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by David Stern, Director

In 1998 NCRVE will collect fresh evidence on whether and how student achievement is improving as a result of efforts in high schools and community colleges to prepare students simultaneously for work and for further education. Our activities will offer guidance to the field on how to design, organize, and carry out such efforts.

Is student achievement improving as high schools and community colleges continue their efforts to prepare students simultaneously for work and for further education? And, if the answer to this question is "yes," then how is it improving? These are essential questions in this era of widespread educational reform. NCRVE will examine these, and related, questions in 1998, collecting evidence and offering guidance to the field on how to design, organize, and carry out such reforms. This article summarizes our proposed course of work in 1998.

Use of Knowledge and Skill at Work

In trying to prepare students for successful careers, schools and colleges can use information about what kind of preparation actually leads to success at work. Two proposed studies will add new evidence here. First, the RAND study on "Academic Skills at Work" will analyze an existing qualitative data set to identify some of the ways in which the kinds of skills taught in academic courses are actually used in a sample of technical occupations. The RAND study will also analyze new national longitudinal data to measure the relationship between academic preparation and success in the labor market. The results of these two analyses will be integrated with a synthesis of existing literature, and should provide useful guidance to high schools and colleges trying to identify the academic skills that are most important for work.

"School to Work in a Changed Economy" will also measure the extent to which different kinds of schooling contribute to success in the labor market for young adults. This Teachers College study will give special attention to forms of post-secondary education other than four-year baccalaureate programs. Longitudinal data from the 1980s and 90s will be compared with data from the 1960s and 70s (different data than in the RAND study), to determine whether and how career trajectories have changed. The results will help policy makers and administrators in postsecondary education to design courses of study that improve students' chances of success in the labor market.

One of the most fundamental strategic decisions high schools and community colleges have to make in designing new programs is what students they are intended to serve. The 1990 Perkins Act mandated the integration of academic and vocational education, and provided money for tech prep consortia -- but all as part of federally supported vocational education, which explicitly excluded preparation for occupations that require a bachelor's degree. The 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act specified that supported programs had to be equally accessible to "all students," from the disadvantaged to the "academically talented." But confusion still exists in many communities about whether to create new learning sequences that combine preparation for work and for further education, or keep work-bound and college-bound students in separate classes. "School-to-Work for the College Bound: Maximizing the Educational Opportunities of School-to-Work Students" specifically examines whether and how high school students who are considered college-bound are benefitting from school-to-work programs. By describing the experience of high schools that have been pursuing the combined college-and-career approach, this Teachers College study should provide useful lessons for other schools.

Information and telecommunications technology is one of the main forces driving change in the workplace, leaving fewer and fewer jobs untouched. Preparing students to embrace changing technology is therefore a major challenge for schools and colleges. "Developing Employment-Related Technology Skills" will examine successful programs in business education, to discover how they are teaching students to operate the technology, along with the business concepts being applied and the expectations of a given work setting. This University of Minnesota study will draw lessons for teachers and administrators about how to combine classroom and workplace learning to help students master technology in context.

Evaluating New Initiatives in High Schools and Community Colleges

A significant new departure in the 1990s has been the reorganization of entire high schools into sets of career academies, pathways, clusters, or majors -- each of which is intended to prepare students for both work and further education. Single-theme career magnet high schools have existed in big cities for a longer time, but to convert a comprehensive high school from a set of courses in different tracks -- college prep, general, vocational -- into a set of pathways or school-within-schools, each leading to both college and careers, is a major new idea. If it is effective, this idea could transform the American high school. In the first attempt to measure the effectiveness of this new approach, "Enabling High Schools to Assess Results of Schoolwide Reform" will work with about 20 high schools that have adopted this idea, to help them assess the effects on student achievement. In addition to producing evidence on student achievement, this activity, involving MPR Associates and U.C. Berkeley, will also create a process for these schools to continue learning from their own and one another's results.

In another evaluation study, "The Community College and Beyond: How Tech Prep/School-to-Work Affects Students" will produce the most extensive evidence to date on student achievement from tech-prep programs. Building on established relationships between NCRVE and certain tech-prep partnerships, this study, conducted by the University of Illinois and U.C. Berkeley, will analyze educational and economic outcomes for samples of individual students. Results will be directly useful for guiding the further development of tech prep.

Changes in Four-Year Colleges and Universities to Support K-14 Reform

As more high schools and community colleges create interdisciplinary curricula combined with work-based learning, the implications for four-year colleges become more pressing. Traditionally, good grades in certain college-prep courses have been a major criterion for admission to a four-year college. Courses that integrate academic content with vocational applications, however, may not fit the traditional college-prep definition. Some states, notably Wisconsin and Oregon, have taken steps to revise admissions criteria for state universities, to recognize what students demonstrably know and can do, instead of their grades in courses with certain titles. "Changing Admission Procedures in Four-Year Colleges to Support K-14 Reform" will review the changes in these and other states, as well as private colleges and universities. Data will be analyzed from Wisconsin, the only state so far where students have been admitted to the public university through a performance-based selection process. This study, conducted jointly by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California at Berkeley, will produce a proposal on changing admission standards, for presentation to leaders of four-year public and private institutions.

In a related effort, "The NCRVE Teacher Education Initiative: 1998" will attempt to catalyze the creation of new teacher preparation programs at some of the institutions that belong to the NCRVE consortium itself. If combined academic-vocational curricula and work-based learning are to grow and spread in high schools and community colleges, teachers will have to be prepared to organize integrated instruction and supervise learning in workplaces. Building on information that has been gathered from 1996-97 case studies of exemplary inservice programs, this project will try to enlist teacher educators in redesigning preservice teacher preparation programs for this purpose.

Putting Knowledge to Work

While every activity proposed for 1998 will produce implications for policy and/or practice, some of them are also directly action-oriented. The high school data project, for example, is intended to lead to changes in the way participating high schools use data for continuous program improvement. The college admissions project is intended to spur changes in selection procedures at four-year colleges and universities.

Several proposed activities for 1998 are entirely or mainly action-oriented. They will draw on the existing knowledge base to promote new practice. The first of these is "Support to States," based at the University of Illinois. One central purpose will be to help states improve their information systems using their own new standards for student achievement.

No sharp line divides NCRVE research and development from dissemination and training. As already indicated, some research activities include action-oriented training and technical assistance: we learn about what works by trying to facilitate change. The core NCRVE dissemination activity, "The Dissemination Program" based at U.C. Berkeley, in 1998 will continue to be organized around knowledge distribution, knowledge acquisition, and knowledge collaboration. In the process of distributing and publicizing NCRVE products and services, these interactions with information seekers and users provide feedback on the value of NCRVE products and ideas for future research. Another dissemination activity, "Career Development Program Search" at the University of Illinois, identifies, publicizes, and promotes adoption of exemplary practices that integrate career development into the educational process. "Technical Assistance to High Schools That Work", through MPR Associates, provides evaluation and follow-through to maintain and extend the quality programs supported by the SREB network. This is the largest and most carefully evaluated network of high schools working on improvement of student achievement by relating academic content to work-related applications.

Let Us Hear from You

We welcome your comments and suggestions. If you have advice, questions, or other feedback about any of these activities, please call 800-(old phone deleted), or send email to AskNCRVE@ncrve.berkeley.edu.

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