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Tech Prep: Is It Working?
Author: Bettina Lankard Brown
Tech Prep: Is It Working?
Tech prep has become more widely accepted by educators and the business community as realchanges have been made in curriculum, courses, and programs. However, the jury is still outabout whether the anticipated student, school, and community outcomes are being realized. This Myths and Realities examines the extent to which tech prep is succeeding as a unique effort, living up to the claims that have been made for it.
Tech Prep: Another Name for School-to-Work
Over the years, educators have been challenged by a number of federal, state, and local initiativesthat profess to result in better educational outcomes for students. Highly marketed at theirinception, many of the initiatives ultimately fade into obscurity, some absorbed as part of otherprograms. Examinations of tech prep and its relationship to school-to-work initiatives point to thedistinctions that make each of the two programs unique and highlight the characteristics that makethem similar.
Program focus is the most distinguishing feature that differentiates tech prep from school to work.Tech preps focus is primarily on school-based learning, whereas school-to-work programs alsoinclude work-based learning and linkages between the two. The distinction is less clear when thecore elements required for tech prep vary among tech prep consortia, as they are reported to do(Owens 1996). For example, when tech prep adds elements that include work-based and careerguidance components, it becomes similar to school-to-work, which may explain why someeducators are seeing little or no difference between the two. Of the 100 persons surveyed at the1996 American Vocational Association Convention, however, only 15 percent saw tech prep and school-to-work as being exactly the same (Bragg 1996).
Most of the surveyed tech prep consortia did not see the two efforts as synonymous, but perceived tech prep as a component of school to work: 35% of the respondents considered techprep to be the foundation for school to work; 50% considered tech prep to be under the school-to-work umbrella (ibid). However, for funding as well as program issues, most local techprep coordinators believe that tech prep should retain its unique identity to ensure that thebenefits of its processes and procedures are not lost or duplicated by school-to-work (Bragg et al.1997). Survey responses from 42 of 50 state directors of vocational-technical education showedagreement with the view that tech prep is one option within school to work and that its identityneeds to remin strong (Dykman 1995).
Imprecision in defining the two reforms can create confusion and frustration among allstakeholders. At one of the five field sites studied during the 1996-1997 academic year, forexample, tech prep was "viewed as a premier approach to STW for more academically talentedstudents, incorporating both school-based and work-based components. In this site, otherapproaches such as cooperative learning were encouraged for the rest of the student population,creating the potential for a two-tier approach to STW" (Bragg et al. 1997, p. 51).
To date, no formal evaluations of tech prep have been conducted to document its claims. "Ofnearly 50% of all local Tech Prep consortia in the United States, 40% reported they had not evenbegun to implement formal evaluations of their Tech Prep programs. Another 30% indicated theirconsortia were in the planning stage of evaluation, showing only a minority of Tech Prepconsortia were actively implementing formal evaluations, and most of these were very, verypreliminary" (Bragg et al. 1997, p. 7). Merging of tech prep and school to work concepts willmake it more difficult to evaluate the results of the two reform efforts.
Tech Prep Is Losing Momentum
One of the most positive outcomes of tech prep program implementation is the increased acceptance and support it has received from business and industry. In Washington State, forexample, "two-thirds or more of the tech prep consortia reported that businesses provided facilitytours or other career awareness events and helped develop curriculum, define desired outcomesand support staff development. Half of the consortia reported business help in youth apprenticeship and/or worksite learning slots and in providing speakers and/or classroominstructors" (Owens 1996, p. 4).
In a 1995 follow-up survey of local tech prep coordinators previously surveyed in 1993, 92.3 percent of the respondents indicated their view that vocational faculty offered the greatest supportto the implementation of tech prep. Other interest groups seen as offering a "good" to "excellent"level of support were state agency personnel, local two-year postsecondary administrators,business/industry representatives, local secondary administrators, and students. Parents,counselors, and academic faculty were perceived as the most skeptical of tech prep, as were4-year college/university personnel (Bragg et al. 1997).
Scruggs (1996) stresses the need for increased communication with all tech prep stakeholders:parents, students, teachers, counselors, educational administrators, and members of business,industry, and labor. To be accepting and understanding of tech prep, the public must be informedof components and goals of tech prep, the benefits that tech prep offers students, and the detailsof implementation and progress. By becoming part of the struggle, these stakeholders can betterappreciate and help to facilitate the intended outcomes.
Amazingly, many tech prep students themselves are unaware of its details and components. InWashington State, for example, many secondary students involved in tech prep were unable torecognize the components of tech prep and were unaware of the process for transferringarticulated credits to community colleges (Owens 1996). Clearly, students and parents need moreinformation from school counselors and teachers.
One of the outcomes that can be highlighted is the integration of academic and vocationaleducation, an educational change realized through tech prep, especially at the secondary level.The following percentages show the proportion of tech prep consortia implementing appliedacademics (commercially or locally developed) to existing curriculum in both secondary andpostsecondary institutions (Bragg et al. 1997, p. 53).
Because moving students through secondary and on to postsecondary ducation requires the development of academic and higher-order thinking skills required in the workplace, tech prep hasa special value for noncollege-bound students, and, possibly for the college bound as well.
Tech Prep Is Not for College-Bound Students
Tech prep was intended for the "neglected majority," those students not expected to pursuepostsecondary education. Thus, an essential component of tech prep is a core of required coursesin mathematics, science, communications (including applied academics), and technologies in the 2years of secondary school preceding graduation and 2 years of higher education or at least a2-year apprenticeship following secondary instruction (Scruggs 1996, p. 13). These essentialarticulation components, however, are not intended to exclude those who may wish to move on toa four-year college. The perceptions of local coordinators surveyed about this issue show that theproportion of respondents who viewed tech prep as for all students rose from 11% to 16% from1993-1995 (Bragg et al. 1997).
Owens (1996) states that tech prep has made a case for workplace learning for college-bound aswell as noncollege-bound students. In Washington State, "tech prep has helped educate andinfluence the attitude of many students and parents about the need for workplace preparation forthose planning to enter a four-year college program as well as those planning to enter acommunity/technical college or go directly into the workplace" (p. 8). Reporting on data for 197tech prep graduates who have pursued training beyond high school, Owens (1996) notes that 152of the graduates enrolled in community colleges and 27 in four-year colleges. "Over the last year,tech prep students have begun entering community colleges, more tech prep materials have beenproduced, more articulation agreements have been completed, and more students are involved incareer pathways and work-based learning" (p. 5).
Today, every potential worker must develop the academic and vocational skills required in anincreasingly complex and high tech workplace, skills that required postsecondary education. "Toget a job right after high school that pays a living wage, you will need to be able to think as wellas a college-going kid. In our future economy, almost every adult will go on to future education.So a high school education needs to prepare them for that" (Pennington 1996, p. 25.)
Bragg, D. Educator, Student, and Employer Priorities for Tech Prep Student Outcomes.Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education, 1997. (ED 404 474)
Bragg, D. "Summary of Comments by Debra D. Bragg on The Status of Tech Prep in the U.S."Paper presented at the American Vocational Association Convention, Cincinnati, Ohio,December 6, 1996. (ED 403 442)
Bragg, D.; Puckett, P.; Reger, W.; Thomas, H.; Ortman, J.; and Dornsife, C. TechPrep/School-to-Work Partnerships?: More Trends and Challenges. Berkeley, CA:National Center for Research in Vocational Education, 1997.
Dykman, A. "What School-to-Work Means for Tech Prep. States Have Differing Views on TherCoordination." Vocational Education Journal 70, no. 4 (April 1995): 24-25.
Owens, T. R. A Third-Year Assessment of Tech Prep in Washington State. Portland, OR:Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, 1996. (ED 403 402)
Pennington, H. "Where Is Voc Ed Headed?" Techniques: Making Education and CareerConnections 71, no. 8 (November 1996): 24-29.
Scruggs, C. Tech Prep Q & A: Information for Program Development. Information Series no.364. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Centeron Education and Training for Employment, The Ohio State University, 1996. (ED391105)
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