Shift Vocational Aid, Panel Urged

By Reagan Walker — October 14, 1987 2 min read
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Federal funds for vocational education at the secondary-school level should be shifted to the general curriculum, several experts told the Joint Economic Committee last week.

“Education in schools must focus not on training people for jobs in any narrow sense, but on educating them in ways that will make them capable of learning effectively throughout their working lives,” argued one of the witnesses, Lauren B. Resnick, director of the learning research and development center at the University of Pittsburgh.

Representative James H. Scheuer, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House-Senate panel’s Subcommittee on Education and Health, asked the witnesses if vocational-education funds would be “better spent somewhere else besides teaching kids how to make carriages and buggy whips.”

“I’d break up the ‘vokies’ and take all the money and distribute it to small and medium-sized companies for training,” replied Badi Foster, president of the Aetna Institute for Corporate Education.

“I would let schools compete” with private enterprise in offering vocational training, Mr. Foster continued, “and I bet we would get a bigger bang for the buck.”

Other witnesses, however, were not so quick to embrace the idea of redirecting vocational-education funds.

Paul Barton, associate director of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, said that although he had been a critic of some vocational-education programs, he would hesitate to withdraw money from them. Such programs, he said, can reach a “middle level” of students who respond to “active learning” situations.

Arnold Packer, a senior research fellow at the Hudson Institute, added that some vocational-education programs were “effective” and deserved support.

Adult-Learning Center

Most of the witnesses were in agreement, however, on another is4sue: the lack of research on adult learning.

“Where am I going to get assistance on adult learning?” asked Mr. Foster, who coordinates Aetna’s $35- million employee-education program. “There isn’t a major university that can give me information I need to be effective.”

Ms. Resnick said the adult-education community actually knew very little, in a scientific sense, about the adult learner. “Most research is focused on school-based learning,” she noted.

The witnesses advocated the establishment of a national, federally supported research center focused on adult education. Mr. Packer sug8gested that such a center could bring together the best practices in adult education and then disseminate information about those methods.

The Oct. 5 hearing was the third in a series of eight examining the relationship between education, competitiveness, and the economy.

“The quality of education is increasingly the most important determinant of the quality of America’s workforce,” said Representative Scheuer in his opening statement. “And currently, the quality of education in America is receiving failing grades.”

Most Americans would share that assessment, a new poll by the Opinion Research Corporation indicates. Sixty percent of the adults surveyed said poor preparation of workers by the American school system was an important reason for the United States’ declining performance in world trade. Only the federal budget deficit was seen as a more significant factor in that decline.

But Mr. Barton of naep, ending the hearing on a positive note, expressed confidence in the schools’ ability to make the reforms needed to improve the situation.

“Where we have given the agenda to schools in a forceful way, they have made changes,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 14, 1987 edition of Education Week as Shift Vocational Aid, Panel Urged


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