004

School-to-Work

Faced with their first job or first year in college, some high school graduates realize they were not quite prepared for the practical application of their school work-or for the interpersonal relations at work or in postsecondary classes.

Educators nationwide are confronting this problem by introducing school-to-work or school-to-career programs to make the transition easier. School-to-work introduces high school students to a range of career options. The programs aim to make the work environment less daunting and more of an active learning environment.

School-to-work cannot solve all that ails schools. When implemented successfully, though, it can help students make connections between what they learn and life beyond the classroom. Ideally, school-to-work also broadens how content is taught, asking that teachers also make links between content and the "real world." School-to-work programs ideally include school-based learning, work-based learning, and connecting activities. School-based learning is the classroom instruction that prepares students for work, while work-based learning is the actual on-the-job experience. Connecting activities include mentoring and other initiatives that provide a link between school and work.

Critics say school-to-work programs force schools to cater to an industry's needs for workers, thereby limiting students' educational options too early. They charge that the laws reflect dangerous and potentially expensive federal and state intrusion into education, which they feel should remain a local and family matter.

But proponents say such fears are unfounded. They contend that a good school-to-work program strengthens academics while helping students make connections between school and work, increasing students' motivation and focus throughout high school. Supporters also deny that work-based learning will irrevocably slot middle or high school students into future jobs. Instead, they say, such programs give youths skills that are transferable to any job. And employers' increased confidence in the competence of the future workforce cannot be underestimated.

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