Executive Summary: Efforts to Improve the Quality of Vocational Education in Secondary Schools: Impact of Federal and State Policies (2004)
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Approach and Methods

The research proceeded along two strands: case studies of implementation on a selected sample of sites and a national probability survey of high school teachers.

The case studies for the secondary school study included seven states and a purposive sample of four districts and schools within each. The seven states—California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas—were purposely selected for several reasons: each has a data system in place that provides accessible information about student achievement; for at least the school level; each had sufficient vocational program offerings; and overall the group balanced the need for geographic and demographic diversity.

Four school sites were randomly selected from a pool within each state that had either high or low student achievement relative to other schools in the state, after adjusting for the demographics of the students. The two high-achieving and low-achieving schools in each state also had vocational education enrollment that exceeded the state's median enrollment. As a whole, the schools balanced the need for geographic diversity, levels of population concentration/locale, and different types of vocational schools. The selection of schools that varied by student achievement was intended to shed light on the relationship between achievement and vocational education implementation—i.e., whether higher—and lower-achieving schools differed in their efforts to enhance the quality of vocational education. This selection method was imperfect, however, and this aspect of the analysis was not very informative.

The case studies were carried out from February through June 2001 and gathered descriptive information about the quality of vocational programs in the states, districts and schools using multiple data-gathering methods, such as interviews, focus groups and document analysis.

At the same time, RAND conducted a nationally-representative survey of teachers in comprehensive high schools and vocational schools. The survey was designed to examine whether the instructional, curricular and related activities in schools and classrooms correspond to quality practices as defined in the federal legislation. It also gathered information about teachers' backgrounds and their school and teaching environments. This report includes selected findings from the teacher survey where they inform the main study questions.

To assess the relative quality of vocational education programs at the study sites, the research team developed a set of quality indicators for selected program improvements discussed in Perkins III. These indicators were based on scholarly and policy research and studies of practices and were used to develop the interview guidelines and teacher survey and to interpret the study data.

In addition to the limitations in Perkins III noted above, the case-study findings are limited to the states and localities in the study sample. The teacher-survey findings reflect teacher reports on their schools, students, and teaching and curricular practices. Although the survey was designed to gather information on the prevalence of practices discussed in the legislation, it did not directly ask about Perkins III or its implementation.

With these caveats in mind, the following sections present findings organized by chapter.

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Last Modified: 09/23/2004