1970s, a substantial number of high school students combined school with part-time employment, as they continue to do today (Ruhm, 1997). As noted above, surveys of high school students have found that about 80 percent are employed at some point while attending school. Moreover, in contrast with the past, the earnings of few of today's student workers appear to contribute to the support of their families (Greenberger and Steinberg, 1986; Johnston et al., 1982; U.S. Department of Education, 1996; Yeatts, 1994).

School and Work

The relationship between school and work is fluid, and the two institutions interact in a number of ways. School has traditionally been seen as preparation for employment, teaching both skills and attitudes that will, among other benefits, make young people better workers. Working can also teach young people skills and attitudes, show the value of lessons learned in school, and provide an additional learning environment.

Most work requires some basic academic skills—knowing the multiplication tables and how to read, for example—that few youngsters would master simply by being in work settings. It is far more efficient to teach both academic knowledge and some general work skills, such as keyboarding, in classrooms than on the job. However, people also learn from hands-on activity and by performing concrete tasks.

Relating academic subjects more closely to employment contributes to the foundation for many subjects and can open some subjects to a wider range of students. For example, Hull (1993) compared the performance of college-bound students in traditional physics classes to that of vocational education students following a curriculum that taught principles of physics through technology. The vocational students not only made up the deficit in knowledge of physics that they had demonstrated at the beginning of the course, but after 1 year they had surpassed the students in college preparatory classes.

Vocational education emerged as a way of teaching young people knowledge and skills for employment in specific fields. However, as jobs have changed at an accelerating rate and as more jobs have required a deeper understanding of fundamental processes—of why as well as how—a new emphasis on enhancing academic learning has emerged among vocational educators (Parnell, 1985). Beginning

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement