New Lessons about Tech Prep Implementation: Changes in Eight Selected Consortia Since Reauthorization of the Federal Tech Prep Legislation in 1998

Publication January 2002

To fully understand the evolution of Tech Prep during the later part of the 1990s, it is helpful to examine how implementation continued since new legislation was passed in 1998–99. This report presents selected results of the most recent data collection associated with a 4-year longitudinal study of Tech Prep implementation and student outcomes, comparing earlier findings (Bragg et al., 1999) to results collected during field visits in 2000 and 2001. Cross-consortium results pertaining to curriculum reform, articulation, academic standards, and other essential elements of Tech Prep are examined, along with factors that contribute to changes in these elements over time. Qualitative findings are based on a systematic analysis of themes and patterns emerging from site visits and personal interviews with a wide range of stakeholders, especially educational administrators, faculty, and students. Recommendations pertaining to future policy and practice conclude the report.

Changes in Tech Prep

Changes in Tech Prep may occur as an outgrowth of reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins legislation on vocational and technical education or in association with local practice. Legislated changes pertaining to local implementation because of new federal legislation are: Perkins III encouraged greater emphasis on changing instructional strategies at both the secondary and postsecondary levels. Contextual learning and work-based learning (WBL) were emphasized at both levels of education.

  • Perkins III added language dealing with articulation agreements, specifying 2+2 Tech Prep programs articulated with baccalaureate-degree programs, creating 2+2+2 options. The idea of CTE as a part of a high-school-to-college transition option, preparing students for bachelor’s degrees, represented an important departure from prior federal legislation.
  • Another change of significance in Perkins III was an increased emphasis on accountability. Ambiguity about whether states should report performance results for Tech Prep was removed when Perkins III specified that state-level reporting would be a requirement, but difficulties existed for federal and state agencies in documenting student participation and measuring impact.

Changes Within Local Consortia:

  • Tech Prep has focused largely on secondary curriculum reform during its initiation and early implementation in the 1990s, and a strong emphasis on secondary school reform has continued. Predominant thinking on the local level seems to be that Tech Prep reform needs to occur within high schools to “raise the bar” for students who matriculate into college, usually community college. Theoretically if Tech Prep programs are successful at reaching this goal, more resources and attention need to shift to the postsecondary level.
  • Tech Prep has changed to address state efforts to raise academic standards, including requiring more academic course-taking for all students, not only those aspiring to 4-year college. The College Tech Prep model has emerged to address this need, representing a logical outgrowth of the dialogue about Tech Prep’s contribution to academic reform.
  • A few local consortia pursued High Schools That Work (HSTW) as a means of integrating Tech Prep under a broader umbrella of high school reform. They used Tech Prep to move high schools toward enhanced academic achievement for all students.
  • Articulated 2+2 curriculum (and other variations), based on articulation agreements, has been a fundamental building block of Tech Prep from the start, though the extent to which they are fully utilized by students or updated by faculty vary widely. However, new articulation agreements allow dual credit for CTE academic course-taking in association with Tech Prep. Three consortia offered scholarships to Tech Prep students as a means of reinforcing their opportunities to transition to college.
  • All consortia continued earlier efforts to establish more 2+2+2 curricular options. These initiatives were usually sought out in a few selected career areas, rather than curriculumwide. Tech Prep pathways were developed in such areas as allied health, business, and engineering technologies where similar programs existed in 2- and 4-year colleges. These Tech Prep pathways offered students the Applied Associate of Science (AAS) degree leading to an applied or standard Bachelor of Science (BS) degree offered by public or private 4-year colleges.
  • New certifications emerged as a mechanism for enhancing curriculum alignment and awarding college credits for coursework during high school. Particularly in the Information Technology (IT) area, several consortia were utilizing certification as “proof” that students had mastered competencies in high school that were at college level.
  • Changes in updating, broadening, and integrating CTE curriculum were evident at the secondary level. Specifically, career clusters (referring to groupings of related occupations) and career pathways (extending specific clusters through career ladders linked to further education) were emphasized, and these innovations were endorsed by consortium leaders to insure that secondary schools were preparing students for career opportunities requiring 2 or more years of postsecondary education.
  • Career academies were an emerging model of delivery of Tech Prep, and there was a growing commitment to either initiate new career academies or enhance existing ones. Varying widely in approach and structure, consortium leaders displayed a positive attitude toward the career academy concept, and enthusiasm was evident in secondary administrators and teachers implementing them. At the postsecondary level, we observed a companion idea to career academies in learning communities.

Contributors to Change

Contributors to change were categorized according to the schema on educational implementation by Fullan (2001), which identifies characteristics of change, local characteristics, and external factors.

Characteristics of Change:

  • Questions were raised from the beginning about key definitions of what a Tech Prep program entails and who the Tech Prep student is. Difficulties in identifying and serving a specific target population, such as the forgotten half or neglected majority, have been observed since Perkins II was passed in 1990, resulting in many consortia emphasizing an all-inclusive target audience.
  • Charges that Tech Prep is a new form of tracking have been pervasive, whether tracking takes the form of general education, vocational education, or a hybrid of the two. Understanding the negative stigma of tracking, some teachers, parents, and students have steered away from Tech Prep. Responding to this criticism, Tech Prep consortia expanded policies to be inclusive of diverse student groups, usually calling for all students to participate.
  • Pervasive issues surrounding the creation and sustenance of articulation agreements and alternative curriculum and instruction were raised relative to Tech Prep. Over time, local consortia made changes to align Tech Prep curriculum with the existing educational system, such as replacing applied academics courses with new contextual teaching methodologies in existing academic courses.

Local Characteristics:

  • Curricular changes associated with Tech Prep were not subtle; they required the undivided attention of leaders working in a highly collaborative way. Educational administrators at the secondary and postsecondary level who were most supportive of Tech Prep gained extensive knowledge and exhibited a genuine commitment to seeing that Tech Prep implementation occurred in a productive way over time.
  • Skillful leadership was evident in coordinating local consortium efforts, and this was especially true in communities where Tech Prep was perceived as antithetical to academic reform, due partly to the historic split between academic education and vocational education. Capable leaders gained support for core concepts by engaging competent leaders in schools, colleges, businesses, and community groups.
  • Turnover and inconsistency in local leadership contributed to difficulties with implementation over time, especially when key leaders were replaced with persons lacking understanding and commitment. Even when new leaders showed strong commitment to Tech Prep, a significant change in direction was evidenced for some initiatives when new people, relationships, and ideas emerged.
  • Fiscal resources were too limited to allow consortia to implement changes that local leaders desired. Consistently, we heard complaints from constituents of all types (administrators, teachers, business representatives, parents, students) that too few resources were dedicated to resolving serious problems within schools.
  • Communication between the secondary and postsecondary levels and between schools and external groups, such as business and state agencies, was instrumental to successful implementation. Continued expansion of articulation agreements was traced to deliberate commitments to on-going communication of key personnel at the secondary and postsecondary levels.

External Factors:

  • The level of involvement of local consortia in Tech Prep implementation was influenced by the states and their historic role in oversight of vocational education. At least a few persons associated with each consortium commented on the utility of support provided by state officials, while others complained about a lack of consistency in goals and definitions and an overabundance of paperwork and unnecessary interference.
  • Business and industry firms often played a supportive role in encouraging Tech Prep implementation and advocating for raised academic and technical competencies among high school and college graduates. At times, having business leaders voice support for Tech Prep reform strategies provided powerful leverage to resolve conflicts among educational institutions and personnel.

Recommendations for Future Policy and Practice

Based on careful assessment of each local consortium, nine recommendations are offered to enhance Tech Prep reform:

  1. Encourage the development of local and state policies that promote articulation agreements supporting transition from high school to college for more students.
  2. Increase funding for Tech Prep at both the secondary and postsecondary levels, and utilize these funds to explore innovative curricular and instructional options that serve an increasingly diverse student population. Encourage a greater focus on Tech Prep programs that enhance access and opportunity at the postsecondary level.
  3. Continue to associate Tech Prep with raised academic standards at the secondary and postsecondary levels as well as enhanced career opportunities, including employment in professional and technical occupations beyond the 2-year degree.
  4. Involve 4-year colleges and universities in Tech Prep curriculum reform from the beginning, not as an afterthought.
  5. Continue to utilize reform concepts affiliated with Tech Prep to enhance CTE, but do not confuse Tech Prep with conceptualizations of CTE that encourage immediate employment after high school.
  6. Avoid conceptualizations of Tech Prep that involve tracking of students possessing particular academic abilities or other personal traits; Tech Prep should be accessible to all learners, and support services should be provided so that these students can be successful.
  7. Encourage partnerships with business, industry, labor, and community groups that support a sustainable approach to Tech Prep, emphasizing advanced academic and career-technical education sensitive to academic reforms, larger economic changes, and local market forces.
  8. Strengthen the role of community colleges by recognizing and learning from the lessons that successful Tech Prep consortia have gained by involving their postsecondary partners in important ways.
  9. Enhance program evaluation and outcomes assessment approaches to insure that Tech Prep programs continue to advance and improve.

Bragg, D. D., & Reger, W. (2002). New lessons about tech prep implementation: Changes in eight selected consortia since reauthorization of the federal tech prep legislation in 1998. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota.

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