States Are Moving To Streamline Voc. Ed., Adult Programs

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The federal government has strongly encouraged states to combine their vocational education programs for high school students with workforce-training programs for adults, and several are taking that advice to heart.

Such a move, largely administrative in nature, does not necessarily combine programs on a local level, but can avoid duplication of services and make it easier for states to meet accountability measures set by recent federal legislation.

Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont intend to submit "unified plans" to the Department of Education in April that would combine the administration of high school vocational education with adult education and literacy, postsecondary vocational education, and workforce-investment activities. Other states, including Washington, plan to do so next year.

"In the states where this works, what we can then have is the appropriate services for all the clientele, not duplicate services," said Ron Castaldi, the director of vocational-technical education for the Education Department.

Consolidating the administration will allow states to set expectations for programs more uniformly and tie them more closely to industry standards, said Kathy Finck, Vermont's director of technical and adult education.

"Students are going to have to work harder and put real effort into acquiring the skills for the workforce," she said. "It's not like I can leave my high school program and go get a program that's not as rigorous somewhere else."

Options for States

In implementing the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998, the Education Department is requiring states to submit new plans for vocational education by April 12.

In memos issued this month, the department gave each state the option of submitting a five-year unified plan, a five-year plan that keeps vocational education as a separate program, or a one-year transitional plan.

One of the memos urged states to provide vocational education "in partnership with other state education and workforce-development programs."

Vermont, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are submitting unified plans for high school vocational education and workforce development right away because they've been consolidating these programs anyway, state officials said.

Those states are also looking ahead to the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, scheduled for implementation in 2000, which requires various workforce programs--including postsecondary vocational education--to participate in new "one-stop career centers." While the workforce law doesn't force states to produce unified plans, it does require them to submit memos on how programs will be linked.

Transitional Plans

But because of resistance from conservative groups that feared students would be directed toward specific jobs too early, the law leaves it optional for states to include high school vocational education in one-stop career centers. And if states are to include vocational education in unified plans, they must receive the approval of their legislatures.

Most states have chosen to submit transitional plans for the Perkins Act, thus delaying for one year their decisions on whether to keep high school vocational education separate.

Ohio, however, is one of at least eight states that have no intention of combining vocational education with adult workforce programs. Instead, the state plans to align it with school reform efforts under the Improving America's Schools Act, the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

"We are as concerned about our students' academic success as we are for their occupational and career success," said Joanna Kister, the state's director of vocational and adult education.

She worries that vocational education programs would lose their distinct quality of preparing students for postsecondary education as well as specific jobs if they were lumped in with adult programs.

Mr. Castaldi said many states will not submit unified plans this year because they don't have time to pull them together by April. But only those states that do will be eligible for the first round of funding incentives under the Workforce Investment Act.

While some states, such as Ohio, have good reasons for administering the programs separately, Mr. Castaldi said, the department is requiring them to put in those reasons in writing.

Vol. 18, Issue 20, Page 17

Published in Print: January 27, 1999, as States Are Moving To Streamline Voc. Ed., Adult Programs
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