JITE v32n1 - Under Review - Tech Prep Education: A Total Quality Approach

Volume 32, Number 1
Fall 1994

Law, Charles J., Jr. (1994). Tech Prep Education: A Total Quality Approach. Lancaster, PA: Technomic Publishing Company, 241 pp. $39.00, (ISBN 1-56676-086-0).

Nevin R. Frantz, Jr.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

In his book, Tech Prep Education: A Total Quality Approach, Charles Law offers a concern that "if tech prep is to succeed … it must embody the pedagogy and educational philosophy of the most effective practices of vocational education." Unless those who use the concept of tech prep understand "its true potential for effecting long-term educational and organizational change and incorporate it into their comprehensive plans for reform," they may settle for its immediate utility and discard it in favor of another approach in the future. The book addresses this concern very nicely by beginning with a conceptual and philosophical framework for tech prep and ending with a clear, practical process that can be used by practitioners in designing and delivering a tech prep program in a local community consortium.

The book begins with a brief discussion of the emergence of tech prep in response to various concerns about public education. Although the implementation of tech prep will assume many different programmatic configurations, most of them are based upon linkages between secondary and post-secondary schools or programs that provide clear pathways for the educational success of students. The author raises a concern that in the implementation of tech prep, "any one of these configurations may be viewed as a goal or end in and of itself rather than as a step in the right direction." The lack of a conceptual understanding of tech prep and its relationship with other educational reform efforts may lead to a failure to recognize that massive systemic change is required of the educational establishment that will not occur without external support. The major problem, according to Law, is the historic separation, misunderstanding, and tension that exists among vocational and academic teachers and instructional leaders. What is needed for the success of tech prep is the willingness of the participants to reach a consensus on the goals, purpose, and philosophy of education. Without a clear conceptual foundation for tech prep, many of the current initiatives will end up treating symptoms, such as high dropout rates and poor job placements, rather than eliminating the dualism of American education.

The author uses the Deming concept of Total Quality Management (TQM), that focuses on customer or consumer needs and expectations, to develop a conceptual foundation for tech prep. The beliefs and expectations of Americans are influenced by the interaction of the structural components of society: demographic trends; an evolving, changing workplace; corporate and political pressures; research findings about effective instruction; and the best practices of vocational education. Therefore, an analysis must be made of these structural components in order to build the conceptual foundation upon which a philosophical and pedagogical position can be developed for tech prep. The result will be a position that both academic and vocational educators can use in recognizing that "they are managing an educational reform strategy that draws upon and relates to every other aspect of the social, economic, demographic, and educational paradigm in which it operates."

To accomplish this conceptual foundation for tech prep, the author advocates using a process developed by Frankena that builds upon the best practices of vocational education. This process can be used by local decision makers to test the validity of these practices and infer a series of premises which can be synthesized into an educational philosophy that supports the best of vocational education. The final step in the process is to prepare an edited statement for tech prep derived from the philosophical position statement of vocational education.

In the remainder of the book, the author presents the structural components used to develop both the conceptual foundation and the philosophical statement for tech prep. By using Law's process, a set of premises is developed which supports a philosophical position for vocational education and is based upon the best practices of the field. These premises are then revised and edited to create a tentative philosophy statement for tech prep. This process results in a conceptual foundation for tech prep that can be used by local planners in the construction of their own approach, which should embrace tech prep as a systemic change in the educational establishment.

The author's conceptual foundation for tech prep emphasizes the relationship between vocational education and tech prep. The pedagogy and philosophy that support tech prep draw upon the best practices of vocational education. Although the author makes no apology for this approach, he does recognize that the most effective practices of academic education are missing and must be added to complete the conceptual and philosophical foundation for tech prep. To resolve the dilemma of separating academic and vocational education and establish tech prep as a comprehensive and holistic educational reform, a total quality management approach (TQM) is advocated to make the needed connections and lead to continuous systematic improvement in the quality of education. A planning process, built upon TQM and consisting of eighteen tasks, is then proposed for local consortia to use in developing their own tech prep approach.

The book concludes with a chapter on integrating academic and vocational education. This section assumes that academic and vocational education teachers will employ an integrated approach after they have developed a common pedagogical and philosophical base for tech prep.

This work by Law represents another viewpoint about the tech prep concept and advocates a process that could be used to make tech prep a major part of educational reform in local consortia of schools and community colleges. The premise that a sound pedagogical and philosophical foundation for tech prep must be based on the best practices of vocational education is one that will be well received by most vocational educators. However, the assumption that academic teachers and other instructional leaders will embrace tech prep and its philosophical and pedagogical premises may be an inherent weakness of the process and has the potential of perpetuating the separation between vocational and academic education rather than integrating the best practices of both. The implementation of tech prep, with its integration of academic and vocational education, is a complex process that must occur within secondary schools, just as integration and articulation must occur between secondary and post-secondary institutions. All these entities have well established philosophical and pedagogical practices which need to be integrated at the outset if a common conceptual base is to be established by a consortium in making a major reform of their local educational system.

In spite of this reviewer's major concern about the success of tech prep, Tech Prep Education: A Total Quality Approach does provide an informed and rational process to develop a conceptual foundation and practical planning guidelines for constructing a tech prep initiative within a local consortium of secondary and post-secondary schools. The author makes a worthy contribution to the tech prep movement by advocating it as a strategy that can contribute to major educational reform. If tech prep is to succeed, the movement must have a strong conceptual foundation upon which practitioners can design and develop the tech prep initiative. This book is a valuable resource for making educators aware of the need to build a common vision and philosophical foundation before rushing into the implementation of tech prep programs.

Tracy Gilmore