Where Has Vocational Education Gone? the Impact of Federal Legislation on the Expectations, Design, and Function of Vocational Education as Reflected in the Reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006

By Friedel, Janice Nahra | American Educational History Journal, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

Where Has Vocational Education Gone? the Impact of Federal Legislation on the Expectations, Design, and Function of Vocational Education as Reflected in the Reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006


Friedel, Janice Nahra, American Educational History Journal


Federal legislation has played a major role in shaping vocational education, now referred to as career and technical education. The political, societal, and economic conditions which informed debate and later the form and substance of each piece of federal vocational education legislation are reflected in the evolution of American career and technical education. This paper will briefly trace the federal legislation that has shaped American career and technical education, beginning with the Smith Hughes Act of 1917, PL 65-347, which granted funding for vocational education, to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act of 2006, PL 109-270 (Perkins IV). The Vocational Education Act of 1963 and its amendments of 1968 and 1976, and the transitions from the Perkins Acts of 1984, 1990 and 1998 to the 2006 legislation will be described. The four versions of the Carl D. Perkins Act will be compared, highlighting how they reflect increased demands for serving special needs students, preparing a globally competent workforce, an increasing emphasis on academics as well as technical knowledge and skills, and accountability.

THE VERY BEGINNINGS

Simplistically, vocational education can be described as practical education and career skill instruction. Historically, its "purpose has been to prepare students for entry-level jobs in occupations requiring less than a baccalaureate degree" (Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski 2004, 3). In public education, vocational education has its beginning with agriculture and trades and industry for the boys, and homemaking education for girls. Vocational education included a combination of classroom instruction with hands-on laboratory learning and on-the-job training, supplemented with student organizations. It has evolved into an important component of our nation's comprehensive high schools. Its role has broadened to foster development of foundational (basic) skills including critical thinking and personal qualities, competencies common to all aspects of the workplace, and specific skill competencies required for each occupational area. On July 26, 2006, during the Congressional debate over the reauthorization of Perkins, Senator Edward Kennedy noted that about half of all high school students and a third of all college students are involved in vocational programs (Kennedy 2006, S8324).

THE SMITH HUGHES ACT, 1917

The 1914 Commission on National Aid to Vocational Education advocated for vocational education to be included in the high school curriculum, concluding that vocational education "(1) met the individual needs of students for a meaningful curriculum, (2) provided opportunity for all students to prepare for life and work, (3) helped foster a better teaching-learning process-learning by doing, and (4) introduced the idea of utility into education" (Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski 2004, 151). Public funding for vocational education was granted in 1917 with passage of the Smith Hughes Act (PL 65-347). This act appropriated $1.7 million for 1917-1918 and created the Federal Board for Vocational Education to administer the law and to approve state plans. The states were required to create state boards for vocational education and to develop plans to implement the provisions of the federal law. The requirement to establish a Board of Vocational Education led some states to establish a separate board; others designated their existing state board of education as the State Board of Vocational Education. Separate state governance structures contributed to the isolation and lack of integration of vocational education into comprehensive high schools. Additionally, the act stipulated that schools or classes giving instruction to persons who have not yet entered employment shall require that at least half of the instructional time be practical work of a useful or productive basis, over a minimum of nine months per year and not less than thirty hours per week (Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski 2004). …

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Where Has Vocational Education Gone? the Impact of Federal Legislation on the Expectations, Design, and Function of Vocational Education as Reflected in the Reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006
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