Tech Prep and School to Work: Working Together to Foster Educational Reform
As we transition from Tech Prep into a School-To-Work (STW) System, it is
essential that we read from the same page. We will explore how Tech Prep
will become an integral, functioning part of your successful STW
Opportunity, discussing the background as well as the expectations of what
is required to succesfully function in the School-To-Work environment.
Tech Prep (TP), and now School To Work (STW), have been referred to as
the most exciting initiatives in education in decades (Hull & Parnell,
1991). Indeed we can look upon the advent of these two strategies as an
Educational Renaissance, a rebirth of quality, standards and ability. The
opportunity, as well as the challenge is for TP+STW to be the major part
of the educational reform presently taking place.
As former President Bush said, "The days of the status quo are over."
Bush's statement, plus America 2000 by U.S. Secretary of Education
Alexander (1991), and the SCANS Report by U.S. Secretary of Labor
Martin (1991) document Alexander's (1991) statement that "we are talking
about a revolution in education."
TP, accompanied by STW, if perceived and implemented correctly by all
educators, can be the model, or key to much of the crucially needed
educational reform and revolution. Now is the time, not for lip service
to the business world, but for our actions. Until the education system
can achieve credibility both within its own ranks as well as outside, all
educational reforms are doomed to failure.
According to Dr. James L. Hoerner (1991), we are rushing forth throughout
the nation, launching TP programs in every state in response to the
Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act (Congressional Record,
101st Congress 2nd Session, September 25, 1990) without having identified
the basic constructs or the underlying philosophy upon which the concept
of TP (School to Work) should be built. Based upon the research of
Hoerner, Clowes and Impara3 prior to July 1, 1991, there were
approximately 380 Tech Prep programs in the United States. Based upon
research from the Center for Occupational Research and Development, as of
August 1994, TP was being implemented in every state as well as many
countries outside of the United States. Applied mathematics, science
(biology and chemistry), and principles of technology (applied physics)
courses are to be found in over 35,900 classes. According to CORDis
figures over 2,337,000 students have been exposed to these applied
This rapid growth is not detrimental to education
if a sound philosophy and mission are used for TP programs. But as the
Carl Perkins Act (1990) comes up for renewal, perhaps the biggest factor
against TP is the lack of baselines in many TP sites. Practitioners of
the higher level applied academic courses will jump forward to bestow the
virtues of the materials as well as demonstrate improved test scores and
a decrease in drop out rates, but unfortunately, the baselines in many
cases were never carefully and fully recorded.
Tech Prep-A Working Definition?
Not only does each Tech Prep site need to establish a definition, but the
country as a whole needs to agree upon a common definition. TP is not a
new name for vocational education; it is not a new name for cooperative
education. Indeed it is not even a four year program that must lead to an
associate degree. In reality Tech Prep does not have to involve a
community college. The law states two years of postsecondary education
that can be an apprenticeship or a university that offers a two year
Another popular misconception is that TP is exclusively a high-tech
program. The act says in section 347(3), the term Tech Prep education
means a combined secondary/postsecondary program .... consist(s) of 2
years of secondary... and 2 years of higher education, or an
apprenticeship program of at least 2 years following secondary
instruction with a common core of required proficiency in mathematics,
science, communications, and technologies designed to lead to an
associate degree or certificate in a specific career field... and leads
to ... effective employment placement or transfer of students to 4- year
baccalaureate degree programs....
Simply put, TP is an articulated educational program of two years high
school and two years postsecondary education that includes a common core
of math, science, communications and technologies that are designed to
lead to an associate degree or certificate within a specific career
field. This often includes many other subjects / courses. In many cases
this can be pictured as 2 + 2, 4 + 2 or 2+2+2 or even 2+4+2+2. The
algebraic numbers can just keep growing.
Perhaps far more important is
the fact that TP should develop programs, community by community that
will meet local needs, current and projected.
There is no ideal model. What will work in one area will not by necessity
transfer to another area. Even within TP consortia, programs are
For the two years of high school to work there must be a very strong
prior foundation. Indeed, it can be argued that TP should start in the
pre-kindergarten level and proceed throughout a lifetime of life-long
learning. Early preparatory or exploration/discovery courses are
essential to create and maintain a cohesive TP program.
The critical factor is not how TP is defined, but rather how it is
perceived by the students, parents and the public. If TP is seen as just
another vocational program and a dumping ground for non college bound
students, then TP will fail. Every TP program must educate its community
on the value and importance of technology in the 21st Century. The
perception of vocational and academic programs being unrelated must end.
The Traditional Mindset Must Change
If education was subject to the Lemon Law, we would all have been out of
business many years ago. The product that has been turned out of
Americas' high schools has not met the rigorous standards of global
competition. The status of high school diplomas has eroded so badly that
the entry level qualification has risen to that of an associate degree.
According to the Wall Street Journal (1988, 27), the average
monthly income of a worker with an associate degree is almost three times
that of a worker with only a high school diploma ($1,188 per month versus
$415 per month). Willard Wirtz, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, summed it
up when he said, "There aren't two worlds, education and work; there is
one world-life. Learning by hands-on participation .... should be at the
heart of our educational perspective"( Grant Foundation, 1988, 3).
The educational system of the United States was based upon the British
educational system that was driven by class and socioeconomic values. Yet
when the British recognized their failure in the early 1960s and revised
their secondary education system, it took the United States nearly 25
years to follow. Educators in America have not felt the need to
facilitate learning through an applied mode. Indeed, even when presented
with evidence that application-based learning produces better and
longer-lasting results, many educators still turn away. "A lot of
teachers, consciously or unconsciously, reinforce the idea that education
is pointless unless you are going on to college ... schools need to do
better representing the new reality of the job market to these kids. We
need a kind of cultural change all across the system, to sell young
people on the relationship between good jobs and skills" (New York
Times, 1989, p. 27).
In any industry the most valuable commodity or resource is the worker.
Human resource development is a major priority throughout the business
world. U.S. Assistant Secretary for Vocational Education, Betsy Brand
(1990) stated that, "We need a mind-set change among educators at all
levels regarding their role in human resource development." Mother and
the family are the starting point in the
never ending course of human resource development; however, we as
teachers have the responsibility to continue and expand that development.
Many teachers still see themselves as math teachers, history teachers,
home economic teachers, etc. Elementary school teachers break down
subject related boundaries far more often than their middle school and
high school counterparts. The time has come when all teachers need to
reevaluate their role in the developmental process of the child. Barriers
must be taken down; discovery and application must be initiated across
Restructuring the Curriculum via Integration
Many have discussed the role of education in human resource development.
Johnston and Packer (1987) in Workplace 2000 set the stage with
their statement that education and training are the primary systems by
which the human capital of a nation is preserved and increased. The
document Building a Quality Workforce further elaborated on the
responsibilities of education in preparing the workforce in the
statement, "Education has the primary responsibility for initially
preparing the entry level workforce." They did not say preparing only the
top 20-30% of the workforce (Johnston & Packer, 46).
Education is the pathway to success. That success is not the sole
property of the top 20% of the nation. Without the remaining 80% nothing
would ever be accomplished. Guaranteeing the right to a good education
for every young American and providing positive links between educational
achievement and jobs are essential to the nation's well-being.
Across the nation each day, more and more students are being exposed to
application-based learning and education. This new exposure imposes new
demands upon the teachers and administrators who run our schools. "The
consequences of becoming a learning society are enormous, for it means
that for the first time, schools have been given the job of producing the
capital on which the country depends" (Fiske, 50).
Perhaps the biggest factor that will affect the reauthorization of the
Perkins Act is that of educators' ability to listen and change.
Throughout the country we still have "turf wars" going on over TP
implementation. Excuses for resistance are statements like "people cannot
come in hear and tell us what to do." While this may be true, it is
important to remain open to ideas and to listen to what has worked in
Program overlaps, waste, and personal conflicts account for much of the
frustration that confronts serious TP/STW facilitators. Bringing together
representatives from various Perkins programs, especially where an
obvious overlap exists, can not only cut down on confusion within a
consortia, but also streamline expenditures and cut back waste.
The Way To Go
Patchwork, fix-it jobs have not worked previously; there is nothing to
indicate that they will in the future. Total educational reform has to
come about in every American school to prepare our students to compete in
an ever more technically-oriented globl economy. Schools were originally
designed as factories, production lines, where young minds were
conditioned rather than opened. The new mission for education was
unveiled by former President George Bush in January 1990, when he stated
the six National Goals for Education. Goal 3 states: "By the year 2000
... every school in America will ensure that all students ... be prepared
for re sponsible citizenship, further learning, and productive
employment.." This triple-focus, ending with the concept of "productive
employment," gives a clear mandate.
The mission of education as we head into the 21st century is to prepare
students by providing the same opportunities to all of our students, not
just the traditional 20-30% identified as college bound. Every student is
embarking on a course that will evolve into a life-long learning tract.
The ability to get on and off at different levels, and to change course,
is going to ensure the ability to survive. To prepare the students of
today to be ready for tomorrow we must open their eyes to possibilities,
empower them to capitalize on those possibilities andput them to use. We
have failed the majority over the last century; we cannot perpetuate that
The funding made available through the Carl Perkins Act (1990) as well as
many others, is the jump start needed to revitalize a dying system. It
gives us the opportunity to implement the application-based programs. It
allows us to develop site and community-based action plans that will
direct our thrust. To take full advantage, we must realign our resources
for the long term benefit of the educational system. New initiatives,
programs and plans have in themselves created duplication an d waste. A
successful TP Associate Degree + STW Program will bring together those
existing resources and focus them on target areas. Every TP+STW Program
should be aiming for self-funding within five years of initiaton, not
from one government handout to the next. If local administrators have
fully bought into the educational reform, then they must also reform
educational finance procedures.
Initiation of any high technology-based program involves an exceedingly
high capital outlay. The return from that investment might not be seen
for three to four years; however, there will be a tremendous return. It
is essential that school districts budget not only for the initial
investment, but also the maintenance and upgrade of these resources. As
George Bernard Shaw put it, "The people who get on in this world are the
people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they
can't find them, make them."
School districts need to open their doors to their neighbors. When one
school has a strength in a given cluster program, it should share that
with another district. Magnet-style programs can be initiated and used
for the maximum benefit of all within the consortium.
Standards need to be raised, courses given value and made demanding for
all students. Bridge programs need to be initiated for those
nontraditional or returning students. Just as lack of exposure has locked
out millions throughout history, exposure will break open the door of
opportunity. Enabling students to see what is available to them and
teaching them to apply their knowledge will create a force that can not
only compete on a global scale, but succeed on a global scale.
Each middle school, junior high school, high school and community college
needs to resolve to initiate an educational reformation within its own
confines. Local planning teams need to be built that have a significant
business, industry, and community involvement.This atmosphere for change
may be most difficult within the community college. There are multiple
reasons for this. The college enrollment will comprise traditional and
nontraditional students, students seeking university matriculation,
others who are there for skill training and mastery, and a retirement
college group. To bring these together into a TP + STW format involves
cooperation between the TP coordinator and the college curriculum dean.
Success needs to be counted one small step at a time.
There is also resistance on the part of most community college faculty to
change. College faculty are far more autonomous than their high school
colleagues, and for change to occur there must be trust and respect
generated and earned within the consortium. Here are some recommendations
for effective programs:
- High academic, applied courses need to be initiated across the
curriculum. Less remediation would be required if the high school
imposed stricter standards and ensured competency mastery before a
class was passed. Many community college students still require remedial
math and English. This issue has to be addressed.
- Special emphasis should be placed on math, science, communication,
- Explorer or discovery courses need to be brought on line that will
expose students to the whole picture rather than perpetuate tunnel
vision. Within the community college this would translate into bridge
programs such as CORDis Transformations, to bring non-traditional
students up to speed in a more modern technological educational
- Articulated programs should be formed between high schools and
community colleges, universities, and apprenticeship programs. These
programs by necessity must involve business and local industry
input. College faculty will also need to work with their high school
counterparts to ensure a seamless educational flow. Students entering
into the ninth grade should be able to see an educational plan that will
carry them through high school and towards their ultimate goal. Every
student will receive direction and be assisted throughout the navigation
process to enable completion of the program. Technology will be an
integral part of all educational programs.
- The distinction between vocational and academic education should be
dropped. This will involve a long and challenging public relations and
reeducation program not only for the students, but also the parents and
- Each site will have a three year implementation plan that will be
revised at least twice a year. A baseline must be established before
implementation. This can reflect standardized test scores, school grade
distribution, number of completers, number of college apprenticeship
placements, drop out rate, etc.
The key to both TP and STW will be partnerships. The term School To
Career will be the politically correct phrase for the future, especially
if parents and faculty are to buy in.
In today's educational marketplace the words vocational and even work
alienate the educational consumer, even though it is the aim of all to
attain work upon graduation. Full use needs to be made of economic
development partnerships, small business advisory boards, and all other
currently established support groups and agencies. Partnerships are often
difficult to initiate, especially in rural environments. However, once
they are functioning everyone is a winner, especially the students.
Teachers and administrators also need exposure. It is estimated that 75%
of the educators of today will still be in education by the year 2000.
The major change mechanism be professional development. In an educational
renaissance we need to empower the movers and shakers at all levels to
focus on relevant and meaningful, quality and result-driven professional
development. Teachers, counselors, administrators, support staff, and
every school district or college employee must evaluate their own role in
the changing face of education. Each must be made to focus on the quality
of the product. A graduating student that can't do, won't do!
The community college needs to view TP as a marketing tool, not as a
recruitment program. By exposing students at the junior and high school
level to the possibilities before them we are opening up their minds and
increasing their expectations. Community colleges should be in a position
to capitalize upon that exposure. Working with an effective TP and now
STW program, community colleges should realize a 25% increase in
enrollment as the first graduate students roll out of high school into
college. This brings with it mixed blessings. More students means an
increase in institutional funds, and more potential customers for those
marginal courses that barely make the cut due to enrollment. The flip
side however, is the question: Will the present facilities support the
increased enrollment? Are we offering the right programs? Staffing?
Support services? In days of cutbacks and belt tightening, the prospect
of additional students is indeed a mixed blessing.
Both President Bush and President Clinton have referred to TP in terms a
revolution. As with any revolution there will be those who bury their
head in the sand, or who block our advance. Exposure will make them
aware, then they must move out, or go with the flow.
Applied academics will revitalize teachers as well as students. The
revolution will not be a fait-acompli overnight, but it can be started in
less than an hour. And its legacy will be carried into the next century.
Richard Riley recently was quoted as saying: "Our economic prosperity,
our national security, and our nation's civic life have never been more
linked to education than they are today as we enter the Information Age
of the 21st century." We're on-the-mark. Are you ready yet? Only then can
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