Creating School-To-Work Curriculum Content: Dimensions Of Quality

Work in Progress at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

by Barbara Dougherty and Margaret Ellibee
"School-to-work curricula must focus on the integration of academic foundations with career development, life skills, and occupational competencies."

-The NCPQ Content Standard, 1994

The NCPQ Offers Useful Benchmarks to Assess School-to-Work Curriculum

Many educators today are working and learning in a fluid and evolving school-to-work environment. Curricular decisions, and more specifically, curriculum content, are all affected by the advent of national skill standards, schools' growing emphasis and positioning of integrated school-to-work, and linkages between school and work-based learning. As a result, educators often pose many "how" and "why" questions pertaining to their curriculum content and its perceived quality. "What should be in my school-to-work curriculum content?" "How can I evaluate curriculum content?" "Why should I assess my content now if all these other changes are happening?"

All of these questions are legitimate; all are relevant to educators addressing school-to-work concepts. However, limited attention has been directed toward explicit benchmarks or indicators of quality school-to-work curriculum. In the absence of curriculum indicators, how do school-to-work programs address the quality and relevance of such components (e.g., content) and their development within the curriculum? It is important, therefore, to develop meaningful evaluation standards.

The National Consortium for Product Quality (NCPQ) was formed to assist educators in answering these type of questions. A project funded by the National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE) and directed by the Center on Education and Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the NCPQ provides research-based evaluation and technical assistance focusing on integrated curricula and school-to-work curriculum standards. A set of standards and indicators (that is, benchmarks), have been broadly defined to address content, instruction, student assessment, and equity and diversity considerations, and to provide an essential tool for assessing curriculum materials. Validated by instructors and curriculum professionals, and field-tested in secondary and postsecondary schools/institutions nationwide, the NCPQ Standards are broad qualitative ideals stating what is valued in school-to-work curriculum. The Indicators represent tangible attributes that support the standard. Taken together, the standards and indicators provide a conceptual framework reflecting a rationale of curriculum quality that can be used or modified directly by the practitioner. As such, the standards are not prescriptive, but rather, descriptive.

This article identifies indicators pertaining to the content of school-to-work curriculum. Illustrated are several content indicators developed by the NCPQ, to provide you with benchmarks for assessing your curriculum content. Sound decisions regarding the assessment of school-to-work curriculum (and related products) can be made when instructors, administrators, and curriculum developers integrate relevant information such as specific skills, diversity considerations, and performance levels with existing bench-marks or values of quality.

NCPQ Content Standard and IndicatorsPosing Questions for Your Review

The indicators supporting the content standard are presented here in a question format. Together, the standards and indicators guide educators in evaluating the degree of quality in their school-to-work curriculum content.


National studies (for example, Goals 2000: Educate America Act [USDE, 1994]; America 2000: An Educational Strategy [USDE, 1991]; and A SCANS Report for America 2000 [SCANS, 1991]) have identified skills deemed essential for successful workforce training and development. A major premise of these reports, as articulated in Goals 2000, is that "high academic content standards and high occupational skill standards must go `hand-in-hand' in reshaping our curricula and school reform efforts." To help ensure that curriculum content addresses the issues and skills raised in national workforce education studies, a school-to-work curriculum should address the following points:


The learning objectives of the curriculum content should be designed either in sequenced, meaningful order, or clustered coherent concepts. According to P.G. Boyle in Planning Better Programs (1981), "[a] logical order from the sense of the discipline may not be logical from the standpoint of the learner." Bearing Boyle's caution in mind, examine your content and note whether the following characteristics as they relate to sequencing or clustering concepts are present:


In 1987, John Kellor developed the ARCS (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction) Model. Kellor's model focuses on influencing learner motivation to learn and to solve problems. The model can be a useful tool to consider when examining content and supporting instructional strategies in relation to: In addition to the examples excerpted from the ARCS Model, your curriculum content should actively represent learners of both sexes, and of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The content should be free of any bias.


When career values are reflected in curriculum content, students can see the connection of school-based learning to "real life." These integrated concepts assist students' adaptation to present and future career changes and requirements.


In addition to addressing the technical aspects of the curriculum content, the content should also reflect diverse ethnicity of students.

One Step Toward a Meaningful Curriculum Evaluation--Where Can It Lead You?

This article has presented portions of the NCPQ content standard. By documenting selected curriculum content indicators, we hope to provide some insights helpful to your efforts in assessing school-to-work curriculum.

Assessing your school-to-work curriculum content will require you to take a long look at what is currently in place, or what you want to have in place. Perhaps a checklist of indicators would be the fastest determinant of content status, but would it really capture a thoughtful awareness concerning the context of your curriculum content? Take the time: become intimately involved with assessing your curriculum components. Integral knowledge of your curriculum content quality will not only benefit your learners, but will also engage you as a learner of quality school-to-work curriculum.

NCPQ Products and Activities

The NCPQ continues reviewing submitted curriculum materials and disseminating product profiles on those reviewed materials. If you are interested in submitting materials for review, please contact the NCPQ office. The following materials are available at no cost to guide you in your own quest to create quality school-to-work curriculum.

To request these materials or for additional information regarding the work of the National Consortium for Product Quality, please contact:

Barbara Dougherty, Senior Outreach Specialist or Margaret Ellibee, Outreach Specialist
The Center on Education and Work
University of Wisconsin-Madison
964 Educational Sciences Building
1025 W. Johnson St.
Madison, WI 53706-1796
Phone: 800-446-0399

Barbara Dougherty is a senior outreach specialist for the Center on Education and Work. She coordinates several equity and diversity projects, as well as co-directing the NCPQ. Margaret Ellibee is an outreach specialist at the Center on Education and Work and co-director of the NCPQ. Her primary responsibilities are with curriculum and teacher education related projects.

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