Panel Calls For Improvements in Voc.-Ed. Programs

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Washington--Vocational-education programs in the nation's secondary schools are in need of "some important and fundamental changes" in how their teachers are trained and their skills-training programs are funded if they are to improve employment opportunities for their graduates.

That is the conclusion of a committee of educators, business executives, and labor leaders convened by the National Research Council--the research branch of the National Academy of Sciences--to examine vocational education's role in the nation's economic development. The study was sponsored by the U.S. Education Department's office of vocational and adult education.

The committee's report, "Education for Tomorrow's Jobs," recommends several measures designed to strengthen vocational programs, especially in the comprehensive high school, and to assure that educationally and economically disadvantaged students have access "to high-quality'' training programs. The committee's findings are based on a review of recent studies of vocational education.

Susan W. Sherman, project director for the committee, said the report reflects a consensus of opinion on the 15-member panel. She said the report will be distributed to key legislators and their aides and that a symposium on the report's recommendations is being planned for later this year.

Although it said significant improvements are needed in the programs of comprehensive high schools, which have long been considered the weakest of all the settings in which vocational training takes place, the committee also found many strong vocational programs throughout the country that had collaborative ties to the private sector.

Low Status of Programs

The committee cited the low status of vocational programs within the comprehensive high schools as one of their key problems.

"Vocational education is a vital part of the public-education system in this country, one that has long been slighted in favor of academic education," the report contends.

Although the committee acknowledges that overcoming that problem through legislation "seems virtually impossible," it nevertheless advocates that the status of vocational-education programs be raised to equal that of college-preparatory programs.

According to Education Department statistics, there are about 10.5 million secondary students enrolled in one or more vocational courses.

Ms. Sherman affirmed "that there are already effective collaborative efforts" between vocational programs and business, and that the incentives are there for businesses to be involved with the schools. But she added: "Those incentives don't exist for employers to collaborate with weaker vocational programs. There needs to be sufficient improvement so that employers will want to collaborate."

The committee recommends the following changes:

Funding. Program funding should include factors that determine program costs, such as equipment, the salaries of teachers and administrators, and remediation for disadvantaged students. (Funding for vocational programs is now generally based on enrollment and attendance.)

Schedules should be devised that would permit the sharing of expensive equipment among public and private schools, and the leasing of equipment for short-term programs.

An experimental program should be initiated, financed by the federal government, that would make incentive grants available to needy students. The grants, which could be used for vocational training in either public or private schools, would help make the programs more accessible to disadvantaged students, according to the committee.

Teachers. Certification of vocational-education teachers should be modified so that more individuals with occupational training or experience in industry can be recruited. Certification should be based on "judged competence in both teaching and the relevant occupation rather than on completion of a bachelor's degree in teacher education, which may be largely irrelevant to vocational-education programs," the committee's report states.

Furthermore, inservice training programs for vocational-education teachers should offer "a variety of opportunities for teachers with different strengths and weaknesses." Internships with private industry should be made available on a regular basis so that "all vocational-education teachers can sharpen their occupational skills and knowledge," the report adds.

The committee also recommends that more part-time vocational teachers be hired. Differential pay scales and rewards should be provided for exemplary teachers, it suggests.

The committee was chaired by Colin C. Blaydon, dean of the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

Other participants included Francis T. Tuttle, director of vocational education for the Oklahoma Department of Education; Wilson C. Riles, former California superintendent of public instruction; William A. Morrill, president of Mathematica Policy Research; Charles S. Benson, professor of economics of education, University of California at Berkeley; Charles E. Bradford, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; Pat Choate, senior policy analyst, TRW Inc; Pedro Garza, president, ser-Jobs for Progress; James M. Howell, vice president and chief economist, First National Bank of Boston; Janice Madden, associate professor of regional science, University of Pennsylvania; Paul E. Peterson, program director for governmental studies, Brookings Institution; George R. Quarles, chief administrator of the office of occupational and career education, New York City Board of Education; Isabel V. Sawhill, senior fellow and economist, The Urban Institute; Richard F. Schubert, president, American Red Cross; and David A. Wise, Stambaugh Professor of Political Economy, Harvard University.

Vol. 03, Issue 04

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