Educational Matchmaking: Academic and Vocational Tracking in Comprehensive High Schools

Publication September 1992

This study, conducted as a project of the National Center for Research on Vocational Education (NCRVE), examines how three comprehensive high schools make decisions about what courses to offer and which courses are appropriate for various students. The study was guided initially by a desire to understand the range and quality of vocational offerings at comprehensive high schools that serve different types of student bodies and the student needs that secondary school educators hope their vocational programs will meet. The focus of the study shifted quickly when it became apparent that vocational course offerings and course-taking were not a salient part of curriculum decision-making at any of the three schools. Instead, curriculum decisions centered almost exclusively on the schools’ academic offerings and on mechanisms for placing students of different academic abilities into classes at the “right” level; decisions about vocational offerings and placements clearly took a back seat.

Consequently, the authors spent two years observing and interviewing at the three schools and analyzing the transcripts of a recent graduating class to shed light on the broader process of curriculum tracking; in particular, what factors guide decisions about which academic and vocational classes students take. The information was used to suggest how the culture of comprehensive high schools may pose challenges for reformers wishing to institute curricula that integrate academic and vocational topics, skills, and staff.

Oakes, J., Selvin, M., Karoly, L., & Guiton, G. (1992, September). Educational matchmaking: Academic and vocational tracking in comprehensive high schools. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

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