“Quality Vocational Education” By Piper Hudmon

What is Quality Vocational Education?

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With the current focus on college readiness for high school graduates, it seems that less emphasis is being placed on vocational training in secondary education (Tucker, 2012). Periodically, misconceptions regarding vocational education arise. These misconceptions include the notion that vocational training is some type of consolation prize given out to those students who don’t ‘make the cut’ for a college preparatory track (Wonacott, 2000) . In reality, quality vocational education is a wise choice for a large percentage of the student population and can certainly lead to successful and, oftentimes, very lucrative careers.

Another misconception is that vocational training only consists of hands-on labor fields such as mechanics and construction. The vocational spectrum is hugely broad and includes such fields such as pharmacy, architecture, medicine, and accounting.

In the United States, vocational education is commonly referred to as Career and Technical Education, or CTE. The following illustration, taken from the U.S. Department of Education Statistical Analysis Report of Career and Technical Education in the United States: 1990-2005 (Levesque, 2008), shows the typical courses offered to high school students, with career and technical courses in the center:


It's easy to see that the offerings of the career and technical training track are variable and meet many interests and abilities. Even so, one seemingly large school of thought regarding technical training is that it is a concept whose time has passed. With the focus on college and career readiness at the forefront of many budget decisions; the ‘career’ component has become almost an afterthought; complacently tucked in with the collegiate component as a silent partner. Many individuals and organizations believe that all students should have the ‘option’ to go to college, and as such, must be prepared ‘just in case’ they decide at the eleventh hour on such course. This philosophy demands college preparation for all students, and reinforces the ‘vocational track as plan B’ theme.

The following table, taken from the above-mentioned government publication, shows that 45.6 percent of U.S. public high schools are not affiliated with career and technical education service:


This trend towards minimizing the importance and availability of CTE in high school is troubling in light of the research which shows that quality vocational training can prevent both discipline issues and high school drop outs.

Students who are interested in what they are learning and who see a purpose or end goal for the work that they are doing are much more likely to stay the course and finish high school. In a list of the fifteen most effective strategies for dropout prevention compiled in association with the National Dropout Prevention Center, Franklin Schargel says this about career and technical education: "A quality guidance program is essential for all students. School-to-work programs recognize that youth need specific skills to prepare them for the larger demands of today's workplace."

Also, students who are engaged in relevant and authentic work are much less likely to cause problems for themselves and/or others in the classroom. They are engaged, motivated, and working toward a meaningful goal (Schlechty Center, 2013).
This two and a half minute video may provide you with a fuller understanding of what career and technical education is has to offer all stakeholders:

CTE: Making the Difference from NASDCTEc on Vimeo.

Trend or Issue?

Is the substantiated reduction of quality vocational training in American public schools a trend or an issue? I say both. It is a trend in that it is a consequence of decisions which are following a general course; and it is an issue in that it is an important topic for consideration.

The Trend of Career and Technical Education as an "Endangered Species"

Webster's defines a trend as "a general direction of change." Career and technical education is on the decline in the United States and this is the direction of change. "In recent years, 'get a college education' has become the basic advice given to all young people and for good reason. Over the past twenty years, the earnings of young adults who had completed at least a bachelor’s degree increased greatly relative to their counterparts who had a high school diploma or the equivalent. Yet, many young people do not go on to college, and others enroll but later drop out. Many of these young people may be unsuited for college—by ability, temperament, or interest. And most jobs—including some very good jobs—do not require a college degree. For some young people, career and technical education (CTE) might provide a route to some of these good jobs. It might even give them a reason to stay in high school and thereby increase the chances that they will eventually get to college. Many people, however, oppose CTE because they fear it discourages young people from going on to post-secondary education and thus threatens to hold them back from achieving their full potential. Opponents also cite the history of poor and obsolete CTE programs that became a dumping ground for less able students. We believe that these concerns are valid, but that, instead of abandoning CTE programs, we should be trying to improve, upgrade, and modernize. The federal government could potentially play an important role in this effort by sponsoring high-quality research, disseminating the results of this research, developing curricula and other materials to be used by schools nationwide, and providing technical assistance to states and localities (Cohen & Besherov, 2002, p.1)."

If vocational training in high school has become and endangered species (as I believe it has), then shouldn't we take steps to protect and re-establish it back into the system? College is a wonderful option for many students (this author included); however, for some students it is not necessary and can even become an off-ramp leading them to a confusing, threatening, and un-fulfilling place that they never really needed to travel through in the first place.

The Loss of the Vocational Choice...Not Enough of an Issue
There seems to be a national awareness that having a high school diploma is just not enough in today's job search. However, the collective knee-jerk reaction of an answer has not solved the crisis, but rather led to yet another problem. "The response to the declining rewards of [a] high school [diploma] has often been to urge all students to go to college. And students are listening. Fifty-five percent of 1998 high school seniors reported that they definitely planned to graduate from a four-year college (up from 36 percent in 1980), while another 23 percent said they would probably do so. The percentage of all high school seniors who expected to complete at least some college rose from 81 percent in 1972 to 95 percent in 1992. Yet, the actual college performance of many high school graduates falls short of their expectations. Only 63 percent of high school completers enrolled in two-year or four-year college in the fall immediately after high school in 1999, up from 49 percent in 1972. And college completion rates for those who enroll are very low. Two researchers at the U.S. Department of Education reviewed various estimates of four-year college completion rates and concluded that “somewhere around half of the freshmen entering four-year colleges eventually graduate (Cohen & Besherov, 2002, p. 4).”

What happens to the other half? What happens to those millions of college-bound young adults who arrived on campus only to find out that they were not equipped for the demands of the role? Who is tracking this information? I don't know. And apparently not enough people are asking. Entering the query "What happens to college dropouts" in a Google search engine yielded the results below:


Notice that these results involve high school dropouts. Apparently the crisis involving students who are shuttled off to college when they don't really need to be there is not enough of an issue to warrant awareness. My hope is that this begins to change...and that this wiki page can be a small part of that shift in perspective.

To examine a proposal which could be a part of the solution click here:


15 Effective Strategies for Dropout Prevention : Schargel Consulting Group. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.schargel.com/2007/12/17/15-effective-strategies-for-dropout-prevention -This
webpage outlines the strategies which were developed by the National Dropout Prevention Center in association with Franklin P. Schargel.

Cohen, M., & Besharov, D. (2002). The Role of Career and Technical Education: Implications for the Federal Government. Retrieved from www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/hs/besharov.doc

CTE: Making the Difference on Vimeo [Video file]. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/26926766 -This short video highlights ways in which CTE is leading positive change in secondary, post secondary and adult education, with innovative programs that are making a difference nationwide.

Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

Levesque, Karen (2008). Career and technical education in the United States: 1990 to 2005. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.

Schlechty Center. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.schlechtycenter.org/ - The Schlechty Center is a private, nonprofit organization committed to partnering with school leaders across the country to transform their classrooms, schools, and school districts into engagement-focused organizations.

Tucker, M. (2012, January 26). The Death of Vocational Education and the Demise of the American Middle Class - Top Performers - Education Week [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/top_performers/2012/01/the_death_of_vocational_education_and_the_demise_of_the_american_middle_class.html

Wonacott, Michael E (2000). Benefits of vocational education. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Center on Education and Training for Employment, College of Education, the Ohio State University.