ERIC Identifier: ED414435
Publication Date: 1998-00-00
Author: Brown, Bettina Lankard
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
What's Happening in School-to-Work Programs? ERIC Digest No.
The School-to-Work Opportunities Act authorized the allocation of resources
for initiatives that would help young people make the transition from school to
work. As the implementation of various initiatives is reported in the
literature, the literature base related to school-to-work (STW) is rapidly
expanding. This Digest, based on an ERIC publication (Lewis 1997), presents a
summary of the characteristics, principles, and practices of successful
school-to-work efforts as synthesized from the literature.
PHILOSOPHY GUIDING SCHOOL-TO-WORK
Today's high-skill job
market requires advanced academic knowledge and workplace skills and training,
yet young entrants to the work force are not meeting these criteria. According
to Lewis (1997), "a substantial number of youth--especially the economically
disadvantaged, racial and ethnic minorities, and the disabled--do not complete
high school and are not enrolled in school" (p. 4). Of those who do complete
high school, three-quarters enter the work force without bachelor's degrees and
many lack the academic and entry-level occupational skills required by their
employers (ibid). It is not surprising that their workplace experiences are
characterized by high levels of job turnover and unemployment, as well as
falling wages. Businesses are bearing extensive costs resulting from the
mismatch between school learning and workplace requirements. "It is estimated
that American business spends nearly $30 billion training and retraining its
work force" (National School-to-Work Learning and Information Center 1996a, p.
The School-to-Work Opportunities Act was designed to improve student
learning, in-school retention, and transition to the workplace by improving the
quality and relevance of education for all students through experiences that
integrate school-based and work-based learning and improve students' knowledge
of and access to career opportunities (ibid.). Its implementation requires the
restructuring of secondary education and the extensive involvement of business
in the work force preparation of youth. Efforts to make the fundamental changes
required by the school-to-work legislation have been reported in the literature.
Lewis' (1997) paper presents a synthesis of empirical evidence on the conduct
and outcomes of such efforts that can be used to guide the implementation of
ELEMENTS AND CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL
School-to-work initiatives do not reflect a single model, but
rather reflect the conditions of the settings and contexts in which they are
introduced. The classification of an initiative as school-to-work may be linked
to the following elements identified by Hollenbeck (1996). STW initiatives--
an identifiable formal part of a secondary and/or postsecondary curriculum,
active participation of employers,
actual or simulated on-the job experience, and
in formal or informal certification of skills.
"The major types of efforts that meet these criteria include apprenticeships,
youth or preapprenticeships, techprep education, career academies, cooperative
education, school-based enterprises, business-education compacts, employer
certified programs, worksite learning, and career exposure programs" (ibid., p.
3). In grades K-8, teachers and counselors provide parents as well as students
information about careers and school-to-work opportunities and incorporate
academic and vocational integration activities in their classrooms.
In his review and synthesis of the STW literature, Lewis (1997) summarized
the characteristics of effective initiatives as they relate to overall system
development, partnerships, commitment, funding, guidance, and classroom/worksite
activities. The following statements reflect that summary of effective
They are guided by a comprehensive strategic vision that
sets forth the linkages expected at each level of the
They involve employers in partnership with schools.
They require commitment and support at all levels and from
all stakeholders--schools, businesses, postsecondary
institutions, community partners, and parents.
They provide adequate financial support, which often means
that a variety of different sources have been developed.
They provide students with a strong foundation of career
information and a planned sequence of learning experiences
throughout their school years that will help them develop an
awareness of their own interests, goals, and abilities.
They achieve and support the integration of academic and
These characteristics, which offer the basis for educational efforts to
support the connection of school-based and work-based learning, are reflected in
the following school practices.
EXAMPLES OF EFFECTIVE PRACTICES
A variety of innovative
practices have been initiated in schools and communities committed to
facilitating school-to-work transitions. Some of the teacher practices that have
had a significant effect on students and the classroom are described by Cicmanec
and Boston (1997) (pp. 1-2):
structure classroom activities to integrate academic skills with skills required
for successful employment.
and counselors provide information about careers and school-to-work
opportunities to parents and students and help them make decisions based on
their knowledge of the curriculum and students' interests and aptitude.
form partnerships with business people, technical workers, and others from the
public and private sectors to provide resources and enhance classroom
broaden and deepen their knowledge of various vocations, collaborating with
employers to provide contextual learning activities and to set achievable goals
for their students.
use new ways to assess students' knowledge and skills and to help prepare
students to meet state and industry standards.
representatives work with others from business, technical and vocational
schools, community colleges, universities, nonprofit organizations and
government to develop, implement, and assess school-to-work opportunities for
Other effective school-to-work practices are those that provide students with
job-related experiences and connect them to the work environment. Through STW
efforts that involve job shadowing and mentoring, students learn about job
possibilities and conditions of employment. Through volunteer work, internships,
and work experiences, students are able to experience the work environment
firsthand. Through engagement in work-based learning, students have an
opportunity to apply academic knowledge and vocational skills to solve problems
of the real world and perform job-related tasks (National School-to-Work
Learning and Information Center 1996b).
Although many people have the perception that school-to-work initiatives
benefit only those who do not plan to attend college, Bailey and Merritt (1997)
point out that such efforts are beneficial to all students--including the
college bound--by promoting the following outcomes:
help students clarify their personal goals and determine their purposes for
going to college.
broaden and inform students' choices for careers/jobs.
help students develop self-confidence by giving them learning responsibilities
and linking them with the broader community outside school.
boost students' earning power by giving them some work-based learning
offer hands-on learning opportunities to reinforce academic instruction.
Rather than competing with the existing realm of education, STW initiatives
complement and enhance education's message by connecting what students learn in
school with the application of knowledge in the real world of work. To
accomplish this mission, STW initiatives must address certain barriers.
BARRIERS TO SUCCESSFUL INITIATIVES
Attitude is a major
barrier to the success of STW efforts. Some employers lack confidence that their
involvement in STW initiatives will be cost effective, reaping them rewards in
reduced hiring costs and greater productivity. They are discouraged by the costs
of bringing students into the organization and allocating time for skilled
workers to work with them, by laws regarding child labor and safety, by
insurance costs for general liability and workers' compensation, and by
management and employee resistance to work-based learning.
Not all parents are receptive to work-based learning. They see one drawback
as the need to remove their sons and daughters from the school setting, which is
familiar to most parents, and introduce them to the adult workplace.
Additionally, many parents perceive that school-to-work initiatives are a threat
to academic learning and will draw their children away from college preparation
Postsecondary institutions may be reluctant to participate in school-to-work
collaboration with high schools because of the increased costs and hassles
involved in collaboration efforts. Four-year institutions may shy away from the
extra work and collaboration required to recognize school-to-work course work at
the college level. In addition, collaboration can pose a threat to institutional
control and accountability.
Teacher attitudes also have a great effect on the successful implementation
of school-to-work initiatives. Some teachers may be fearful of change and
reluctant to devote the time and effort required to learn and incorporate new
ways of teaching and learning into their instruction, curriculum, and classroom
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PROGRAM IMPROVEMENT
To reverse the
negative perceptions regarding school-to-work efforts, additional research and
more definitive evaluations are required (Bailey and Merritt 1997). A 1996 study
by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (Olson 1997) found that
employers were willing to take part in STW program approaches ranging from
career academies to youth apprenticeships. However, the number of employers and
students engaged in the effort was small--9 and 25 respectively. Additionally,
the study did not look at student outcomes.
Lewis (1997) made the following recommendations for improving school-to-work
enough employers who are willing to provide opportunities for work-based
learning. Businesses need evidence that shows the mutual benefits of
teachers the time, resources, and support required to connect school-based and
work-based learning. Teachers need training and staff development time and
opportunities to gain experience with employers, e.g., through externships. They
need opportunities to exchange knowledge with all the stakeholders in
school-to-work, e.g., students, school administrators, community members,
employers, and representatives from postsecondary institutions and four-year
parents about the objectives of school-to-work. Provide parents with evidence of
program effectiveness to counter any erroneous perceptions and assumptions.
the vocational maturity of high school students. Ensure that students are
properly prepared to assume work-based learning activities in the workplace.
Provide ongoing guidance and counseling.
If the changes called for by the School-to-Work Opportunities Act are to be
realized, "an investment much greater than that currently being made will be
required from all partners. If this investment is forthcoming, if sound
principles are followed, and if the systems are given adequate time to develop,
STW can have a major impact on education and the productivity of the U.S. work
force" (Lewis 1997, p. 25).
Bailey, T., and Merritt, D. "School-to-Work for
the College-Bound." EDUCATION WEEK, October 28, 1997.
Cicmanec, K., and Boston, C. "School-to-Work Transition in the K-12
Classroom." ERIC REVIEW 4, no. 2 (Spring 1996): 12-13.
Hollenbeck, K. SCHOOL-TO-WORK PROGRAMS TO FACILITATE YOUTH EMPLOYMENT AND
LEARNING. Kalamazoo, MI: W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 1996.
(ED 394 046)
Lewis, M. CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL SCHOOL-TO-WORK INITIATIVES.
INFORMATION SERIES NO. 370. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career,
and Vocational Education, 1997.
National School-to-Work Learning and Information Center. DISPELLING MYTHS
ABOUT SCHOOL-TO-WORK. FACT SHEET. Washington, DC: NSLIC, 1996a.
National School-to-Work Learning and Information Center. ELEMENTS OF THE
SCHOOL-TO-WORK OPPORTUNITIES ACT: WORK-BASED LEARNING. FACT SHEET. Washington,
DC: NSLIC, 1996b. <http://www.stw.ed.gov/factsht/fact4.htm>
Olson, L. "Early School-to-Work Programs Thriving, Report Finds." EDUCATION
WEEK, October 1, 1996. <http://www.stw.ed.gov/ht/edwk10_1 htm>