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Career-Education 'Insult' Disregards a Good Record

To the Editor:

W. Norton Grubb's Commentary this past summer on school-to-work programs ("True Reform or Tired Retread?: Seven Questions To Ask About School-to-Work Programs," Commentary, Aug. 3, 1994) raises several pertinent questions. It deserves careful study. However, it contains one serious error that should be corrected. That error can be found in Mr. Grubb's statement that "the efforts to install work-experience programs and career education just 20 years ago were utter failures. ... "

This description is both unfair and untrue. I expect that "work experience" advocates will raise equally strong objections to this insult, but I will confine my reply to career education, an area I have studied in some depth, having served as the first and only director of the U.S. Education Department's office of career education (from 1974 to 1982).

There is considerable evaluative evidence verifying the effectiveness of career education. In a meta-analysis of 984 outcome studies conducted between 1971 and 1980, my colleague Sidney High and I found that 419 produced statistically significant results favoring the career-education treatment. In addition, Debbie Bonnet reported in 1977 that, of 247 outcome studies involving experimental-control comparisons, 53 produced statistically significant differences favoring experimental over control pupils. Both the quantity and the quality of evaluative studies of career education were extensive during the decade of the 1970's. These kinds of findings led Ben Brodinsky in 1979 to declare career education "alive and doing well" after a full decade, and to characterize the undertaking as that decade's "moderate success story." At the very least, it seems clear that career education has not been an "utter failure."

Moreover, when Congress repealed the Career Education Incentive Act (P.L. 95-207) in 1981, it was following the suggestion of the Reagan Administration to repeal a number of pieces of federal education legislation carrying low price tags. Federal career-education legislation was not repealed because of unfavorable evidence concerning its effectiveness. It would be much more truthful to say it was repealed in spite of considerable evidence showing it to be effective. Career education's only trouble was that it was small and thus assumed by the Reagan budget-cutters to be easy to abandon.

If career education were an "utter failure," it would have disappeared from America's K-12 school systems shortly after federal funding was repealed in 1981. That didn't happen. The National Career Education Leaders Communication Network, established in 1982, has had between 400 and 600 members each year, with members in almost every state, as well as in several foreign countries. In addition, the American Association for Career Education also has several hundred members and continues to function as a strong voice for career education. Among the states where career education is most active is Ohio, where a strong career-education law was recently enacted. Career education was not and is not an "utter failure."

Many of the kinds of "school-based learning" called for by the School-to-Work Opportunities Act are obvious components of what is properly known as "career education." These include: efforts to install a "careers" emphasis in classrooms, beginning in the elementary school years; helping K-12 teachers infuse "careers" topics into the teaching and learning process; activities aimed at integrating academic and vocational education; career-awareness projects beginning at the elementary school level; career-exploration projects beginning at the middle school level; involvement of parents in career development of their children; and informal partnerships between K-12 school systems and business and industry.

If career education had been an "utter failure," it seems unlikely that these kinds of process-change approaches to educational reform would have been included in this legislation.

Finally, career-education advocates will be pleased to learn that both the tech-prep and the school-to-work-opportunities legislation go beyond what is typically included in career education. To supplement the process changes called for by career education with the kinds of structural changes proposed by Mr. Grubb may well help produce more favorable results. So, too, may the various kinds of "work-based learning" included in the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. Career education is properly regarded as being necessary but not sufficient in career development. Because this is so in no way justifies referring to career education as an "utter failure." On the contrary, it seems much more likely to hypothesize that the kinds of structural approaches to educational reform proposed by Mr. Grubb are unlikely to be effective unless and until they are accompanied by the kinds of process approaches to change proposed by career education.

Kenneth B. Hoyt
University Distinguished Professor
Kansas State University
Manhattan, Kan.

Helms E.S.E.A. Amendment:More Reporting, Please

To the Editor:

I was surprised that nothing appeared in your Sept. 14, 1994, issue on the Smith-Helms amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization bill, which would bar the use of E.S.E.A. money for programs that "support or encourage" homosexuality. Then, in the Sept. 21, 1994, edition, I found a five-page article on Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher who has revealed his homosexuality to his class. I would like to assume this article was intentionally published at this time.

I would still like to see something specifically addressing the proposed ammendments on "encouraging or separating homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative" and their message to young people, as well as their program implications for schools that believe in and practice equal opportunity and access for all.

I have just subscribed to your publication and know that you have a powerful readership. I sat in a meeting yesterday where the superintendent quoted you on outcomes-based education and the Littleton, Colo., experience with performance-based graduation requirements.

Please, for the sake of so many of our students at risk, report on these amendments as they go through committee.

Jane Ballowa
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction
New Paltz, N.Y.

Vol. 14, Issue 06

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