NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"School To Work" Conflicts With Academic Basics

October 5, 1999

Four out of five teenagers now complete high school, compared with just one in two after World War II, but employers report that many do not have the basic reading, writing or analytic skills required for entry-level jobs.

To improve the marketable knowledge and skills of high school graduates, in 1994 Congress created the "School-to-Work" program. All of the states have received grants to develop programs in partnership with businesses that allow students to learn on the job while in school.

By 2001, a total of $2.3 billion will have been spent on STW, in addition to spending on other vocational education programs. Critics are concerned that STW conflicts with a renewed emphasis on basic academic subjects.

In fact, the National STW Evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research notes that "students often face a trade-off between taking time to pursue electives with career content and using their elective options to take more advanced traditional academic classes."

  • One study of 100 students participating in the Cornell Youth Apprenticeship Demonstration Project found that although the youths did gain job-related skills, there were no effects on their academic achievement.
  • The 1996 High Schools That Work Assessment found that male students who were earning credit for part-time jobs connected with school had lower achievement levels in reading, math and science; and as seniors, they took fewer math and science courses, enrolling instead in vocational courses.
  • And a study of the New York STW program reported that participants were just as likely to go on to college or a trade school as were non-participants, but only half as likely to be employed -- a major objective of STW.

Training for specific jobs is less important, say critics, than mastering basic skills.

Source: D. Mark Wilson, "Time To End The Troubled School-To-Work Program," Backgrounder No. 1324, September 22, 1999, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, (202) 546-4400.


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