- Scheinfeld, Aaron [Browse]
- Senior thesis
- 134 pages
- Price, Hugh [Browse]
- Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
- Class year
- Restrictions note
- Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
- Summary note
- Every year, millions of young people in the United States leave high school
without the skills necessary for success in today’s job market. Rapid technological
change and an education slowdown have left many young people unprepared for today’s
jobs, which increasingly demand postsecondary degrees. The failure of U.S. high schools
to respond to the changes taking place in the economy is particularly troubling for the
most at-risk youth, who are unmotivated, disengaged, and have poor basic skills by the
time they reach high school. This is problematic not only for the students themselves,
who enter adulthood with little chance of moving up the socioeconomic ladder, but also
for the country, which bears the social costs caused by these disconnected individuals.
These challenges suggest that the U.S. could benefit from a renewed approach to careeroriented
education for at-risk high school students.
This Thesis asks whether an increased focus on vocational education, known
today as Career and Technical Education (CTE), can connect the most at-risk high school
students to quality employment opportunities, and if so, whether there are specific
approaches that are more effective than others. The federal government has funded high
school vocational programs for nearly a century, and recent evaluations of school-based
CTE have been relatively positive. Yet, America’s persistently high dropout rate suggests
that not enough is being done. Case studies of three models of school-based CTE
demonstrate that programs are successful when they connect academics with career
instruction, provide guidance and counseling, and develop connections with employers
and postsecondary schools. Nevertheless, these models also show that school-based CTE
does not provide sufficient access to students who are most in need.
A work-based model of CTE, in which students spend the majority of their time
in the workplace, presents a possible alternative to the school-based approach. Workbased
CTE, as examined through youth apprenticeship, has several benefits, such as the
potential to improve social skills, create clearer links between school and work, and
facilitate the attainment of skills certifications. Germany’s youth apprenticeship system
demonstrates that such an approach is feasible and scalable under the right conditions.
However, evidence from Germany also suggests that its system does not benefit the most
disadvantaged youth. Some education reformers have suggested that the U.S. could adopt
its own youth apprenticeship system to accommodate at-risk youth. An examination of
such an approach in the U.S. context reveals, though, that it also faces barriers to wide
scale implementation and may not provide sufficient access to at-risk students.
The findings presented in this Thesis suggest that high-quality secondary CTE can
improve the prospects of disadvantaged students, but both school- and work-based
models of CTE face the challenge of being accessible and accommodating to the most atrisk
students, who are often unintentionally excluded from these programs. As
policymakers consider strategies for improving the employment opportunities for at-risk
youth, they must focus not only on developing targeted and robust models of CTE, but
also on devising policies to encourage and facilitate participation in these programs.