By Rebecca B. Evers, Ed.D.
This is not your parents' vocational education. Girls are not limited to making aprons in sewing classes, and boys are not making pig-shaped cutting boards in woodworking shop. The major difference in today's school-to-career classes is that students are taught core academic skills, such as math, science, and English, at the same time they're learning the specific skills needed in their chosen career area.
In the past, vocational education was frequently seen as a placement for the students who could not make the grade in academic courses. However, the laws that created current programs require career and technical programs to produce students who can compete in higher education settings, and who will be ready to meet challenges as competent adults in any occupation they choose, in a workforce that participates in a global economy. This article is the first in a two-part series addressing the current state of career and technical education.
Today's career education students are more likely to be in a class that is a student-run business; not just auto shop, but an automotive repair business where they learn very technical computer skills, how to problem solve, how to estimate time and costs for repairs, and finally how to repair the problem. In some areas of the country, career and technical education programs, at both the secondary and community college levels, are being developed to fill the needs of local industries and businesses. For example in the northwest where aeronautics is a major industry one community opened an Aviation High School.1
School-to-career courses at the high school level have additional benefits that promote positive outcomes for students who enroll - namely higher attendance rates and achievement. For example, the attendance rate for school-to-career students in one Philadelphia school district was 87.5% (10% higher that other students) indicating that students are interested in or value these classes enough to be there. Another sign of student interest and engagement is that 30% of the Philadelphia career education students earned a 3.0 or higher grade-point average (GPA), while only 19.8% of non-career education students earn a B-average or better GPA. But perhaps the most convincing evidence of student interest, relevance, and staying power of the school-to-career programs is the dropout rate of 3.4%; less than one-third the rate for non-vocational students in the district.2
Career, technical, and occupational skills programs have used a variety of names during the last two decades, such as "vocational education," "vocational-technical education," "practical arts," and most recently, "career and technical education." Programs are offered across a variety of educational levels and settings including:
Although there are many definitions of career and technical education,3,4,5 they all suggest that these types of programs should prepare students for a chosen career by teaching knowledge and skills in a relevant, sequential program that includes:
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