Reducing the Dropout Rate through Career and Vocational Education
Why do Students Drop Out?
Examining the reasons why students drop out, Willis (1986) discusses the following correlates of educational risk: family structure and poverty, race and ethnicity, language, residence, economic displacement, and gender. Indicators of educational risk, according to Willis, are student attendance, school continuation rates, academic performance, involvement in school activities, student behavior, attitudes toward school, need for employment, nature of family support, involvement in out-of-school activities, and involvement with the juvenile justice system. This does not mean, however, that dropping out is just a minority or urban problem. Noting that since 1970 the dropout rate for blacks has decreased nationally, whereas that for whites has edged up steadily, Brown (1985) prefers to categorize high risk youth as either alienated ("uninterested in or dissatisfied with the values represented by school and work" and lacking in "motivation to succeed in expected ways" (p. 9), disadvantaged and alienated, or simply disadvantaged.
What is the Role of Career and Vocational Education in Dropout Prevention?
In view of the risk factors, then, the key to reducing the dropout rate is helping youth to overcome their sense of disconnection. Miller and Imel (1987) attest that students with low motivation to attend school have shown improvement in school attendance and retention after participating in career education and that vocational students who have participated in career education are more likely to complete the vocational program they have selected. An analysis performed by Mertens, Seitz, and Cox (1982) on data obtained in 1979 and 1980 interviews with the New Youth Cohort of the National Longitudinal Surveys of Labor Force Behavior, confirmed that, all else being equal, the more vocational classes students took, the less likely they were to drop out of school. The relationship between vocational education and the choice to stay in school was, however, only statistically significant in grades 10 and 12 (and negative but not significant for grade 11). Furthermore, the effect was quite small in both grades 10 and 12 (Mertens, Seitz, and Cox, 1982).
Miller and Imel (1987) offer some reasons for the size of this effect when they discuss the importance of the quality of the vocational education experienced by different students. They point out that casual exploration through vocational courses or work experience that is not related to learning goals is less effective than is major concentration in a vocational program. Thus, they recommend that vocational and career educators desiring to improve student retention develop individualized plans (including educational goals, strategies to reduce barriers to the achievement of goals, and timeliness for monitoring progress on these goals) such as those used with handicapped students. They further recommend small programs with 2-6 teachers serving 25-60 students. They also say that the most successful programs are those in which students are encouraged to be cooperative rather than competitive.
What Kinds of Programs are Needed?
Weber (1986) recommends the following:
(1) more systematic and intensive efforts to identify and assist potential dropouts prior to and at entry into vocational programs;
(2) program activities to enhance school climate and reduce absenteeism, class-cutting, and drug and alcohol abuse;
(3) systematic awareness and educational activities directed toward enhancing parents' involvement in program planning and support;
(4) more extensive career exploration and related career education experiences, particularly prior to and at the transition into high school;
(5) improvement of transitions through a vocational program to direct dropout-prone students to job-specific skill training courses;
(6) review and evaluation of work study experiences for dropout-prone students to ensure that they involve concrete objectives and program experiences, clear linkages with students' overall school programs, and built-in evaluation activities;
(7) review of rules governing vocational program entry to ensure student access to and participation in vocational and work study programs with firm ties to overall school plans and goals;
(8) activities to increase dropout-prone student participation in the vocational program and enhance linkages between students' vocational experiences and their other school-related experiences and activities (pp. x-xi).
What are Examples of Successful Programs?
The literature contains many examples of career and vocational programs that have been successful in keeping students from dropping out or helping dropouts re-enroll in and complete high school. Such programs may be run by schools exclusively; may be based on a school-business partnership; or may even involve counseling to parents.
Willis (1986) mentions the work done by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) and the Appalachia Educational Laboratory (AEL) confirming the relationship between parent involvement and school achievement. One school business partnership that encourages parent involvement in career counseling and planning is the Peninsula Academies Program, which is based at Menlo-Atherton High School and Sequoia High School in California's Silicon Valley. Students are matched with mentors from cooperating companies who volunteer to spend time with students in career-related big brother or big sister roles; to take students to their companies to expose them to the world of work; and to work with parents in helping the students formulate career plans (Justiz and Kameen, 1987).
The Peninsula Academies also provide a program of formal classroom instruction to 30 students per year per academy. Students are provided with 3 years of instruction in computers or electronics, beginning in the 10th grade. Distinctive features of the program include its highly work-related curriculum, exposure to real jobs through work experience and paid summer employment, and a final incentive of a job waiting for all students who graduate from the program and high school. Area firms contribute lab instructors on loan, funding, equipment, mentors, speakers, field trip sites, and summer jobs (PENINSULA ACADEMIES PROGRAM, 1984).
Other exemplary career and vocational education programs for high-risk students include the following:
- Middle College High School at La Guardia College in New York City exposes high-risk 10th- to 12th-grade students to career options through internships and work placements (Brown, 1985).
- Cities in Schools, a multisponsored program focusing on youth and their families, which is headquartered in Washington D.C., presents high-risk youth with a coordinated package linking social and business services to the educational system (Brown, l985.)
- The Philadelphia High School Academies Program, which has been operating since 1970, is distinguished by its combination of personal attention and follow-up with actual work experience to provide disadvantaged inner-city high school students with marketable job skills in the electrical occupations, business, auto mechanics, and health care (Brown, l985.)
- The Cooperative Federation for Education Experiences (COFFEE) is an exemplary public-private partnership involving the Digital Equipment Corporation and the public schools of Oxford, Massachusetts. Based on a blend of academic study, occupational training, counseling, pre-employment experience, and physical education, the program combines academic instruction in a regular high school with training for entry-level positions in high-technology fields (Justiz and Kameen, 1987).
For More Information
Brown, Rexford. RECONNECTING YOUTH: THE NEXT STAGE OF REFORM. Denver: Business Advisory Commission, Education Commission of the States, 1985. ED 272 635.
Justiz, Manuel J., and Marilyn C. Kameen. "Business Offers a Hand to Education." PHI DELTA KAPPAN 68 (1987): 379-383.
Mertens, Donna M., Patricia Seitz, and Sterling Cox. VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND THE HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT. Columbus: The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio State University, 1982. ED 228 397.
Miller, Juliet V., and Susan Imel. "Some Current Issues in Adult, Career, and Vocational Education." In TRENDS AND ISSUES IN EDUCATION, 1986, edited by E. Flaxman. Washington, DC: Council of ERIC Directors, Educational Resources Information Center, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, 1987. ED 281 897.
PENINSULA ACADEMIES PROGRAM. Redwood City, CA: Sequoia Union High School District, 1984. ED 239 608.
Weber, James M. THE ROLE OF VOCATIONAL EDUCATION IN DECREASING THE DROPOUT RATE. Columbus: The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio State University, 1986. ED 264 444.
Willis, Harriet Doss. STUDENTS AT RISK: A REVIEW OF CONDITIONS, CIRCUMSTANCES, INDICATORS, AND EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATIONS. Elmhurst, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1986.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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