school and workplace activities are integrated, include matching students with employers, establishing school mentors to act as liaisons with employers, providing technical assistance to schools and employers, and linking participants with community services.
Rather than establishing federal programs, the act provides venture capital to states and communities to encourage them to redirect other resources (state and local education taxes and other federal funds) toward the act's purposes. By the fall of 1997, 37 states and 137 communities had received implementation grants. Data from the first 17 states to receive grants indicate that $1 in private funds was raised for each $2 in federal funding. Consistent with its modest funding, the act also eschews strict guidelines, fostering instead a diverse array of approaches at state and local levels.
The School-to-Work Opportunities Act originated in concerns arising in the late 1980s about a growing gap between what adolescents learn in school and what employers expect of new workers. Despite employers' need for workers with good academic skills (especially reading, verbal communication, math, and problem solving), studies of high school students find that they see little connection between school and life outside of school, are bored in school, and therefore, put little effort into school (Steinberg et al., 1996). Accounts of German apprenticeship posed a contrast to this separation between school and work and to the American pattern of delayed career entry among youth who do not graduate from college (Hamilton, 1990). In the early 1990s several foundations and the Department of Labor began funding youth apprenticeship demonstration programs and other precursors of the school-to-work initiative (Olson, 1997).
School-to-work differs significantly from conventional vocational education, though it incorporates some of its features. Although many secondary vocational education programs provide a direct route into productive careers, teaching occupational skills that enable graduates to perform related work, the benefits are confined to a relatively small proportion of graduates who take a coherent sequence of vocational courses and then find related employment after graduation. Many more vocational graduates take too few courses to gain real skills or they enter the work force in unrelated fields. (For a brief review of research on vocational education, see Stern et al., 1994.) Too many secondary vocational programs are disconnected from contemporary work skills and labor markets and are