A New Day for Vocational Education

Redesign Would Tie Schooling More Strongly to Work; Keep College Doors Open

by Nancy Garcia

The United States is upgrading vocational education because the old system "put a ceiling on students' aspirations," says David Stern, a professor at the Graduate School of Education.

Stern's new re-port, "High School to Career," published by the California Policy Seminar, is aimed at guiding how California will take advantage of the federal 1994 School to Work Opportunities Act.

Trained in economics, Stern influenced the new law through 20 years of research into the relationship between work and school. In January, he will become director of the National Center for Research in Vocational Education on campus.

New school programs should find ways of "connecting students' jobs with their current work in school and their possible future careers," Stern said. "The real trick is how to build on what's already happening, use students' existing jobs to contribute to their education and long-term employment more than they presently do."

Vocational training should not foreclose options for future work in responsible, rewarding careers, he said, and students should not be steered away from the option to attend college.

"I think it's dangerous, unfair, and inefficient to create programs which at point of entry say, 'You go through this door if you're not going to college.' We run the risk the recreating the old vocational-education system which acquired an image of second-best simply because it was designed for the non-college bound."

Stern favors making new forms of vocational education available for all interested students. "I think it is important and will be useful to have a large number of options for work-based experience that are not now available."

He recommends:

o Integrating separate disciplines like math or language in lessons that focus on the real world.

o Letting teachers in academic subjects witness the workplace and oversee students' work there.

o Linking high school and college by providing credit for advanced high school courses.

Co-authors are doctoral student Mikala Rahn of MPR Associates in Berkeley, and Yue-Ping Chung, a professor at the Chinese University, Hong Kong, who participated in the study as a visiting scholar.


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