Recommendations: Finishing the Agenda

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For over seven months, this commission has examined secondary vocational education. Site visits and hearings across the country have been conducted by teams and individual commissioners. We solicited and received reams of written testimony.

The common theme in this mass of oral and written information is the diversity of the vocational-education enterprise. This diversity ranges from strong differences of opinion on the value of local comprehensive high schools versus regional vocational schools to differing perceptions of the fundamental purpose of vocational education in the high school. There is diversity in many aspects of vocational programs: quality and status, their expectations and outcomes, their instructional approaches, their counseling and career planning programs. Wide differences exist across urban, suburban, and rural districts and in access and equity issues. Finally, there is diversity from one state or district to another in their commitment to vocational education as a mainstream component of every young person's education.

It is not this commission's intent to recommend a single approach to vocational education. We believe that some diversity is necessary to account for local, district, and regional needs. We also believe that a wide variety of innovative vocational approaches are needed to reach and accommodate the differences in student population.

In our review of the role of secondary vocational education, we have found that all secondary students need a balance of both academic and vocational experiences to prepare themselves for life in a changing world. We visited high schools where this was happening.

The issue is quality. Lack of quality has been the dominant theme in all of the reports examining academic education over the past several years. Quality is a major issue in vocational education. All of the recommendations are set in that context. No single group can enact all these recommendations. Recognizing the complexity and diversity of vocational education, many groups--public and private, in and out of education--must cooperate to achieve the quality and direction needed to put vocational education where it belongs. In identifying the recommendations set forth here, we have been mindful of the various constituencies that have an interest in vocational education, not the least of which are the vocational administrators and teachers who must ultimately carry out any change. But the driving force behind every recommendation has been concern for the student. These recommendations are designed to give every young person in America the opportunity and the right to experience the best of academic and vocational education. For some time to come, this is the unfinished agenda.


We have made six recommendations pertaining to problems of access to vocational education. Each is intended to extend and enrich the benefits of vocational preparation to all secondary students.

All students should be able to choose from a comprehensive set of course offerings across academic and vocational areas.

Student participation in extracurricular and school social activities must not be limited for those students who have enrolled in vocational areas of concentration.

Systematic programs of interest and aptitude assessment, career planning, and occupational information designed to facilitate student curriculum choices must be available to all students.

School counselor functions need to include cooperative activity with teachers, the use of group guidance techniques, computer-assisted guidance, comprehensive career-information systems, and related methods designed to provide career guidance to all students.

Counselor-student ratios should not exceed one counselor per 250 students.

While we recognize the need to consolidate some programs into regional-area vocational centers and vocational high schools, vocational education should take place primarily in the comprehensive high school.


Equity of educational opportunity is a deeply cherished American ideal that ought not, and need not, be compromised to serve a false sense of excellence. We make four recommendations pertaining to equity intended to reduce the stigma associated with certain courses of study and to ensure that school officials aggressively pursue the full participation of special student groups in vocational courses and programs.

State and local school officials must guarantee educational equity in their schools. This includes full participation of special-population youth and potential dropouts.

Schools should not provide separate tracks that lead to distinct diplomas.

States and local schools should undertake the use of individualized employability-development plans with all students to coordinate instructional support services and career planning.

School administrators, counselors, and vocational teachers must guarantee that males and females have equal access to and are recruited for all vocational offerings. Information on sex bias, stereotyping, and discrimination must be incorporated into the instructional program and guidance services.


We make six recommendations pertaining to curriculum. Three recommendations focus on needed improvements in the content of vocational courses. Three other recommendations focus on mandated curricular requirements. Both are equally important in developing an integrated curriculum.

States should not mandate curricular requirements that restrict students' opportunities to participate in vocational-education experiences.

Secondary vocational-education courses should provide instruction and practice in the basic skills of reading, writing, arithmetic, speaking, listening, and problem-solving. This addresses the current demand for the new basics without locking all students into the academic classroom.

In addition to developing occupational skills, secondary vocational courses must develop self-esteem, positive attitudes toward work, safe work habits, job-seeking skills, and other general employability skills.

Vocational-education courses must be enriched and diversified to make these courses attractive to all students, including the college bound.

Students should be allowed to satisfy some requirements for high-school graduation--for example in the areas of mathematics, science, English, or social study--with selected courses in areas of vocational education that are comparable in content coverage and rigor.

State and local educational administrators should provide the opportunity for all vocational students to participate in recognized vocational student organizations.

Teacher Recruitment

And Preparation

We recommend that action be taken by university teacher educators and local school officials to upgrade the quality and performance of vocational classroom teachers. The five parts of this recommendation pertain to recruitment, preservice teacher education, certification, and inservice teacher preparation.

Universities should offer credit for applicable work experience, including credit toward a baccalaureate degree.

Certification of all teachers should include both an academic program and work-experience record of demonstrated mastery in their field.

Competitive salaries and other incentives must be provided to attract and retain teachers.

Upgrading opportunities for vocational teachers, counselors, administrators, and teacher educators should be provided through a combination of workshops, seminars, coursework for credit, and back-to-industry work experience.

All vocational teacher-education programs must be improved to reflect recent research and development on teaching, learning, and instructional technology.

Standards and Accountability

Current program standards and accountability measures are useful but not central to issues of teaching and learning. Therefore, our one recommendation is that the effectiveness of vocational instruction should be judged by before-after changes in student knowledge, skills, and attitudes.


Articulation--meaning close interaction among different levels of education--occurs both vertically, across grade levels, and laterally, among school and non-school providers of employment-related education and training. We believe that such coordination and cooperation must move from the realm of rhetoric into the world of practice. Our two recommendations are directed at key actors and actions to achieve this goal.

Principals must provide for curriculum coordination across all academic and vocational-education subject areas and throughout all educational levels.

Within state policy guidelines, each secondary school should formulate or contribute to a meaningful and cost-efficient regional plan for providing employment-related education. Such plans should include policies and formal arrangements among elementary and junior high schools, community colleges, and other employment-training-related organizations.


Effective leadership at local, state, and federal levels is central to improving and expanding vocational education. We make six recommendations directed to these groups.

Federal leadership must ensure that appropriate vocational-education opportunities are available for the educationally disadvantaged.

Federal funding should be increased to support research and development on vocational education, experimental and innovative programs, and the collection and dissemination of information.

State leadership should initiate and coordinate the articulation of academic and vocational curricula.

Local school officials, from central office administrators to building administrators, are responsible for the image of vocational education in their schools and school districts and must make certain that vocational programs are not used as a "dumping ground."

State agencies and local schools should use federal allocations to supplement, not supplant, state and local funds for vocational education.

State and local policymakers should provide more encouragement and funds to develop, test, and disseminate innovative vocational-education programs.

Business, Labor, and Community

We make two straightforward recommendations about expanding the critical role of business, labor, and the community in vocational education.

Schools must involve business, labor, and the community in such vital areas as teacher development, curriculum update and evaluation, career education, and student employability.

Business and labor must seek out opportunities to work with schools to improve what goes on in the classroom.

Field-Based Learning

Field-based learning is grossly underutilized. Therefore, we recommend that supervised, field-based learning experiences be made available to all secondary students. Cooperative education must be a "capstone'' element in all vocational-education programs.

The Vocational Education


Governance and Funding

Public vocational education in America is:

funded primarily by state and local government--almost $9 billion annually

assisted by federal funds--over $900 million in 1984, or about 10 percent of total dollars spent for programs.


In 1978, 15,706 public comprehensive or vocational high schools offered vocational education.

There are almost 1,394 area secondary vocational schools (or centers) that may serve several attendance units within a single district or may serve several districts.


In 1978, there were more than 354,000 vocational-education teachers at the secondary, postsecondary, and adult levels. Nearly half (42 percent) taught at the secondary level.

Roughly 24 percent of the secondary vocational teachers teach on a part-time basis. Most of these part-time teachers hold regular positions in private industry.

Participation in Vocational


In 1982, 27 percent of all high-school seniors described the high-school program in which they were enrolled as vocational.

75 percent of all 1982 graduates of public high schools had taken at least one vocational course that could be described as occupational, that is, a course designed to provide intensive preparation for a specific occupation.

95 percent of all 1982 graduates of public high schools had earned some credit in vocational courses.

Vocational courses are usually classified in nine subject-matter areas: agriculture, business, marketing, technical, health, trades and industry, vocational home economics, industrial arts, and consumer home economics.

Coursework is also classified as occupational or exploratory. Occupational vocational courses prepare participants for specific semi-skilled, skilled, or technical occupations. Exploratory vocational courses do not directly relate to paid employment and typically provide an introduction to or overview of a particular subject area.

Public-school graduates of lower socioeconomic status and those with lower cognitive test scores tended to earn more vocational credits than those of higher socioeconomic status and in higher test groups.

Hispanic graduates of public high schools earned more credits in vocational education than did their black or white counterparts.

If ability is controlled, blacks are more likely than whites to enroll in an academic program.

Outcomes of Vocational Education

Among males, twice as many vocational concentrators as nonvocational graduates worked in craft occupations (33 percent versus 15 percent).

Among females, 61 percent of vocational concentrators worked in clerical occupations, whereas 37 percent of nonvocational graduates did.

Male secondary students who enroll in vocational education are approximately eight times more likely to be self-employed than are males who did not take vocational education. However, the experience for women is the opposite--seldom are women who took secondary vocational education self-employed.


Digest of Education Statistics: 1982 (p. 158) U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics.

National Center for Education Statistics. "The Condition of Education." Prepared by M.A. Golladay and R.M. Wulfsberg. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education. 1981.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, High School and Designed Study. 1980 Sophomore Cohort. Data File User's Manual. 1983.

National Center for Education Statistics. "The Condition of Education." Prepared by V.W. Plisko. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education. 1984.

Berryman, S. Vocational Education and the Work Establishment of Youth (N-1475-ASC). Santa Monica, Calif.: The Rand Corporation. 1980.

Campbell, P.B., Orth, M.N., and Seitz, P. Patterns of Participation in Secondary Vocational Education. Columbus, Ohio: The National Center for Research in Vocational Education; The Ohio State University. July 1981.

McCaslin, N.L. "Outcomes Associated with Participation in Secondary Vocational Education: A Synthesis of Recent Studies at the National Center for Research in Vocational Education." Columbus, Ohio: The National Center for Research in Vocational Education. The Ohio State University. April 1984.

Vol. 04, Issue 13

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