16 Innovative School-to-Work Programs Evaluated

By Lynn Olson — February 16, 1994 3 min read

School-to-work programs can serve a broad cross section of students--including those who are disadvantaged or low achieving--while still maintaining high quality, a report released last week concludes.

The study by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation examines 16 innovative school-to-work programs in 12 states.

The experiences of the programs are particularly relevant given the expected passage of federal school-to-work legislation this spring. The measure currently before Congress would provide up to $300 million in seed money next year for states and communities to launch school-to-work systems. (See story, page 17.)

“These programs represent an important response to two issues at the top of the nation’s domestic agenda: how to give our young people the skills needed to compete in the global economy and how to educate all of America’s youth--including the 75 percent who will not graduate from four-year colleges or who are disadvantaged and at risk of dropping out of school,’' said Robert Ivry, the senior vice president of the M.D.R.C. and the study’s director.

The study disputes the view that school-to-work programs deny students the chance to attend college. It found that many programs actually increased teenagers’ preparation for postsecondary education, since students became more engaged in school and typically took more mathematics and science courses than previously planned.

The report advocates beginning school-to-work programs, many of which currently start in the 11th grade, as early as grade 9. Eleven of the 16 programs studied began before the junior year, at a point when students still have time to make up for any academic or motivational problems.

The study also found that a crucial--but frequently overlooked--feature of many programs was their provision of personal support for students. Such structures ranged from “schools within schools’’ to the use of adult mentors.

‘Customized Hybrids’

The 16 programs included in the study ran the gamut of school-to-work initiatives, from career academies to youth apprenticeships. Researchers visited each site twice and used lengthy, structured interviews to collect comparable data. Focus groups held with students and parents gained their perspectives on the programs.

In practice, the report found, most of the programs were “customized hybrids’’ that used elements drawn from a range of school-to-work models. These features were then adapted to fit local needs.

“The challenge,’' said Edward Pauly, the study’s senior author and lead researcher, “will be whether these and similar programs can expand to serve large numbers of high school students nationwide.’'

The size and breadth of the 16 programs varied, from schoolwide programs serving more than 1,000 students to youth apprenticeships serving fewer than 10.

Few employers--even large ones--provided more than three work-based-learning positions for students at any one time. As a result, the programs faced continual struggles to recruit new employers. In some cases, they opted to serve more students by providing less intensive summer internships.

Operating costs also varied widely. Some schools used only their normal per-pupil expenditure, while others spent up to an additional $1,500 per student annually.

Such costs were primarily affected by the use of staff, such as hiring a program coordinator, reducing the number of students per teacher, and paying for planning time.

Copies of the report, “Home-Grown Lessons: Innovative Programs Linking Work and High School,’' are available for $12 each from the Publications Department, M.D.R.C., 3 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; (212) 532-3200.

In addition, a guide to creating high-quality worksite experiences for students is available for $12.