How can participation in vocational business schools education be increased, especially for students currently in the vocational and general tracks? Again, there are many ways of doing this, but one promising way is through the development of tech-prep programs that link the last two years of high school with two years of postsecondary education in a coherent sequence of integrated courses leading to a two-year degree.
The 1990 Perkins Reforms The 1990 Perkins Act recognized the need for more intellectual content in the education young people receive to prepare them for work by requiring all districts that receive basic grant funds to integrate their academic and vocational curricula. It recognized the need for more students to enter and succeed in postsecondary education by providing grant for the development of tech-prep programs. And it recognized the importance of standards by requiring states to develop and local systems to implement, systems of performance standards and measures.
Integration, tech-prep and performance standards are the three key elements in the Perkins Act’s plan to reform vocational education programs. Together they comprise a legislative effort not just to improve vocational education, as previous legislation had done, but to break with the past and transform it, How successful have these provisions of the Act been?
Integration The Perkins Act stimulated integration efforts in school districts across the country. Our data show that districts receiving Perkins Basic Grant funds took more steps to integrate their curricula than did non-recipients. Moreover, districts reporting a greater Perkins influence on their agendas also took more steps to integrate, holding other factors constant in our analysis.
However, by 1993, the second year of Perkins implementation, those efforts still lacked scope and coherence. ‘They lacked scope because they involved relatively few students and courses, and were usually confined to vocational programs. They lacked-coherence because they were usually limited to individual courses, rather than comprising sequences of related courses.
Moreover, for those interested in promoting integration the traditional division between academic and vocational education remained a formidable obstacle,. The Assessment found that vocational teachers and academic teachers are more likely to coordinate courses among themselves than with each other. In effect, the two curricula often constitute two separate cultures in secondary education.
One strategy that could improve the coherence of integration efforts is the development of organizational or curricular frameworks to provide structure and rationale for integration. Some districts are using tech-prep programs for this purpose. Career academies and career magnet schools also provide frameworks of this kind. The Assessment suggests a curriculum designed around a system of majors based on industries that would prepare students for careers, not just jobs.
However, simply integrating academic and vocational curricula will accomplish little if the courses that are integrated are not rigorous and challenging. Currently, most applied academic courses are not accepted as satisfying admissions requirements in universities. Though there are differences of opinion about the reasons for this refusal, the quality of many of these courses and course materials is certainly a factor.
Despite these.problem,,, it is important to keep in mind that integration efforts are still new, and there are visible signs of progress from year to year. For example, the Assessment found that school districts provided teachers with more time to work on integration in the second year of Perkins implementation than in the first.
Moreover, a majority of students in higher- level vocational courses reported that their classes placed major emphasis on understanding scientific and mathematical concepts and on solving work-related problems. In addition, the number of districts establishing career academies doubled between 1990 and 1993. Research has shown that career academies and career magnet schools can improve retention and learning for students in the first year or two of participation.