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Public Secondary School Teacher Survey on Vocational Education
NCES: 94409
February 1994


This survey was undertaken to provide data on the context of vocational education in public secondary schools, including teacher qualifications, course content and activities, and student assessment in vocational classes. When vocational teachers were asked about various problems in the vocational education programs in their schools, few cited maintaining high instructional standards as a serious problem. In fact much of the data obtained in this survey indicate that vocational and academic programs have many similarities in terms of teacher qualifications and course content and activities. Some noteworthy differences also emerge.

Overall, the background profiles of vocational and academic public secondary school teachers were similar. Almost all taught full time and had a significant amount of teaching experience (17 years for vocational teachers and 18 years for academic teachers). Both groups of teachers reported that most of their teaching experience had been in the subject of their primary teaching assignment, and over 90 percent indicated that their primary teaching assignment was the subject they had prepared to teach. Vocational teachers in vocational schools, however, reported fewer years of formal schooling than academic teachers. This was not true for vocational teachers teaching in comprehensive schools; their educational backgrounds closely resembled those of academic teachers.

Compared with academic classes, class size was slightly lower and class length somewhat longer in vocational classes. About one-fourth of vocational courses fulfill graduation requirements for English, science, or math subjects, and vocational courses in vocational high schools were more than twice as likely as those in comprehensive schools to fulfill graduation requirements in these academic subjects.

Vocational courses differed from academic courses in terms of the activities and teaching methods employed during class. In particular, homework was much more likely to have been assigned during a 5-day period in academic courses than in vocational courses. In contrast, vocational course students were about twice as Iikely to have used some kind of instruments, tools or equipment, and computers. Large proportions of both vocational and academic teachers planned to include written examinations and quizzes at least once during the grading period. However, vocational teachers were more likely than academic teachers to administer a performance test or assess a student's portfolio of best work.

Items designed to obtain information about the integration of academic and vocational subject matter found that the mathematics and science content of most vocational courses was limited. Relatively few vocational teachers indicated that more than 25 percent of class time was spent on problems using basic algebra, more advanced mathematics, biology, chemistry, or physics. In most instances, vocational education teachers maintained the instructional lead when academic materials were covered in their classes. Little variation was found between academic and vocational teachers overall in the degree to which they felt prepared to teach different kinds of problems and materials.

Student performance in vocational courses was most commonly evaluated by teacher-developed tests and student classwork. Compared with academic classes, student performance evaluations in vocational courses were more likely to be based, at least in part on attendance and/or class participation and performance in school labs or shops. Homework, on the other hand, was less likely to be a determinant of grades for vocational students than for those in academic courses. This is in part due to the fact that while homework was assigned in 95 percent of academic courses, it was part of the curriculum in only slightly more than half of vocational courses. When homework was assigned in vocational courses, it required less time to complete and covered different tasks than academic course homework.

Teachers in academic courses reported the leading determinants of students" grades were basic reading skills, completing work on time, creative thinking and problem solving, and self-management skills. These same skills led the vocational course lists along with some additional factors. For example, occupational skills (including general employability skills, job-specific skills, and the ability to apply academic concepts to occupational tasks) were significantly more likely to contribute to a vocational student's grade than to the grade of a student in an academic course and received greatest emphasis in vocational courses in vocational high schools.

According to more than half of vocational teachers, the placement of problem students into vocational education programs regardless of appropriateness and the status of vocational education in relation to academic subjects were serious problems. Student motivation and maintaining vocational enrollments were also considered serious problems by almost half of vocational teachers.

Future research in this area might include the comparison of teacher-reported activities with case studies to better understand the comparability of academic course content in vocational courses and academic courses. Additional research might also look at school differences in curriculum and certification requirements between vocational and comprehensive high schools, as well as differences by subject within vocational programs. Much of this is planned for the National Assessment of Vocational Education.