A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Study of School-To-Work Initiatives
Cross-Site Analysis June 1995


Case Studies

In order to obtain firsthand information about models of school-to-work transition reform, AED conducted case studies in fourteen communities across the United States. Preparation for the case studies required four major activities: interview protocol development, review of documents and materials, staff training, and site selection. Semi-structured, open-ended interview protocols were developed to guide the interviews and focus groups, and observation guides to document activities and events observed by the research team. The research team for each site visit analyzed the field work notes, using the principle of data triangulation to ensure that every finding was affirmed by more than one source.

The major research questions that guided the study focused on the nature and impact of school-to-work transition reform initiatives. The research team sought to learn about the contexts in which reform occurred, its planning and design, implementation, and impact, especially on students:

Contexts of reform:

student population served
previous school-to-work transition programs
major characteristics of the local labor market
rates and patterns of employment among local populations
current economic climate and significant trends
political and social climate
demographic trends

Planning and design

process of designing the reform
process of planning academic, work,
transition/information components basis of the reform design in research
target group of reform
identity of key players and their roles
representation of business interests
representation of school interests
representation of youth-serving organizations
representation of employment and training programs
representation of parents
representation of students
impact of planning process on program design

Structure of reform

overall purpose
specific goals
key components
relationship of goals to components
organizational structure
numbers and characteristics of students served
ways the reform differs from previous practice
roles played by business, schools, employment and training programs, youth-serving agencies


principal incentives
major barriers
strategies for addressing barriers

Structure of program

organizational structure
numbers and characteristics of students served


process of initiating cooperation between business and schools
nature of collaboration in implementation
other organizations party to the collaboration

Student competencies

knowledge and skills required of students
process for developing these standards
process for assessing students


scope and content of curriculum
academic, vocational, and transition elements, and their interrelationship
process of developing the curriculum
curriculum development roles of schools, employers, students, parents pedagogy


extra funds obtained for the reform
other resources required to implement the program
application of research and other information in implementing the reform

Impact and outcomes

process for assessing the impact of the reform
process for assessing academic knowledge and job-related skills
process for developing the assessment strategies
impact of the reform on student academic performance and employment
impact of the reform on schools
impact of the reform on business
impact of the reform on other collaborating organizations
The focus of each case study was a four-to-five-day site visit by a two-person case study team. In order to gain a complete perspective, we collected similar information from multiple sources and used multiple collection strategies. While visiting each community, the teams interviewed individuals, conducted focus groups and group interviews, observed aspects of the initiatives in action, and, where possible, gathered existing data describing or assessing the impact of the initiative on students. Each team interviewed individual representatives of business, school districts, high schools, postsecondary institutions, and local agencies, as well as with students, instructors, administrators, counselors, and parents. (Every team met with representatives of every category, although the position of those interviewed might vary. For example, teams interviewed high school principals, district superintendents, and/or deputy district or school administrators at every site. Teams interviewed postsecondary representatives at all the sites articulated with a college or university, but depending on the site, these individuals might be tech prep coordinators, deans for continuing education, assistants to the president, department chairs, even the president.) Every team also conducted focus groups, usually parent focus groups and student focus groups, and occasionally, groups of service providers (i.e. counselors, teachers) as well. Teams devoted extensive amounts of time to observation in a variety of classrooms, worksites, and meetings of advisory groups and executive councils. The documents collected include curriculum samples, program reports, student career guidance materials, portfolio and competency rating samples, local newspaper and newsletter clippings, meeting minutes, internal memoranda, internal evaluation reports, and statistical summaries.

Site Selection

In selecting fourteen communities, AED sought out school-to- work programs that were different and somewhat innovative. We looked for evidence of reform both in curriculum and in delivery of education, including the location and scheduling of learning. Ultimately, we hoped that an examination of exemplary programs would lead us to the elements that compose effective systems for school-to-work transition.

Initially, the research team cast the net for nominations broadly, reviewing the school-to-work literature and soliciting recommendations from a wide range of individuals, including the project advisory group and OERI study group. In all, about 200 programs made up this initial nomination pool. AED staff wrote or telephoned these programs, of which about sixty provided additional information.

As the first step in winnowing out nominees, the research team eliminated those that had already been evaluated by another research organization.1 Secondly, programs were reviewed in order to eliminate those that were (a) not examples of education reform and (b) not primarily secondary school reforms. Thirdly, programs operating less than two years were eliminated.

Of the remaining sites, we narrowed our focus to those that showed evidence of (a) some type of strong connection with business, as well as (b) some degree of effectiveness, or promise of effectiveness, in terms of positive outcomes for students. From among this group we selected a group of sites that offered variety in terms of:

Subsequently, we added two sites that met all our criteria and primarily served students with disabilities. The rationale for this step was two-fold: first, to ensure that the research was inclusive in terms of target populations, and second, because the field of special education has a long history in providing transition services to students, it offers a body of experience from which, as our case studies have confirmed, other educators have a great deal to learn.

AED submitted a list of potential sites for case studies to the OERI, along with program descriptions, a matrix of the programs by criteria, and staff recommendations. From this process of review and consultation, fourteen were ultimately selected:

Mt. Edgecumbe High School (Sitka, Alaska)
Metro Tech Vocational Technical School (Phoenix, Arizona)
East San Gabriel Regional Occupational Program (East San Gabriel, California)
Pasadena Graphic Arts Academy (Pasadena, California)
Performance-Based Diploma Program (Ft. Pierce, Florida)
Aviation Magnet (Louisville, Kentucky)
Baltimore Commonwealth (Baltimore, Maryland)
Education for Employment (Kalamazoo County, Michigan)
Rothsay High School (Rothsay, Minnesota)
Patterson Career Center (Dayton, Ohio)
Youth Transition Program (State of Oregon)
Roy High School (Roy, Utah)
Comprehensive Employment Work and Transition (CEWAT), (Charlottesville, Virginia)
Student Career Opportunity Paths in Education (SCOPE), (Veradale, Washington)
Table A indicates major selection criteria for each of the sites. A brief description of each site is provided in Appendix A.

Case Study Reports

The advantage of case study methodology, characterized by intensive and focused field work, is that it provides for the collection of a rich amount of data from which to draw a comprehensive portrait of a reform initiative and its dynamics. The research teams wrote 25-30 page case studies of each initiative, describing their findings about its design, implementation, impact, and barriers faced by program developers. The case study reports reflect the emphasis on description rather than on evaluation. The primary purpose of AED's study was to document and analyze useful models and practices from which others could learn as they sought to reform education in their communities. Having determined that the sites offered an exemplary approach, the direction of the case study analysis was to describe as meaningfully as possible the operation and impact of the school- to-work reform, rather than to evaluate its individual components or the relative merits of the sites. From the description of the reform, the research team sought to draw the critical elements of that initiative, so that practitioners reviewing the case study could adapt elements to their local circumstances.Judgments that are offered in the case studies reflect the self- assessment of local players, rather than the judgments of the visiting research team.

Cross-Site Analysis

Throughout the case study process, the research team convened to discuss cross-cutting elements, relating and synthesizing the findings of their individual case studies. The teams considered the elements identified as critical at each site, explored similarities across sites, defined variations, and arrived at agreement that an element was present and important in at least four or five sites.

The result of these discussions is this cross-case comparison report. Its basic purpose is two-fold: (1) to document and analyze the outcomes of school-to-work reform, so as to educate practitioners and policy makers about the results that can be documented; and (2) to document and analyze the critical elements common to many or all of the communities studied, so as to make their models and practices accessible and useful to others seeking to reform education in their communities. Despite the variety of the communities, our study has not encountered the usual frustration facing those who compare different programs or initiatives that have little in common. The diversity of the fourteen sites only makes more vivid the elements that they share.

1It was also decided not to study any apprenticeship programs, because a number of organizations were engaged at the time in examinations of youth apprenticeships.


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