SJR 242

Joint Subcommittee to Study Continuing and Vocational/Technical Education

August 15, 2000, Richmond

Established in 1999 to examine the feasibility of developing a vocational/technical continuing education center, the joint subcommittee's first-year of study consisted of a comprehensive review and update on vocational/technical training in Virginia's public schools, a review of the vocational/technical training programs available in the community college system, presentation of some higher education continuing education data, an overview of Virginia law relating to vocational/technical education, and three site visits to various vocational/technical programs located in central Virginia.

Pursuant to SJR 242 (2000), the study is currently focused more broadly on continuing and vocational/technical education and charged with:

  1. Completing the planned site visits of vocational/technical programs;
  2. Reviewing Virginia's laws relating to vocational/technical education for their relevancy to existing and future programs;
  3. Continuing its examination of the feasibility of developing a center for continuing and vocational education; and
  4. Examining such other issues relating to continuing and vocational/technical education as it may deem necessary.

Improving Technical Education

During the first of its four authorized meetings for the 2000 interim, Dr. Gene Bottoms, senior vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), addressed the joint subcommittee on improving career and technical education. At the beginning of his presentation, Dr. Bottoms asked the subcommittee to answer a series of questions:

  • What percentage of jobs are presently categorized as "low-wage" jobs?
  • What percentage of jobs were categorized as "low-wage" jobs in the 1950s?
  • What percentage of the current 30 million top-paying jobs in America require a college degree?
  • What percentage of jobs now require some education beyond high school?
  • What percentage of students indicate that they want more time on the computer?

Employment Statistics

Approximately 20 percent of jobs are, in 2000, and were, in the 1950s, considered "low-wage." The forecasts of large growth in low-wage jobs, which were made some years ago, have not occurred. Among the current 30 million top-paying jobs, 62 percent require a college degree; 20 years ago, approximately 20 percent of high-paying jobs required some college training. At this time, 56 percent of jobs require some training beyond high school; this job category continues to grow.

The employment trends have changed in the last 20 years, with technical skills becoming more and more crucial. In fact, 40 percent of jobs are "brief-case" jobs, requiring technical skills and the capacity to learn new skills. Manufacturing jobs are down, yet production is up. Virtually all students want more computer training, and most jobs require computer skills. These statistics and facts indicate that currently jobs require more higher education and better technical skills than ever before and that young people, to be flexible, need a sound academic foundation and technical skills.

SREB Program

The SREB program that Dr. Bottoms initiated, High Schools That Work, is focused on developing "challenging academic courses and modern vocational studies to raise the achievement of career-bound high school students." Thus, SREB has concentrated on career-bound young people, defined as that majority of high school students who are planning to go to work, join a military service, or go to a community college or other post-secondary program having an open admissions policy. In other words, those students who are "too often overlooked and under-educated."

High Schools That Work is a consortium of 22 states and more than 900 schools that is based on such premises as:

  • General education tracks should be eliminated;
  • All students should be required to take a rigorous academic core curriculum and to pursue either a vocational/technical or academic track/concentration;
  • Academic and vocational teachers should cooperate in the delivery of vocational/technical education;
  • Parents should be involved in the planning and scheduling of their students' programs; and
  • Students should be provided additional instruction to reach high standards.

Other Issues

  • Dr. Bottoms noted that in this country, there is a curious phenomenon—if the student does not read and write well, he will probably be placed in classes where reading and writing well are not required.
  • Some schools now require career-bound students to read and summarize at least one technical article per week.
  • In addition, because the math achievement of an 18-year-old is the best indicator of future earnings, the ability to use math in practical applications (for example, in carpentry and other technical work situations) is essential.
  • Many technical teachers need professional development because they do not have the skills to teach the math, language arts, and science foundations which are needed by career-bound students. For example, only about half of technical teachers require their students to do technical reading.
  • Students who are career bound must be provided rigorous academic programs, technical training, and knowledgeable guidance which involves the parents with the student.
  • Vocational/technical programs should be academically challenging and technically demanding and should not be dumping grounds for students that no one wants.
  • Several states have closed down their general diploma strands and/or revised their vocational/technical education curricula. West Virginia, for example, no longer has a general diploma program and North Carolina has eliminated its general strand and initiated an accountability system requiring pre- and post-testing for every course.
  • Funding of vocational/technical education varies across the country from weighted systems to large one-time appropriations to taxing authority. Annual funding of at least $25,000 is necessary to support the equipment and curriculum needs of High Schools That Work.

Virginia Results

SREB's report on High Schools That Work in Virginia demonstrates that reading and writing skills are still in need of improvement and that, although math and science skills have improved, regular use of math and science in practical applications needs to be reinforced. The report also indicated that many students are not receiving needed extra help in math (41 percent) and English (60 percent). The report also seems to indicate a need for more staff development.

Study Plan

The subcommittee also reviewed a proposed study plan and agreed to pursue site visits and the collection and evaluation of additional data. Site visit meetings will be scheduled after the opening of the school year.

The Honorable Frederick M. Quayle, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Norma E. Szakal