|Brief No. 6||Fall 1996|
. . . in programs linking education and work
Unlike Caroline's story, the majority of female students in high school do not have the opportunity to explore nontraditional career fields as part of a holistic approach linking career development to current education reforms. Traditional enrollments in vocational education continue to show stereotyped program participation. In 1994, for instance, the National Assessment of Vocational Education reported that most vocational programs had stereotyped enrollments. The same report indicated that about half of all school districts did not have provisions to reduce gender bias (e.g., curriculum development, building awareness, and so on). Of those that did offer gender equity activities, the quality was highly variable. Thus, it is not surprising to see the preservation of gender bias in occupational trends.
In our democratic society, the search for gender equity has been a pervasive problem. We have yet to make significant progress in many areas, including the removal of stereotyped messages in textbooks, teacher training in equity issues, representation of women as administrators and professors in educational institutions, and provisions for incentives and supportive measures for female students.
In this brief, we describe the impact of career-oriented programs featuring school-to-work principles on gender perspectives regarding career and academic aspirations. The content is based on the paper, Developing Career and Academic Aspirations in School-to-Work Programs, authored by Hernández-Gantes and Nieri and presented at the 1996 American Education Research Association Conference in New York City.
| The internship is fun because you do a lot of real office work and
you get to see what goes around. It helps you see what is important in
industry, how it works, and the kinds of jobs [that] are available.
| The best way to get into a good medical program in college would
be to start out in this science and technology school because they have better
equipment and specialized courses.
| Finishing school is my priority in life, and to get the highest
For Laurie, a senior student in Science and Technology, enrollment in her program was an opportunity to escape from the rough environment of her previous school and the social distractions of peer relations built over the years. Lianne, a sophomore student in Business, provided a similar account. She did not want to go to a "bigger school with a lot more people and a lot of problems." For her, it was the safe and professional-looking atmosphere of the business magnet school that made her decide to enroll in that program.
For male students, safety considerations for enrollment were even stronger. The fear of gang problems, in particular, appeared to be a major concern for a male student who had been previously enrolled in inner city schools. Julian, a senior in a Business program, shared his experience:
| The schools in the area had a bad reputation. I was initially
interested in another school, but it had a history of gang problems. I chose
the Business program because it was small and peaceful.
In some instances, students were motivated by parents or relatives working in the field represented by the occupational orientation of the program. Either way, direct and indirect family support seemed to be particularly important for female students, especially those who were considering enrollment in nontraditional programs such as Manufacturing, Agricultural Sciences, or Science and Technology.
My dad didn't want me to go another nearby school for safety reasons," said Lianne. So, she began to consider other options until she found out about the Business program, which offered a safe and professional oriented environment. For Laurie, her mother was the reason she ended up enrolling in a Science and Technology program. Because of Laurie's excellent grades, her mother encouraged her to apply to the program. Laurie further elaborated: "I thought that this would be a really good opportunity for me because it seemed like the perfect kind of thing I would have wanted. It would really make my family proud because on both sides of the family I'm the first person to enroll in this program."
Male students were supported in similar ways. Andrew's story is a typical story of the family role in shaping the decision for the program enrollment. "My dad is a machinist and he influenced me to get into the Manufacturing program. He talked to me, asked my opinion, and said I would really like to go into the manufacturing field."
Carlo, on the other hand, made his own decision but was indirectly motivated by his father's occupation. His father is involved in the carpentry business and he got practical experience working with him. Through this personal experience with his father, he developed an appreciation for the carpentry industry and decided to apply for admission in a Technical Arts program with a concentration on carpentry.
Rhonda, a senior student in Science and Technology, said that "the best way to get into a good medical program in college would be to start out in this science and technology school because they have better equipment and specialized courses." The reputation of programs created great competition for admission and students spoke about the sense of pride resulting from the selection process. For instance, Laurie, a student in Science and Technology, said that
| It's a real honor to be chosen to this school. They said almost
two thousand children wanted to go here. You have to be really good to get in
here. I felt pride for getting accepted. It feels like a major accomplishment
| I wanted access to better scientific instruction. The labs here
and the computer equipment are just so incredible, better than at my previous
school. This program will get me an edge on college
Ordinarily, Laurie, a student in Science and Technology, explained,
|Biology and English would have nothing in common. But in this program they
found a way to integrate principles of Technology and English. Then to write a
report including graphics, we have to use computer-assisted drawing programs.
Teachers in my program are less into telling the answers to problems, having
you remembering and regurgitating information. There's more emphasis on
comprehension and real learning.
The authentic and practical approach to teaching and learning is not about preparation for a specific occupation as viewed in traditional vocational education. In these programs, it was a teaching and learning medium to engage students in meaningful and challenging school activities. "We don't do shops where it's just the teachers showing us how to do something," Caroline, a student in Technical Arts, observed. "No, it's hands-on work we do on our own. We learn through practice."
Male students agreed. Rod, a Manufacturing student, noted that "actually doing something makes you learn more. The lecture gives us the how-to information, but then we are supposed to put it in practice and develop an ability to use it later in other day-to-day problems." Scottie, a student in Technical Arts, reinforced this view: "You get hands-on and academic experience in this program because it is good to incorporate both. The real learning takes place here in school and out there in the real world. It is not only in the classroom."
Further, work-based learning activities, including internships and mentoring experiences with professionals in the community, contributed to the enrichment of students' preparation and career development. "The internships," said Lianne, "give you a wide view of what you can do with your future."
Male students agreed with the valuable experiences acquired through work-based learning and exploration of different areas within a field of interest. "This is one of the benefits about the Manufacturing program, at least for me," said Eddie. He continued to explain: "Three days of the week we are at the Manufacturing Academy and then two days we're at a company where the people there move me around to each of the stations so I get a grasp of what the company does."
These opportunities to connect school and work serve as an excellent medium for career exploration and help both female and male students shape their career interests.
| I was determined to show [the male students] that it was no
problem for me to participate in the program. Some of the guys thought that if
you're a girl, you couldn't do it. Well, soon they learned that girls can do it
just as good as the guys.
When female students realized they could compare with their male peers and successfully perform nontraditional tasks, a powerful sense of fulfillment and accomplishment began to emerge. "My dad was very surprised when I fixed something at home," Caroline commented.
Perhaps the account shared by Sara, a manufacturing student, best describes this feeling of discovery and confidence:
| It just really fascinated me. Because you take a piece of raw
material and you turn it into something that can be used in a machine. I found
it amazing that a lot of the guys not enrolled in the program could not relate
to this and other things I have learned.
For example, going to college was not a question for Lianne. the question for her was to major either in business or law. "Finishing school is my priority in life and to get the highest education possible," she said. Laurie, on the other hand, wanted to use her preparation in biotechnology to ho into medicine. "I'm thinking more on cardiology. I'd like to be a surgeon," she remarked. For others, like Rosie, the road to college may be longer, but plans are already laid out to accomplish career goals:
| I will probably start as a part-time student and work full-time. I
will first get an associate degree and then I will add two years to get a
bachelor's degree in engineering.
Andrew, and Science and Technology student, reported similar strong aspirations. To him, the question was which college to apply to and narrowing choices for a major concentration of studies: "With the kinds of things that I'm interested in, I'm leaning toward the medical field in areas dealing with genes and DNA."
Personal motives underlying academic and career aspirations were somewhat different for males and females. While males appeared to be more interested in the socioeconomic rewards of career choices, females talked about their potential contribution to the common good through their expected professions. Renee and Laurie, students in Science and Technology and Agricultural Sciences, respectively, provided revealing accounts in this regard. Renee said,
| Finding cures to illnesses is one of my dreams because of my
interest in medicine. Cancer, AIDS, for instance. Why should I care? I think
people tend to forget that their children and their grandchildren will have to
face these problems. I would like to be part of the solution to these medical
| I have planned to try to fulfill all of the dreams I've had.
Having a nice beautiful home with two stories and, of course, the little
four-legged critters to go with it.
All these issues are perhaps best captured by Shona, a student in Science and Technology:
| I want to make enough money to be comfortable, so I can get my
children everything they want. I want to have a family and spend as much time
with them as possible. I also want to be able to see my little sister graduate.
It's the American dream.
However, unlike males who appear to take for granted family considerations in their future prospects, females place a higher priority on family issues. Academic and career aspirations are weighted according to family priorities in addition to socioeconomic considerations for female students.
In general, these findings are supported by other studies but caution should be exercised in overemphasizing the equal benefits of career-oriented programs. As these programs become commonplace, their high standards for admission may continue to preclude the enrollment of female students interested in nontraditional programs. As noted in this study, only a few women were enrolled in some of these programs (e.g., manufacturing). Considering that males have been traditionally encouraged to gain a stronger preparation in mathematics and science, females will continue to be at a disadvantage when applying for programs requiring high academic requirements. Gender issues should be addressed much earlier to encourage women to consider these kinds of programs. Further, stereotyped attitudes about females participating in nontraditional programs seem to be alive and well. Although, career-oriented programs seem to be providing quality opportunities to learn for both female and male students, teachers, and counselors appeared ill-prepared to address gender equity in the schools.
In conclusion, although career-oriented programs show great promise in facilitating sound career development for both female and male students, much remains to be done to remove barrier to equitable access, participation, and formation of postsecondary aspirations including a better understanding of emerging work-family roles. The implications for program improvement include a call for renewed efforts to address gender equity early in school to stimulate female students in developing and appreciation for science and mathematics and nontraditional occupations (e.g., electronics, computers, and engineering). Further, it is apparent that better recruitment and career guidance practices are needed to truly address the needs of all students. Content, instruction, and assessment should also be gender sensitive and provisions should be made to review curriculum materials, and provide professional development opportunities to sensitize staff on equity issues.
An in-depth examination of the personal experiences encountered in education and work is crucial in understanding how students make decisions to enter education for work programs. Further, how students from different genders and ethnic backgrounds differentially experience vocational education is also central to understanding the impact of policies and practices on overcoming barriers to full participation in the economy.
Based on these premises, the study was grounded in four major research questions:
At the secondary level, five programs were included representing the following curriculum orientations: business, technical arts, manufacturing, science and technology, and agricultural sciences. At the postsecondary level, four programs participated in this study representing the fields of biomedical technology, environmental sciences, international trade, and computeraided design technology.
Overall, 65% of the participating students are male and 35% female. Participation by ethnicity is as follows: African-American, 26%; Asian, 8%; Hispanic, 2%; Native American, 2%; and Caucasian, 46%.
|For and in-depth description of the project design, participants, and procedures, please refer to Voices of Diversity, Brief No. 1.|
Brief No. 1: Learning From Students' Perspectives on Programs Linking Education and Work
This report provides background information on the study design, characteristics of research participants, research procedures, and analytical techniques. Brief descriptions of the students' programs are also provided.
Brief No. 2: Quality Indicators of Programs Linking Education and Work
This report provides high school students' perspectives on the three core components undergirding current reforms in vocational education: (1) integration of vocational and academic education, (2) integration of secondary education, and (3) linkages between school and work.
Brief No. 3: Building a School Climate Conducive to Learning: Students' Perspectives
This report provides a description of three critical elements of school climate as identified by high school students enrolled in five programs linking education and work. These three elements are (1) authentic program context, (2) teaching and learning context, and (3) a supportive environment conducive to learning.
Brief No. 4: Grounding Career Development in Authentic Learning Activities
Important considerations for enhancing students' career development are highlighted in this report. A benchmarking approach for program improvement is suggested.
Brief No. 5: Connecting Education and Work Through Authentic Instruction
Problem-solving, research projects, and critical thinking activities that are integrated into authentic teaching and learning are addressed in this report.
Brief No. 6: Gender Perspectives on Programs Linking Education and Work
This reports addresses the question of equity and access to programs linking education and work based on gender perspectives. High school students, both male and female, talk about their experiences in five career-oriented programs.
Other Voices of Diversity Briefs will be forthcoming. These reports will address high school students' perspectives on their schooling and transitional experiences. Briefs describing two-year college students' perspectives on similar issues will also be produced.
Detailed descriptions of project findings can be found in both published journal articles and in papers presented at national conferences. The following are available:
Producing knowledge in career-oriented programs: Students' perspectives on schooling experiences (1996, December). Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Vocational Association (AVA), Cincinnati, Ohio.
Developing career and academic aspirations in school-to-work programs: A qualitative study of gender perspectives (1996, April). Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association (AERA), New York.
Developing career and academic aspirations: Creating new and different doors for students in school-to-work programs (1995, July). Paper presented at the National Leadership Forum on School-to-Work Transition, Boston, Massachusetts.
Voices of Diversity in emerging vocationalism: Students' perspectives on school climate (1995, April). Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), San Francisco, California.
Voices of Diversity Briefs,
Colleen Capper University of Wisconsin-Madison
Clifton F. Conrad University of Wisconsin-Madison
Lizanne DeStefano University of Illinois
Jane Plihal University of Minnesota
Christine E. Sleeter University of Wisconsin-Parkside
Sandra M. Mathison SUNY-Albany
James Stone, III University of Minnesota
Janet Washbon Wisconsin Technical College System Board
Wendy L. Way University of Wisconsin-Madison