Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

Learning to Trust

Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

Learning to Trust

Article excerpt

Tech prep has taken hold in Southeast Florida. Year by year, more teachers are replacing lecture techniques with project-based strategies that communicate the real-world use of math, science and English.

Administrators interviewing new teachers look for heir understanding of applied academic strategies. High school, community college faculty and employers work together with ease.

These schools may not be too far from Disney World, but this is no tech prep Fantasyland. The encouraging results are owed to the efforts of the Quad County Tech Prep Consortium, which is made up of Indian River Community College and the school districts of Indian River County, Martin County, Okeechobee County and St. Lucie County.

Though it's too early in the implementation phase to know firm data on the success of the tech prep students, Quad County can point to one important statistic: More than 4,000 students from eight high schools are enrolled in tech prep. This means students are working at or above their academic level and are participating in a technical program--not just a course or two--that flows smoothly into an associate degree program offered at the community college.

How has this consortium rolled down the road to reform with relative ease compared to some counterparts in other states? It all comes down to two words: commitment and trust.

Hatching tech prep

Florida educators first began thinking seriously about tech prep as the vehicle for education reform after a business-education summit in 1990. At that meeting local business people, mirroring comments made across the country, complained that students were coming out of schools prepared for neither employment nor postsecondary education. School district and community college educators said too many high school graduates entered postsecondary education in need of remediation.

The problem was an education system in need of reform. High school students were divided into tracks--those bound or college and those who weren't. In the old days those "non-college-bound" students would have formed the unskilled labor pool, except that by 1990 the need for that pool had dried up. So kids who were taking below-level science, math and English courses just to get by then foundered after graduation.

Educators at the summit recognized this conundrum. Instead of trying to lay blame elsewhere, community college president Edwin Massey and the four county superintendents--then David Mosrie, Frank Brogan, Danny Mullins and Gary Norris--soon united through the "Treasure Coast Educators' Coalition" to provide leadership for change. It was the first time in this area of Florida that a college president, district superintendents and their respective boards had sat down to come up with solutions. he coalition saw tech prep as the vehicle for change and helped form the Quad County Tech Prep Consortium in 1991.

Quad County's first move was to get rid of those watered-down math, science and English classes in high schools. Its second was to change the way teachers approached those classes. Planners first sought money for staff development, not for equipment. They knew that the success of tech prep would depend on how well teachers accepted the theories of applied instruction and the integration of academic and vocational education.

Those concepts were foreign to many teachers, who taught the way they had been taught-through lecture. Without the benefits of working outside schools and learning firsthand how knowledge is put to use in business and industry, teachers were at a loss for connected learning activities. The disciplines were not integrated and very few teachers were taking advantage of the applied learning labs just next door in the vocational department.

The tech prep steering committee would change all that. Academic and vocational vice presidents and deans at the community college level, county curriculum directors, vocational directors and high school principals all joined together to effect change. …

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