Curricula for a Changing World

Article excerpt

Advances in technology require revised curricula, but technology can also help achieve the needed reforms.

Educators of the '90s have a wry appreciation for the history of the word "curriculum," which is taken from the Latin currere, for "running." As they revise courses to take advantage of rapidly advancing technologies and to reflect new job skills, educators often feel like they are running to catch up. In fact, they are.

The pressure to modernize curricula is felt at all educational levels but is particularly acute in high schools--the gateways to work and college. As early as 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education identified the problem:

More and more young people emerge

from high school ready neither for college

nor for work. This predicament

becomes more acute as the knowledge

base continues its rapid expansion, the

number of traditional jobs shrinks, and

new jobs demand greater sophistication

and preparation.[1]

Many of those underprepared high school graduates attend community colleges, which are facing their own curriculum problems. As the skill levels required for new jobs have climbed, community colleges have found it increasingly difficult to fit all of the necessary training into two-year programs, especially when entering students lack a strong foundation in math and science.

A curricular reform movement known as "Technology Preparation," or Tech Prep, endeavors to solve these two related problems simultaneously with a new approach to preparing students for technical jobs in fields such as manufacturing, communications, health care, and electronics.

Tech Prep integrates the curricula of the last two years of high school and two subsequent years at a post-secondary institution ("2+2") into a comprehensive sequence that culminates in a Tech Prep Associate Degree. In their book Tech Prep Associate Degree: A Win/Win Experience,[2] Dan Hull and Dale Parnell urge high schools to work with local community colleges to develop an 11th- and 12th-grade curriculum based on applied academics in core areas of math, physics, biology, computers, and communications.

The Tech Prep concept has received unprecedented federal support. The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act of 1990 authorized up to $125 million annually for distribution to states for vocational-technical education programs. Congress allocated $60 million in 1991 and $90 million in 1992, and another increase is expected in 1993. "They've bet on this horse," says James F. McKenney, director of the office of college/employer relations for the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges (AACJC).

PROGRAMS VARY

The Tech Prep model allows for adaptations to suit local education requirements. And since the Perkins act leaves implementation to the states, there are a variety of Tech Prep projects in operation throughout the U.S. Many examples of Tech Prep include programs geared toward careers in the fields of manufacturing, computer technology, and engineering.

In New York state, for example, Principles of Engineering is one of several "Technology Education" sequences students can pursue to fulfill high school graduation requirements. Principles of Engineering is designed to prepare students for--and encourage them to pursue--a college engineering program.

The state's methodology for developing the Principles of Engineering curriculum offers a model for how high schools, post-secondary institutions, and the professional community can cooperate to achieve curriculum modernization goals.

"We brought together a national oversight committee of key players in engineering, engineering education, and secondary education," says Michael Hacker, associate state supervisor of technology education with the New York State Education Department. …