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The Quality of Vocational Education, June 1998


High school reformers have recently raised important questions about the effectiveness of vocational education. Does it work? Does it provide adequate preparation in basic academic skills? Does it keep students in school? Or would everyone's needs be better met in one-track academically oriented schools? Existing reviews of grouping and tracking research do not provide an answer. Most of the reviews barely mention vocational education, but focus instead on differences between upper-and lower-track academic classes or on differences between academic and non-academic programs.

The emphasis in this review is on the vocational track. The goal of the review is to draw conclusions about the academic effects of vocational education from an examination of all the relevant research results. The method used in integrating the research findings is quantitative, or meta-analytic. Conclusions are therefore based on a systematic search of the literature on vocational education and a statistical analysis of the coded results of the studies.

The results of the analysis provide support for four major conclusions about high school programs in vocational education. First, participation in vocational programs increases the likelihood that non-college-bound youngsters will complete high school. The results suggest that participation decreases the dropout rate of such youngsters by about 6 percent. Second, participation in vocational programs has at most a small effect on student mastery of basic academic skills. Students who complete vocational programs would not score higher on tests of academic skills if they instead completed general programs, but vocational students might score slightly higher if they completed a full program of academic courses. Third, students from vocational programs would be only slightly more likely to pursue postsecondary education if they pursued other curricular programs in high school. Fourth, graduates of vocational programs seem to be more satisfied with their jobs than are comparable students from other high school programs.

[Table of Contents] [Introduction and Purpose ]