School-to-Work Initiative Goes Beyond Apprenticeships

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ANNAPOLIS, MD.--The Clinton Administration's school-to-work initiative appears to have been broadened beyond youth apprenticeships to embrace a wider variety of programs at the state and local levels.

The Administration's proposed budget for fiscal 1994 includes $270 million for a school-to-work initiative, to be planned and administered jointly by the Education and Labor departments. Funding would rise to $500 million in future years.

At a meeting here last week of the National Association of State Directors of Vocational Technical Education, Ricky Takai, the Education Department's acting assistant secretary for vocational education, said the Administration hopes to send a school-to-work-transition bill to Congress by early to mid-June.

He said the initiative is likely to build upon the array of approaches that have been adopted at the state level--including youth apprenticeships, "tech prep,'' career academies, and co-op education--rather than upon a single strategy.

Earlier, it appeared possible that Mr. Clinton would stress youth apprenticeships to the exclusion of other approaches.

Mr. Takai said states and communities would be given substantial flexibility and discretion in shaping school-to-work systems, but that they would be required to share some principles and elements.

Although the Administration is still weighing what those elements would be, they might include:

  • The need to restructure high schools as part of building a new school-to-work-transition system.

Such schools would integrate academic and vocational education far more than at present and provide intensive career counseling.

  • Structured learning in the workplace to complement and enhance classroom instruction.
  • The use of voluntary national skill standards to guide curricula, assessments, and certification in the new system.
  • Stronger and more structured linkages with postsecondary education that would allow students to obtain an industry-recognized certificate and advance in a college-degree program, if they chose.
  • State and local governance structures that would include representatives of business, education, labor, and government. They would design the new system, insure its responsiveness to local labor markets, and monitor its performance.

Four-Part Strategy

The Administration is considering a four-part implementation strategy, modeled after the National Science Foundation's Statewide Systemic Initiative, which gives grants to states to improve science, mathematics, and technology instruction through comprehensive changes in their education systems.

Next October or November, the Administration would begin to award planning grants to states, said Raymond Uhalde, the head of the office of strategic planning and policy development in the Labor Department's employment and training administration.

Probably after July 1994, implementation grants would be awarded to states that are ready to move forward with a systemic plan that is consistent with the core elements and principles outlined by the federal government. In other states, communities that are ready to move forward with their own plans would get grants as well.

The federal government would monitor states' progress against a set of performance outcomes. In addition, it would support a national program of research and development, evaluation, technical assistance, and dissemination.

At least for fiscal 1994, new legislation would not be needed to begin spending the money, Mr. Uhalde said.

"We think we can do some of all four steps within current authorities,'' he noted, including Title IV of the Job Training Partnership Act and vocational-education research-and-demonstration programs.

Key Issues Still Open

Nonetheless, many issues remain unresolved, according to the policy analyst. These include:

  • What kind of incentives, if any, should be provided to employers to participate in such initiatives?
  • What steps are needed to insure that disadvantaged youths have equal access to such programs, and how much emphasis should be placed on in-school versus out-of-school youths?
  • Should the new governance structures focus solely on the school-to-work transition or be part of a broader workforce-development system, and should the federal government prescribe the structure or just the functions of such entities?
  • How should the initiative be administered within the federal government?
  • How can efforts to develop a new school-to-work system proceed at the same time that skill standards are being developed?

Vol. 12, Issue 32

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