Vocational Education in Transition

Michael W. Kirst
Stanford University
Gerald C. Hayward
Policy Analysis for California Education


Vocational education in California is experiencing increasing criticism and significant enrollment declines. Between 1982–83 and 1984–85, for example, industrial arts enrollment dropped 16 percent and home economics enrollment declined 21 percent.

While associating declines in these courses with the increased academic offerings and requirements for high school graduation and college entrance that occurred simultaneously bears further study, vocational education enrollment began decreasing shortly after Proposition 13 in 1978, long before new academic standards were imposed. This substantial erosion of vocational education electives may have a significant impact on noncollege-bound students and their high school completion rates.

In addition, attempts to evaluate the impact of high school vocational education are difficult because of lack of agreement on objectives and major data gaps. Questions continue about whether comprehensive high schools should provide skill training for entry­ level jobs, or rather should stress academic skills required for a working life of continual learning, problem solving, and communicating. Vocational education also has been featured as a dropout prevention alternative, but its effectiveness is clouded by controversy and disputed data.

PACE has examined and reported on curricular changes in California comprehensive high schools since 1982–83. We believe a re-examination of this data is appropriate with a special focus on transitions occurring in vocational education. The future role of vocational education within comprehensive high schools is under greater reconsideration now than in recent years because of enrollment declines and changes in the U.S. job structure.

Enrollment trends and partial studies described in this paper suggest that a major state­ authorized review of vocational education is appropriate.

Suggested citationKirst, M. W., & Hayward, G. C. (1987, July). Vocational education in transition [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.