ERIC Identifier: ED413405
Publication Date: 1997-11-00
Author: Stern, David
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
Learning and Earning: The Value of Working for Urban Students.
ERIC/CUE Digest Number 128.
The effects on students of holding off-campus jobs has been debated for
decades, with research findings available to support every view. Some students
must work while they continue to attend school, regardless of possible negative
consequences. Thus, there is a challenge for schools, and for employers
concerned about the quality of its future workforce: to help youth find and
retain part-time positions that meet their short-term financial needs and also
provide them with meaningful learning experiences that enhance the effectiveness
of their education.
This digest briefly reviews the ways that working affects students and
describes how schools can partner with businesses to increase the education
benefits of working.
THE EFFECTS ON STUDENTS OF WORKING
The economic payoff for students who work while in high school is well
established. In addition to immediate earnings, there is a positive association
between the amount of high school work experience and employment or earnings a
few years later (Stern et al., 1995). Jobs that provide greater opportunity for
students to use and develop their skills also can have beneficial effects on
future employment and earnings (Stern & Nakata, 1989). In particular,
students' opportunities to acquire skills at work can have a substantial effect
on their development of an intrinsic positive orientation toward work,
especially if they work in their senior year as opposed to earlier (stern, et
The major potential cost of student jobs is their negative impact on academic
achievement, but research findings vary significantly on the extent of the
detriment. Most evidence indicates that high school students working more than
15 or 20 hours a week suffer academically: they have lower grades, do less
homework, are more likely to drop out, or are less likely to complete
postsecondary education. Students who work fewer hours seem to suffer fewer
negative consequences (Stern et al., 1995).
An analysis of the psychosocial aspects of work experience for high school
students in Orange County, California, concluded that it "may make them
economically rich, but may also make them psychologically poor" (Greenberger
& Steinberg, 1986, p.238). The researchers found that many working youth
expressed a cynical attitude toward work; spent most of their pay on personal
luxuries, or on alcohol, marijuana, and, for males, gambling; and admitted to
illegal or immoral conduct, such as stealing merchandise or falsely calling in
sick. These findings commanded widespread attention and began a more serious
debate about the supposed benefits of work experience.
WORK-BASED LEARNING PROGRAMS
Given the disadvantages for
students who work at non-school- related jobs, school-to-work initiatives in the
1990s, particularly local partnerships funded by the 1994 School-to-Work
Opportunities Act, are placing a high priority on developing work-based learning
(WBL) opportunities for students (Hershe et al., 1997). Preliminary findings
indicate that school supervision of students' work experience may increase its
educational value. Overall, for WBL students, in comparison with those working
at other jobs, there was a decrease in the negative association between working
long hours and grades. For WBL students who were being prepared for employment
rather than college immediately post-high school, future earnings were higher
than for other working students (Stern, Finkelstein, Urquiola, & Cagampang,
The general purpose of WBL is to provide students with a work experience that
will have long-term educational and vocational benefits. Programs can have a
variety of objectives, although given constraints on students' time, it is not
possible to maximize all of them simultaneously. Therefore, different programs
emphasize different goals. The following are common components of programs whose
effectiveness has been demonstrated (Urquiola et al., 1997):
OF KNOWLEDGE OR SKILLS FOR EMPLOYMENT IN PARTICULAR OCCUPATIONS OR INDUSTRIES.
This is the main purpose of traditional apprenticeships and other forms of
on-the-job training. Learning by doing, under the guidance of an experienced
supervisor, develops competencies necessary to do the job. In the 1990s, this
traditional practice is being placed in a lifetime career perspective, because
jobs and skill requirements change frequently. New skill standards for various
industries and occupational clusters now include "core competencies" or
"foundations" to enable workers to progress and adapt as conditions change
EXPLORATION AND PLANNING. The idea of "career majors" in the School-to-Work
Opportunities Act is intended to create a coherent sequence of learning and work
experiences to make youth's journey through school and various kinds of early
work experiences more connected and purposeful, and to increase their chances of
eventually finding rewarding work. Thus, WBL allows students to sample different
kinds of work, to understand how they might fit into each, but without
necessarily making a long-term commitment initially. For example, many local WBL
programs allow high school students to start with brief job shadowing visits
that lead to longer experiences later (Pauly, Kopp, & Haimson, 1995).
OF ALL ASPECTS OF AN INDUSTRY. This program component is intended to ensure that
students learn more than the skills needed for specific entry-level jobs.
Providing students with experience in all aspects of an industry or industry
sector integrates academic and vocational education, empowers them to make
career choices, prepares them to adapt to technological change, and equips them
to play an active part in the economic development of their local communities
(Jacobs, 1995). School-based enterprises, as compared with non-school
enterprises, offer some advantages as work settings where students can learn
about all aspects of an industry. Because their main purpose is educational,
they can give students better opportunities for learning, doing a range of
tasks, and working in teams; and more room to experiment and make mistakes.
OF WORK-RELATED PERSONAL AND SOCIAL COMPETENCE. Beyond industry-specific
knowledge, students need to develop a broader set of capacities-sometimes termed
generic work skills, core competencies, or transferable skills-that are
desirable in most or all work situations. A comprehensive list of such
capacities was developed by the U.S. Secretary of Labor's Commission on
Achieving Necessary Skills (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991). The Commission's
framework consists of a three-part foundation, then five general competencies.
The three-part foundation comprises basic skills, thinking skills, and personal
qualities. Beyond this foundation, the Commission sketched competencies along
five dimensions: resources, interpersonal relations, use of information,
understanding systems, and employing technology. Basic skills have been
identified as ninth grade reading and mathematics, solving semi-structured
problems, working in groups, oral and written communication, and the ability to
use computers (Murnane & Levy, 1996).
IN STUDENT MOTIVATION AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT. Although improving students'
performance in school may be removed from WBL's traditional goal of teaching
vocational skills and knowledge related to particular occupations, it is a
reasonable, and even desirable, objective. While WBL by itself has not been
shown to raise students' academic achievement (Hamilton & Hamilton, 1997),
the negative effects on achievement of working long hours might be mitigated by
more closely aligning students' work and school experiences.
Further, research has demonstrated that providing some kind of "contextual"
or "situated" learning opportunities improves student understanding and
retention of academic subject matter (Raizen, 1989). Thus, WBL experiences that
provide students with an opportunity to solve practical problems that arise in
the context of productive activity can enhance their overall motivation and
achievement as it also provides a vocational education.
IMPROVING WORK-BASED LEARNING
If WBL is intended not only
to expose students to the workplace and give them an opportunity to acquire
specific procedural know-how, but also to accomplish any of the broader purposes
described here, then it must be carefully planned and monitored by people who
understand both the work setting and what is to be learned there. Steinberg
(1997) spells out "six A's": authenticity, adult connections, academic rigor,
applied learning, active exploration, and assessment.
To ensure that WBL becomes an integral part of the curriculum, teachers of
academic subjects have to be persuaded that the program is worthwhile for
themselves and their students and become involved. To serve broader educational
purposes and a broader cross-section of students, WBL will have to be linked to
instruction in English, mathematics, science, foreign language, and social
studies. Sending non-vocational teachers to spend some time in workplaces
outside the school may help them find practical applications for their subject
matter; in fact, some school-to-work partnerships are now providing this kind of
opportunity through summer internships and other arrangements.
It is also necessary to examine how WBL can enhance the education of students
who are already high achievers and augment the college preparatory curriculum.
Until it is determined that WBL can be effectively extended to college-bound
students, efforts to implement programs and expand those in existence will be
minimal, and WBL students may feel stigmatized as less academically able (Pauly
et al., 1995).
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