Academic journal article Education

School-to-Work Program

Academic journal article Education

School-to-Work Program

Article excerpt

The School-to-Work Opportunities Act (STWOA) was signed into law by President Clinton on May 4, 1994. The stated intent of the legislation was to provide seed money to States and to local collaborative endeavors for the development of school-to-work (STW) systems. This seed money was intended as venture capital to leverage resources and develop sustainable programs. The STWOA sunsets in 2001 (National School-to-Work Learning and Information Center, 1999).

The STWOA and the programs created under its banner have received both praise and criticism. This article outlines the legislation and the basic components of STW systems. In addition, praise and criticism are summarized and a compilation of recommendations are presented.


A uniform description of a STW program would be difficult at best. The legislation, rather than outlining a single definitive model, creates a system of support based on principles taken from earlier programs with established success. STW originated, in large part, as a response to the publication of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). In compiling concerns related to American education, the report included the reflection that "if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."

The main focus of the legislation is one of helping students to transition from school to work. Prior to the STW legislation, the lack of connection between education and work and the lack of assistance for students not in a college track were identified as concerns (Imel, 1991). Even the educational reform of the 1980s, with its focus on college-prep, was criticized for not appropriately addressing the STW transition. These inadequacies contributed to major pre-STWOA concerns such as unemployment and lack of advancement opportunity (Smith & Rojewski, 1993). In addition to concerns at an individual or tactical level, STW legislation addressed strategic goals such as: (a) competition within a global market, (b) economic vitality, and (c) increased productivity.

The desired outcomes described by the National School-to-Work Learning and Information Center (NSLIC) (1999) for the STWOA include providing each student with: (a) a relevant education allowing for the exploration of careers and work environments, (b) skills from work-based learning geared toward a specific career, and (c) valued credentials. A work-based learning approach is emphasized for the development of skills in critical thinking; interpersonal communications and relationships; and problem solving. Additionally, collaboration is encouraged between schools and employers allowing students to develop specific career knowledge and enhancing motivation by emphasizing the connection between academic preparation and job requirements (Zunker, 1998). As a requirement for funding, each STW system must include three core elements: (a) school-based learning, (b) work-based learning, (c) and connecting activities (NSLIC, 1999).

School-based learning emphasizes classroom instruction with high academic standards as well as business-defined occupational standards (NSLIC, 1999). This type of learning involves a restructuring of the educational experience so that students can learn the relationship between academic subjects and the world of work. Teachers are expected to collaborate with employers in the development of a curriculum that motivates through its connection to specific occupational skills. In addition, teachers work in interdisciplinary teams to integrate subject matter and students work in teams that simulate the modern work environment.

Work-based learning includes a range of activities such as: (a) career exploration, (b) work experience, (c) structured training, and (d) job mentoring (NSLIC, 1999). Connecting activities include integrating classroom and job-site instruction, matching students with employers, and training mentors. …

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