EVALUATION OF PROGRAMS
Executive Summary: Efforts to Improve the Quality of Vocational Education in Secondary Schools: Impact of Federal and State Policies (2004)
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Conclusions and Implications

These findings led to a number of conclusions related to the study questions and also to some broader implications about federal policy for vocational education.

What are the purposes and philosophies of vocational education at the secondary level? Have these evolved in keeping with Perkins legislation?

Many states and localities have adopted the spirit of the Perkins philosophy to broaden the content of and participation in vocational education in secondary schools, and some have enacted specific policies to advance it. However, many barriers to reaching this vision remain.

Chief among these barriers is the continuing marginal position of vocational education in secondary education relative to academic or general education—a state of affairs that has been noted in many studies and for some years. The new vision has not convinced parents that vocational education will lead to college, which is the route that most favor. The Perkins legislation may contribute to this problem by continuing to define vocational education as education for work that requires less than a baccalaureate degree.

What other education reforms are ongoing, and how have these affected vocational and technical offerings within states and localities? What is the influence of federal and state policies at the local level?

All the states in this study have adopted reforms that emphasize higher academic standards and requirements, assessment of academic learning and greater accountability, but few have adopted similar reforms for vocational education. By and large, the state reforms are highly influential, and vocational education is caught up in the academic reform tide. Although these reforms may have helped raise academic content in many vocational courses, it often appears to be at the expense of vocational or technical skills and content.

State reforms also affected local data-gathering practices. While few local sites knew about the Perkins reporting requirements, many had changed their data systems or procedures to comply with state accountability needs.

What are the state and local efforts to improve the quality of vocational education, especially with respect to the quality attributes outlined in Perkins III?

States and localities differ widely in the consistency and depth of their efforts to implement program improvements. At this early stage of implementation, Perkins appears to have had an impact on some of these efforts, but has not stimulated improvements in all areas.

Most effort has been directed at improving integration, increasing standards in vocational courses, enhancing connections to employers and postsecondary institutions, and making technology-related improvements.

Efforts at integration appeared more successful at the structural level than at the curricular level. The case studies provide little evidence of widespread adoption of integrated curriculum within a school. Teachers do not receive the support needed to implement curriculum integration, such as common planning time during the school day. The survey indicated that vocational teachers' practices are much more in sync with the notion of integration than are academic teachers' practices.

In some localities, the state reforms directed much attention to improving academic rigor in vocational education. Similar efforts to improve technical rigor in vocational courses were less evident, although local use of industry standards was fairly common-place in vocational programs and many programs attained industry certification.

Connections to employers are fairly typical in vocational programs—the case studies provided many examples of employer involvement in local programs. Vocational teachers have much stronger connections to employers than academic teachers do, and they also have stronger connections to postsecondary institutions. The latter may stem partly from Perkins' support of Tech-Prep, which incorporates creation of articulation agreements between secondary schools and postsecondary institutions.

Perkins appears to play a crucial role in supporting technology needs associated with vocational programs. At the local level in particular, Perkins funds make a significant contribution. Although teachers are not always satisfied with the amount and quality of technology at their disposal, vocational teachers are much more satisfied than academic teachers are and they also feel more prepared to teach technology-related skills. Instructional practices that involve technologies are more common in vocational teachers' classes, but instruction through distance learning is infrequent.

What is the impact of changes in Perkins III on other groups and the programs that serve them? Have changes at the state level affected service delivery at the local level?

The full impact of the elimination of set-asides and other legislative changes on services to students is unknown at present. Staff devoted to serving special populations and other groups had been reduced in most of the sample states and in many localities. Although some respondents seemed pleased with the flexibility afforded in Perkins III, most reported negative effects. In addition to staffing reductions, some programs had been eliminated altogether. In a few instances, states have devoted resources to particular programs, which helped to maintain them locally.

It may prove difficult to assess the impact of legislative changes in Perkins III, as most states in this study were not yet collecting the data that complies with reporting requirements that differentiate students from special populations.

What are the characteristics of Tech-Prep programs? Are the states' visions for Tech-Prep reflected in local practice?

Data from this study suggest that Tech-Prep is conceptualized in different ways. Tech-Prep at the local level—where local consortia administer the program and act as fiscal agents—does not often reflect the state vision. Two states had structured and coherent programs, but the others varied considerably in how students and programs were defined. These findings are in keeping with prior national evaluations of Tech-Prep that noted similar issues in program implementation.


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Last Modified: 09/23/2004