The Future of Secondary Education CLOUDS AND SUN

Tech Prep and School to Work: Working Together to Foster Educational Reform

Rod Beaumont
Yavapai College


As we transition from Tech Prep into a School-To-Work (STW) System, it is essential that we read from the same page. We will explore how Tech Prep will become an integral, functioning part of your successful STW Opportunity, discussing the background as well as the expectations of what is required to succesfully function in the School-To-Work environment.

Tech Prep (TP), and now School To Work (STW), have been referred to as the most exciting initiatives in education in decades (Hull & Parnell, 1991). Indeed we can look upon the advent of these two strategies as an Educational Renaissance, a rebirth of quality, standards and ability. The opportunity, as well as the challenge is for TP+STW to be the major part of the educational reform presently taking place.

As former President Bush said, "The days of the status quo are over." Bush's statement, plus America 2000 by U.S. Secretary of Education Alexander (1991), and the SCANS Report by U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin (1991) document Alexander's (1991) statement that "we are talking about a revolution in education."

TP, accompanied by STW, if perceived and implemented correctly by all educators, can be the model, or key to much of the crucially needed educational reform and revolution. Now is the time, not for lip service to the business world, but for our actions. Until the education system can achieve credibility both within its own ranks as well as outside, all educational reforms are doomed to failure.

According to Dr. James L. Hoerner (1991), we are rushing forth throughout the nation, launching TP programs in every state in response to the Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act (Congressional Record, 101st Congress 2nd Session, September 25, 1990) without having identified the basic constructs or the underlying philosophy upon which the concept of TP (School to Work) should be built. Based upon the research of Hoerner, Clowes and Impara3 prior to July 1, 1991, there were approximately 380 Tech Prep programs in the United States. Based upon research from the Center for Occupational Research and Development, as of August 1994, TP was being implemented in every state as well as many countries outside of the United States. Applied mathematics, science (biology and chemistry), and principles of technology (applied physics) courses are to be found in over 35,900 classes. According to CORDis figures over 2,337,000 students have been exposed to these applied academic programs.

This rapid growth is not detrimental to education if a sound philosophy and mission are used for TP programs. But as the Carl Perkins Act (1990) comes up for renewal, perhaps the biggest factor against TP is the lack of baselines in many TP sites. Practitioners of the higher level applied academic courses will jump forward to bestow the virtues of the materials as well as demonstrate improved test scores and a decrease in drop out rates, but unfortunately, the baselines in many cases were never carefully and fully recorded.

Tech Prep-A Working Definition?

Not only does each Tech Prep site need to establish a definition, but the country as a whole needs to agree upon a common definition. TP is not a new name for vocational education; it is not a new name for cooperative education. Indeed it is not even a four year program that must lead to an associate degree. In reality Tech Prep does not have to involve a community college. The law states two years of postsecondary education that can be an apprenticeship or a university that offers a two year postsecondary certificate.

Another popular misconception is that TP is exclusively a high-tech program. The act says in section 347(3), the term Tech Prep education program

    means a combined secondary/postsecondary program .... consist(s) of 2 years of secondary... and 2 years of higher education, or an apprenticeship program of at least 2 years following secondary instruction with a common core of required proficiency in mathematics, science, communications, and technologies designed to lead to an associate degree or certificate in a specific career field... and leads to ... effective employment placement or transfer of students to 4- year baccalaureate degree programs....

Simply put, TP is an articulated educational program of two years high school and two years postsecondary education that includes a common core of math, science, communications and technologies that are designed to lead to an associate degree or certificate within a specific career field. This often includes many other subjects / courses. In many cases this can be pictured as 2 + 2, 4 + 2 or 2+2+2 or even 2+4+2+2. The algebraic numbers can just keep growing.

Perhaps far more important is the fact that TP should develop programs, community by community that will meet local needs, current and projected.

There is no ideal model. What will work in one area will not by necessity transfer to another area. Even within TP consortia, programs are different.

For the two years of high school to work there must be a very strong prior foundation. Indeed, it can be argued that TP should start in the pre-kindergarten level and proceed throughout a lifetime of life-long learning. Early preparatory or exploration/discovery courses are essential to create and maintain a cohesive TP program.

The critical factor is not how TP is defined, but rather how it is perceived by the students, parents and the public. If TP is seen as just another vocational program and a dumping ground for non college bound students, then TP will fail. Every TP program must educate its community on the value and importance of technology in the 21st Century. The perception of vocational and academic programs being unrelated must end.

The Traditional Mindset Must Change

If education was subject to the Lemon Law, we would all have been out of business many years ago. The product that has been turned out of Americas' high schools has not met the rigorous standards of global competition. The status of high school diplomas has eroded so badly that the entry level qualification has risen to that of an associate degree. According to the Wall Street Journal (1988, 27), the average monthly income of a worker with an associate degree is almost three times that of a worker with only a high school diploma ($1,188 per month versus $415 per month). Willard Wirtz, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, summed it up when he said, "There aren't two worlds, education and work; there is one world-life. Learning by hands-on participation .... should be at the heart of our educational perspective"( Grant Foundation, 1988, 3).

The educational system of the United States was based upon the British educational system that was driven by class and socioeconomic values. Yet when the British recognized their failure in the early 1960s and revised their secondary education system, it took the United States nearly 25 years to follow. Educators in America have not felt the need to facilitate learning through an applied mode. Indeed, even when presented with evidence that application-based learning produces better and longer-lasting results, many educators still turn away. "A lot of teachers, consciously or unconsciously, reinforce the idea that education is pointless unless you are going on to college ... schools need to do better representing the new reality of the job market to these kids. We need a kind of cultural change all across the system, to sell young people on the relationship between good jobs and skills" (New York Times, 1989, p. 27).

In any industry the most valuable commodity or resource is the worker. Human resource development is a major priority throughout the business world. U.S. Assistant Secretary for Vocational Education, Betsy Brand (1990) stated that, "We need a mind-set change among educators at all levels regarding their role in human resource development." Mother and the family are the starting point in the never ending course of human resource development; however, we as teachers have the responsibility to continue and expand that development. Many teachers still see themselves as math teachers, history teachers, home economic teachers, etc. Elementary school teachers break down subject related boundaries far more often than their middle school and high school counterparts. The time has come when all teachers need to reevaluate their role in the developmental process of the child. Barriers must be taken down; discovery and application must be initiated across the board.

Restructuring the Curriculum via Integration

Many have discussed the role of education in human resource development. Johnston and Packer (1987) in Workplace 2000 set the stage with their statement that education and training are the primary systems by which the human capital of a nation is preserved and increased. The document Building a Quality Workforce further elaborated on the responsibilities of education in preparing the workforce in the statement, "Education has the primary responsibility for initially preparing the entry level workforce." They did not say preparing only the top 20-30% of the workforce (Johnston & Packer, 46).

Education is the pathway to success. That success is not the sole property of the top 20% of the nation. Without the remaining 80% nothing would ever be accomplished. Guaranteeing the right to a good education for every young American and providing positive links between educational achievement and jobs are essential to the nation's well-being.

Across the nation each day, more and more students are being exposed to application-based learning and education. This new exposure imposes new demands upon the teachers and administrators who run our schools. "The consequences of becoming a learning society are enormous, for it means that for the first time, schools have been given the job of producing the capital on which the country depends" (Fiske, 50).

Perhaps the biggest factor that will affect the reauthorization of the Perkins Act is that of educators' ability to listen and change. Throughout the country we still have "turf wars" going on over TP implementation. Excuses for resistance are statements like "people cannot come in hear and tell us what to do." While this may be true, it is important to remain open to ideas and to listen to what has worked in other areas.

Program overlaps, waste, and personal conflicts account for much of the frustration that confronts serious TP/STW facilitators. Bringing together representatives from various Perkins programs, especially where an obvious overlap exists, can not only cut down on confusion within a consortia, but also streamline expenditures and cut back waste.

The Way To Go

Patchwork, fix-it jobs have not worked previously; there is nothing to indicate that they will in the future. Total educational reform has to come about in every American school to prepare our students to compete in an ever more technically-oriented globl economy. Schools were originally designed as factories, production lines, where young minds were conditioned rather than opened. The new mission for education was unveiled by former President George Bush in January 1990, when he stated the six National Goals for Education. Goal 3 states: "By the year 2000 ... every school in America will ensure that all students ... be prepared for re sponsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment.." This triple-focus, ending with the concept of "productive employment," gives a clear mandate.

The mission of education as we head into the 21st century is to prepare students by providing the same opportunities to all of our students, not just the traditional 20-30% identified as college bound. Every student is embarking on a course that will evolve into a life-long learning tract. The ability to get on and off at different levels, and to change course, is going to ensure the ability to survive. To prepare the students of today to be ready for tomorrow we must open their eyes to possibilities, empower them to capitalize on those possibilities andput them to use. We have failed the majority over the last century; we cannot perpetuate that failure.

The funding made available through the Carl Perkins Act (1990) as well as many others, is the jump start needed to revitalize a dying system. It gives us the opportunity to implement the application-based programs. It allows us to develop site and community-based action plans that will direct our thrust. To take full advantage, we must realign our resources for the long term benefit of the educational system. New initiatives, programs and plans have in themselves created duplication an d waste. A successful TP Associate Degree + STW Program will bring together those existing resources and focus them on target areas. Every TP+STW Program should be aiming for self-funding within five years of initiaton, not from one government handout to the next. If local administrators have fully bought into the educational reform, then they must also reform educational finance procedures.

Initiation of any high technology-based program involves an exceedingly high capital outlay. The return from that investment might not be seen for three to four years; however, there will be a tremendous return. It is essential that school districts budget not only for the initial investment, but also the maintenance and upgrade of these resources. As George Bernard Shaw put it, "The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them."

School districts need to open their doors to their neighbors. When one school has a strength in a given cluster program, it should share that with another district. Magnet-style programs can be initiated and used for the maximum benefit of all within the consortium.

Standards need to be raised, courses given value and made demanding for all students. Bridge programs need to be initiated for those nontraditional or returning students. Just as lack of exposure has locked out millions throughout history, exposure will break open the door of opportunity. Enabling students to see what is available to them and teaching them to apply their knowledge will create a force that can not only compete on a global scale, but succeed on a global scale.

Your Role

Each middle school, junior high school, high school and community college needs to resolve to initiate an educational reformation within its own confines. Local planning teams need to be built that have a significant business, industry, and community involvement.This atmosphere for change may be most difficult within the community college. There are multiple reasons for this. The college enrollment will comprise traditional and nontraditional students, students seeking university matriculation, others who are there for skill training and mastery, and a retirement college group. To bring these together into a TP + STW format involves cooperation between the TP coordinator and the college curriculum dean. Success needs to be counted one small step at a time.

There is also resistance on the part of most community college faculty to change. College faculty are far more autonomous than their high school colleagues, and for change to occur there must be trust and respect generated and earned within the consortium. Here are some recommendations for effective programs:

  1. High academic, applied courses need to be initiated across the curriculum. Less remediation would be required if the high school imposed stricter standards and ensured competency mastery before a class was passed. Many community college students still require remedial math and English. This issue has to be addressed.

  2. Special emphasis should be placed on math, science, communication, and technology.

  3. Explorer or discovery courses need to be brought on line that will expose students to the whole picture rather than perpetuate tunnel vision. Within the community college this would translate into bridge programs such as CORDis Transformations, to bring non-traditional students up to speed in a more modern technological educational atmosphere.

  4. Articulated programs should be formed between high schools and community colleges, universities, and apprenticeship programs. These programs by necessity must involve business and local industry input. College faculty will also need to work with their high school counterparts to ensure a seamless educational flow. Students entering into the ninth grade should be able to see an educational plan that will carry them through high school and towards their ultimate goal. Every student will receive direction and be assisted throughout the navigation process to enable completion of the program. Technology will be an integral part of all educational programs.

  5. The distinction between vocational and academic education should be dropped. This will involve a long and challenging public relations and reeducation program not only for the students, but also the parents and the community.

  6. Each site will have a three year implementation plan that will be revised at least twice a year. A baseline must be established before implementation. This can reflect standardized test scores, school grade distribution, number of completers, number of college apprenticeship placements, drop out rate, etc.

The key to both TP and STW will be partnerships. The term School To Career will be the politically correct phrase for the future, especially if parents and faculty are to buy in.

In today's educational marketplace the words vocational and even work alienate the educational consumer, even though it is the aim of all to attain work upon graduation. Full use needs to be made of economic development partnerships, small business advisory boards, and all other currently established support groups and agencies. Partnerships are often difficult to initiate, especially in rural environments. However, once they are functioning everyone is a winner, especially the students.

Teachers and administrators also need exposure. It is estimated that 75% of the educators of today will still be in education by the year 2000. The major change mechanism be professional development. In an educational renaissance we need to empower the movers and shakers at all levels to focus on relevant and meaningful, quality and result-driven professional development. Teachers, counselors, administrators, support staff, and every school district or college employee must evaluate their own role in the changing face of education. Each must be made to focus on the quality of the product. A graduating student that can't do, won't do!

The community college needs to view TP as a marketing tool, not as a recruitment program. By exposing students at the junior and high school level to the possibilities before them we are opening up their minds and increasing their expectations. Community colleges should be in a position to capitalize upon that exposure. Working with an effective TP and now STW program, community colleges should realize a 25% increase in enrollment as the first graduate students roll out of high school into college. This brings with it mixed blessings. More students means an increase in institutional funds, and more potential customers for those marginal courses that barely make the cut due to enrollment. The flip side however, is the question: Will the present facilities support the increased enrollment? Are we offering the right programs? Staffing? Support services? In days of cutbacks and belt tightening, the prospect of additional students is indeed a mixed blessing.

Both President Bush and President Clinton have referred to TP in terms a revolution. As with any revolution there will be those who bury their head in the sand, or who block our advance. Exposure will make them aware, then they must move out, or go with the flow.

Applied academics will revitalize teachers as well as students. The revolution will not be a fait-acompli overnight, but it can be started in less than an hour. And its legacy will be carried into the next century.

Richard Riley recently was quoted as saying: "Our economic prosperity, our national security, and our nation's civic life have never been more linked to education than they are today as we enter the Information Age of the 21st century." We're on-the-mark. Are you ready yet? Only then can we go!


Alexander, L. (1991). America 2000: An Educational Strategy Source book. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Beaumont, R. & Tobias, W. (1994, October) Rural Tech Prep. Presentation delivered at the National Tech Prep NetworkConference.

Brand, B. (1990, January). A discussion with a committee of technical educators in her office. Washington, DC.

Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD). (1994). Academics 1 (1). Waco, TX: Author.

Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. (1990) America's choice high schools or low wages. Rochester, NY: National Center on Education and the Economy.

Congressional record, 101st Congress 2nd Session (1980, September 25) The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act Amendments of 1990.

Fiske, E.B. (1991). Smart Schools, Smart Kids. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Hoerner, J.L. (1991) Tech Prep and Educational Reform. Berkeley, CA: NCRVE

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Hull, D., and Parnell, D. (1991). Tech-Prep Associate Degree. Waco, TX: Center for Occupational Research and Development.

Law, C. J. (1994) Tech prep education - A total quality approach. Lancaster, PA:Technomic Publishing Co.

Parnell, D. (1993). Logolearning - Searching for meaning in education. Waco, TX: Center for Occupational Research and Development.

Schools trying to link good jobs and skills. (1989, September 27). The New York Times p.1.

U.S. Department of Education (1990, July) National Goals for Education. Washington, DC.

U.S. Dept. of Education (1995) Community Update, Goals 2000, 21 (1).

W.T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship. (1988). The forgotten half: Pathways to success for Americais youth and young families. Washington, DC. Wall Street Journal. (1988 March 17). p. 27

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