ERIC Identifier: ED308400
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Naylor, Michele
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Retaining At-Risk Students in Career and Vocational Education.
ERIC Digest No. 87.
Statistics indicate that almost 30 percent of students entering high school
will leave prior to graduation. Urban dropout rates often range between 40 and
50 percent. Estimates place the nationwide costs of the dropout problem at a
minimum of $26,000 for each dropout during his or her working life (Tindall
1988). This practice application Digest lists the factors that place students at
risk of dropping out, examines the characteristics of successful programs in
career and vocational education for secondary at-risk students, and presents
recommendations for enhancing teacher and program effectiveness to motivate
FACTORS THAT PLACE STUDENTS AT RISK
Department of Public Instruction's definition of the term "at-risk" is one of
the most comprehensive. It lists 14 factors that place students in serious
jeopardy of dropping out, including the following: being one or more years
behind their grade level in reading or math (in grades K-8) or three or more
credits behind their age/grade level in credits earned toward graduation (in
grades 9-12); being chronically truant; being a school-age parent; having a
history of personal and/or family drug and alcohol abuse; having parents who
have low expectations for their child's success or who place little value on
education; being a victim of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; experiencing
a family trauma (such as death or divorce); being economically, culturally, or
educationally disadvantaged; and coming from a family with a history of
dropouts. Additional risk factors include low intelligence test scores, low
self-concept and social maturity, feelings of alienation, and certain types of
handicaps and limiting conditions (Tindall 1988).
THE ROLE OF CAREER AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION IN
Weber (1988) compares vocational and nonvocational instruction
from the standpoint of nine characteristics of model dropout prevention
programs. The model program characteristics considered are as follows: teachers
with the authority to design courses and experiences; low teacher-pupil ratio;
teachers attuned to students' needs; environment free from absenteeism, theft,
and substance abuse; individualization; active role for students; recognition
and special awards; emphasis on basic skills remediation; and emphasis on
resolving students' personal problems. Weber finds that vocational education
programs are more successful than nonvocational programs in regard to the first
seven of these. Only in the latter two areas does Weber conclude that vocational
education must do a better job.
A career-focused curriculum has been proposed as one effective strategy for
making instructional programs relevant to at-risk students and thus motivating
them to remain in school. Vocational educators can shift their programs from a
subject- to a career-focused curriculum by (1) conscious and planned
facilitation of the school-to-work transition and (2) provision of a rich set of
experiential and cooperative learning opportunities that socialize students to
the workplace (Fennimore 1988).
CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS
share a common set of characteristics related to general organization, staffing,
and instruction (Tindall 1988). Such programs are generally presented in
contexts that differ from a "traditional" school environment and function
somewhat autonomously. Classrooms have low teacher-pupil ratios. Teachers tend
to have a special commitment to their programs' philosophies and goals; they are
able and willing to establish relationships with their students that go beyond
the conventional teacher-student relationship. Teachers devote about half their
time to students' remediation needs, about one-fourth to their personal needs,
and about one-fourth to their work-related needs. Persuasive motivational
strategies and individualized teaching and learning are also used.
Two program models that deserve special mention are the
school-within-a-school program and the integrated learning environment. A
school-within-a-school program functions best when it includes no more than
25-100 students working with 2-6 faculty members. These programs feature
face-to-face relationships; extensive individualized and personalized
instruction; teachers who are willing to assume an extended role in which they
deal with students' home, community, and personal problems when necessary; a
formal application procedure and insistence that students entering the program
make a commitment to it; heavy emphasis on basic skills; and clear objectives,
prompt feedback, and concrete evidence of progress (Tindall 1988).
In the integrated learning environment model, vocational instruction is
provided in an environment in which students, educators (teachers,
administrators, and counselors), the business community, parents, and the
community at large are viewed as partners in an open and interconnected learning
community. In order to increase its relevance to students, classroom instruction
is coordinated with career education, paid work experience, and community
service. Relationships between students and teachers stress shared goal setting
and decision making, teamwork, group participation, and supportive leadership.
Fennimore (1988) presents detailed guidelines for developing and implementing a
program for at-risk students.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT
identifies five key components of successful programs for keeping at-risk
students in school: (1) administrative support, (2) community support, (3)
family support, (4) funding support, and (5) development of a program geared
toward the special needs of at-risk students. He recommends the following
actions: o Develop a K-12 approach to retaining at-risk students o Encourage
creativity and ownership of programs, involve staff members in planning and
decision making, and create a flexible management style o Involve
community-based organizations, develop business-education partnerships with
local employers, and coordinate approaches with other service providers (Private
Industry Councils, community service organizations, health and human service
organizations, and religious institutions) o Assist families in dealing with
problems related to family relationships, abuse and neglect, substance abuse,
and low self-esteem and apathy o Use a multiple funding approach and apply for
funding from federal and state legislative programs pertaining to job training,
vocational and adult education, special education, literacy, juvenile justice
and delinquency, and so forth, as appropriate
Tindall provides detailed recommendations regarding identifying, recruiting,
retaining, and assessing at-risk students; developing and/or improving
prevocational programs; and implementing vocational programs geared toward the
unique needs of at-risk students.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR STRUCTURING CLASSROOMS
(1989) presents a set of practical recommendations for vocational educators to
use in structuring their classrooms to meet the needs of at-risk students. His
recommendations are grouped into the following five categories.
Use a student-centered approach. Design
classroom activities to build on individual student strengths, interests, needs,
and desires while meeting stated program goals. Be a positive role model for
students. Demonstrate confidence, competence, respect for students, and trust.
Explain the curriculum so that students know
what it entails. Be sure that the curriculum challenges all of the students in
the class regardless of their ability so that students can feel that they are
achieving in meaningful activities. Use a variety of in- and out-of-school
activities that are coordinated to meet both the educational goals of the
program and the students' needs, interests, and expectations. Vary daily
activities to increase student motivation and productivity.
STUDENTS' LEARNING STYLE
Ascertain how much and what kind
of learning has already taken place. State educational objectives clearly so
that students can have a clear understanding of what they are expected to learn
before they apply their own learning styles to accomplish the objectives set for
CLASSROOM ORGANIZATION AND MANAGEMENT
Strive to keep every
student involved in activities that are relevant to his or her needs and tied to
clearly stated educational objectives. Do not interrupt a student's task once
activities have been assigned, and never assign a second activity before the
first one has been completed. Organize the classroom so that a variety of
activities can be conducted at the same time by students working in small
EVALUATION AND ASSESSMENT
Develop a comprehensive
evaluation and assessment system that includes a separate testing plan for each
type of student activity. Identify a variety of different test items and
techniques to match the range of abilities of the students in the class. Use a
variety of testing situations, and test when the situation calls for it rather
than at preset intervals. Select evaluation instruments to complement the types
of activities that students have used to master the skills being covered.
Eschenmann, K. Kurt. "Structuring Classrooms for
Success." VOCATIONAL EDUCATION JOURNAL 63, no.6 (September 1988): 46-47. (ERIC
No. EJ 375 867).
Fennimore, Todd F. A GUIDE FOR DROPOUT PREVENTION:
CREATING AN INTEGRATED LEARNING ENVIRONMENT IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS.
DROPOUT PREVENTION SERIES. Columbus: The National Center for Research in
Vocational Education, The Ohio State University, 1988. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 298 323).
Tindall, Lloyd W. RETAINING AT-RISK STUDENTS: THE ROLE OF CAREER AND
VOCATIONAL EDUCATION. INFORMATION SERIES NO. 335. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Center on Education and Training for
Employment, The Ohio State University, 1988. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service
No. ED 303 683).
Weber, James M. "The Relevance of Vocational Education to Dropout
Prevention." VOCATIONAL EDUCATION JOURNAL 63, no. 6 (September 1988): 36-38.
(ERIC No. EJ 375 863).