Archived InformationThe Quality of Vocational Education, June 1998
As part of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act of 1990, Congress mandated a National Assessment of Vocational Education (NAVE). This assessment was completed and presented to Congress in a five-volume National Assessment of Vocational Education Final Report to Congress in July 1994 (Boesel and McFarland, 1994; Boesel, Hudson, Deich, and Masten, 1994; Boesel, Rahn, and Deich, 1994; Hudson, 1994; Muraskin, Hollinger, and Harvey, 1994). To carry out the assessment, NAVE gathered a large amount of information from a wide variety of sources, including published and unpublished research papers, and new analyses of ongoing and original national surveys. Among the sources of information was a series of policy-oriented research papers commissioned especially for NAVE. These background papers furnished important support for the findings and recommendations issued in the Final Report. The present volume contains five of the NAVE background papers on the topic of the quality of vocational education. Dissemination of the background papers allows researchers and policy-makers to examine more closely the evidence on which the NAVE Final Report is based.
Each of the five papers in this volume played a role in shaping volume II of the NAVE Final Report, Participation in and Quality of Vocational Education. The two papers by Richard L. Lynch, "Vocational Teacher Education in U.S. Colleges and Universities, and Its Responsiveness to the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act of 1990" and "Occupational Experience as the Basis for Alternative Teacher Certification in Vocational Education," furnished some of the evidence presented in chapter 2 of volume II of the Final Report Teachers in Vocational Education. The paper by James A. Kulik, "Curricular Tracks and High School Vocational Education," and that of Kenneth A. Rasinski and Steven Pedlow, "The Effect of High School Vocational Education on Academic Achievement Gain and High School Persistence: Evidence from NELS:88," both contributed to the Final Report in chapter 5 of volume II Educational Outcomes of Vocational Coursetaking. Finally, a section of chapter 6 in volume II of the Final Report ("Employment Outcomes"), relied on Adam Gamoran's paper, "The Impact of Academic Course Work on Labor Market Outcomes for Youth Who Do Not Attend College: A Research Review."
How do the background papers in this volume fit into the broader context of NAVE? They address two topics covered in the Final Report: teachers in vocational education, and the outcomes of vocational and academic schooling. These two topics are only a small portion of the total NAVE; in fact they do not even cover all issues relating to the quality of vocational education, which also included assessment of program requirements and courses, employment outcomes of vocational education, employer involvement and satisfaction with vocational education, and other issues. The background papers in this volume provide detailed information on a range of topics that is relatively narrow compared to the full scope of NAVE.
Teachers in vocational education. One of the important findings Lynch reported in his first paper on vocational teacher education is that enrollment in teacher training programs in vocational education is declining in virtually all fields. This finding was highlighted by NAVE (vol. II, p. 75) in the context of a discussion of the vocational education teaching force. Elsewhere, NAVE also reported declining enrollments of high school students in vocational courses (vol. II, p. 9). Although the decline in teacher education enrollment has been more rapid than the decline in high school student enrollment, a national survey of schools indicated that only a small proportion of schools have difficulty filling vacancies for vocational education teachers. NAVE concluded that "while one cannot discount the possibility that there may be vocational teacher shortages in the future, no systematic data suggest that this will occur" (vol. II, p. 79).
A highlight of Lynch's second paper on occupational experience as a basis for vocational teaching is the finding that occupational experience is not an adequate substitute for formal teacher preparation in vocational education. Although a few years of occupational experience may be helpful, many years of work experience do not contribute to teaching quality, whether measured by reputation, competency tests, or student achievement. Moreover Lynch found that the lack of background in pedagogy led to substantial problems in the classroom, although there were some exemplary programs in which such problems were mitigated. Largely on the basis of this evidence, NAVE advocated formal postsecondary education as a necessary component in the preparation of teachers for vocational education (vol. II, p. 80). NAVE also found that neither teacher education nor occupational experience were preparing teachers adequately to integrate academic and vocational education.
Outcomes of vocational and academic schooling. Kulik's background paper on curricular tracking and vocational education showed that although test scores of vocational and academic students differ widely, most of the difference is due to differences in the characteristics of students, not in the nature of the programs. Kulik found trivial achievement differences between students in vocational and general programs, while dropout rates are lower in vocational programs when student characteristics are taken into account. Although general-track students attend college more often than students from vocational programs, overall rates of participation in postsecondary education are about the same. These findings all contributed to the NAVE Final Report (vol. II, chapter 5).
Other evidence cited in NAVE (vol. II, chapter 6) uncovered employment benefits of vocational education, but generally these benefits accrue only to students who find jobs in fields that match their vocational training, and less than half of vocational graduates have such jobs. As a counterpoint to this research literature, Gamoran's background paper explored the labor market outcomes of academic courses and academic skills. Gamoran found that students who do not attend college obtain small benefits to wages from taking academic courses in high school, but the benefits may increase over the course of one's career. Academic course work also contributes to finding a job and to occupational status, but effects on annual earnings were inconsistent. Effects of academic skills showed a clear pattern of little or no benefits to wages immediately after high school, but increasing benefits over time. Moreover, better academic skills contributes to finding work shortly after high school. This evidence contributed to NAVE's conclusion that vocational graduates need a solid foundation in basic academic skills, and better integration of academic and vocational education would further this aim (vol. II, p. 156). Since skills have more substantial benefits than courses, students' progress should be measured in terms of skills rather than course work (vol. II, p. 155).
Rasinski conducted new empirical analyses that support and extend the reviews carried out by Kulik and by Gamoran. Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS:88), Rasinski measured the impact of vocational and academic study during high school on academic achievement and on high school completion. Consistent with studies noted in Gamoran's and Kulik's reviews, Rasinski found that academic courses contribute to student achievement (e.g., students who took geometry scored higher on the math test, etc.). Vocational courses generally did not contribute to academic achievement. However, participation in vocational education resulted in reduced likelihood of dropping out, just as Kulik found. Rasinski's analysis suggested that benefits of vocational education for high school completion may occur by improving students' success in courses. These findings figured in the conclusions of the NAVE Final Report (vol. II, chapter 5).
Contributions of the background papers to NAVE recommendations. The five background papers contained in this volume contributed to several of the major recommendations in NAVE's Final Report (vol. I). First, they support the overall recommendation that vocational education be maintained, but strengthened. Findings by Kulik and Rasinski that vocational education does little harm to achievement while reducing dropout rates contributed to this conclusion. Second, Lynch's findings about the teaching force contributed to the recommendation to implement higher standards for teachers in vocational education. Third, results reported by Gamoran on the labor market benefits of academic course work undergirded the recommendation for better integration of academic with vocational education. Fourth, Gamoran (among others) noted that educational attainment contributes more than course work to job outcomes, and this finding supported NAVE's recommendation that all high school vocational graduates have sufficient academic preparation to enter postsecondary education should they choose to do so. Fifth, information gathered by Kulik and by Gamoran supported NAVE's conclusion that the general track in high school offers little benefit and should probably be eliminated.
The background papers also raise questions for future research. Despite the broad scope of NAVE, important issues remain to be addressed, and new studies are needed to contribute to the continued improvement of vocational education in the United States.