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MATHEMATICAL PREPARATION OF THE TECHNICAL WORK FORCE: REPORT OF A WORKSHOP BACKGROUND BRIEFINGS Three Workshop participants were asked to present background information to help set the context for the day's discussions. The presenters represent different constituencies—the U.S. Department of Education, technical high schools, and community colleges. Their remarks are summarized below. ON PROGRAMS The 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act arose as a result of studies showing that students are leaving school without the occupational skills necessary to make them employable in the technical workplace. The legislation was designed in part to help provide a solution to the high unemployment rate among youth by funding the development of comprehensive school-to-work programs. These programs, which emphasize learning in context, are required to integrate academic and vocational education, to blend school learning and work-based learning, and to build bridges between secondary and postsecondary institutions. Projects are expected to pull together stakeholders at every level, from schools to colleges to government and industry. Curricula should build on the emerging occupational skills standards in order that students acquire portable credentials and be prepared for high-wage, high-skill jobs as well as for future learning. Finally, the programs will be called upon to articulate academic, vocational, and career development outcomes. Systemic change is key to the success of this reform effort. STUDIES SHOW THAT STUDENTS ARE LEAVING SCHOOL WITHOUT THE OCCUPATIONAL SKILLS NECESSARY TO MAKE THEM EMPLOYABLE IN THE TECHNICAL WORKPLACE. States and localities that receive funding will use those resources to experiment with new ideas, to develop strategies to operate systemically, or to build on promising strategies already in place. The federal government will play a supporting role by providing seed money for five years. Designers of the legislation believe that a comprehensive school-to-work system will provide all students with the knowledge and skills needed to be productive workers and lifelong learners. GISELA HARKIN U.S. Department of Education
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MATHEMATICAL PREPARATION OF THE TECHNICAL WORK FORCE: REPORT OF A WORKSHOP ON HISTORY John Dewey's view of vocational education as central to the future of democracy laid the foundation for much of the current thinking about school-to-work programs and the integration of academic and vocational education. His philosophy—that the way in which vocational education is treated could either strengthen or weaken class divisions in the schools and in society— is intrinsic to today's arguments about the ramifications of tracking. Federal support for vocational education began in 1917 with the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act. This legislation, which established a separate track for work-bound students, ran counter to Dewey's exhortations for a single system designed to meet the needs of all students. Although the 1990 Perkins Act requires better integration of academic and vocational education, vocational education has not yet recovered from the second-class status it attained under the 1917 Act. If the intent of the 1990 Act were fully implemented, there would be no separate programs for the non-college bound. ONLY ONE IN FOUR STUDENTS WHO MAJOR IN TECHNICAL AREAS EVER WORK IN RELATED FIELDS. THIS ARGUES AGAINST TRAINING HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS FOR SPECIFIC OCCUPATIONS. Studies indicate that only one in four students who major in a technical area ever work in related fields. This statistic argues against training high school students for specific occupations. And this argument does not even address the fact that we cannot anticipate the training students will need in the next decade, since we do not know what new jobs will be created. Therefore, sound educational programs must be established for all students...never just for some. LARRY ROSENSTOCK Rindge School for the Technical Arts ON MATHEMATICS In planning the mathematical preparation of the technical work force, we must distinguish concepts from technique and find ways to integrate the various areas of mathematics rather than teach them as discrete subjects. The challenge for teachers will not be content, but incorporating appropriate pedagogy and assessment into classroom activities. Measuring students' abilities to perform technical operations is not the same as determining their mastery of content. The goal of mathematics education is not the acquisition of information but the ability to use information to solve open-ended problems and understand complex inter-relationships. To accomplish this goal, students will need to develop number sense rather than memorize number facts. They will have to be able to construct and solve equations to find solutions to problems, rather than just replicate solutions to examples presented in a textbook. They will need opportunities to use technology in ways that make it a natural part of the learning and problem-solving environment.
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MATHEMATICAL PREPARATION OF THE TECHNICAL WORK FORCE: REPORT OF A WORKSHOP Schools (and many colleges) need to re-think the structure of their mathematics program in terms of levels of knowledge rather than grades. For example, although the NCTM advocates a three-year core curriculum for all students, there is no reason that a student needs to accomplish that work in grades 9-11, or even 8-10. Students should be given the option of studying the material as soon as they are ready to do so. For some that might begin in grade 7, for others grade 9, and for still others it may not be until the first year of college. Some students might complete the core curriculum in two years, while other might take four or five. No matter when they begin or how long it takes, all students need to learn the mathematics that will prepare them for jobs requiring high levels of thinking and problem-solving skills. Schools will have to find ways to meet that challenge. SOME STUDENTS MIGHT COMPLETE THE CORE CURRICULUM IN TWO YEARS, WHILE OTHERS MIGHT TAKE FOUR OR FIVE. YET NO MATTER WHEN THEY BEGIN NOR HOW LONG IT TAKES, ALL STUDENTS NEED TO COMPLETE THIS CORE. PAMELA E. MATTHEWS Mt. Hood Community College
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