JITE v32n3 - The School-to-Work Movement and Youth Apprenticeship in the U.S.: Educational Reform and Democratic Renewal?

Volume 32, Number 3
Spring 1995

The School-to-Work Movement and Youth Apprenticeship in the U.S.: Educational Reform and Democratic Renewal?

James A. Gregson
Oklahoma State University

The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, often recognized as the formal beginning of vocational education, has been praised for helping make school more meaningful to students, reducing juvenile delinquency, lowering the drop-out rate, and providing a better trained workforce to meet the needs of industry ( Wirth, 1972 ). However, the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 has also been severely criticized. Critics of the Smith-Hughes Act have argued that it reflected the social efficiency paradigm, was a straight jacket approach to vocational education, and that it threatened the interests of democracy in education ( Kantor, 1988 ; Lazerson & Grubb, 1974 ; Wirth, 1972 ).

Reaction to the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 has been similar in some respects to the reaction to the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. For example, some supporters of this Federal legislation have suggested that it could help make school more meaningful to students, thus reducing juvenile delinquency and lowering the drop-out rate, and provide a better trained workforce to meet the needs of industry (e.g., Jobs for the Future, 1990 ; William T. Grant Foundation, 1992 ). Critics of this 1994 Act have raised many of the same concerns initially raised by Dewey ( 1916, 1977 ). Specifically, they have expressed fear that the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 takes the interests of students and makes them subservient to the interests of employers ( Grubb, 1995 ; Levine, 1994 ).

Work Training versus Work Education

To gain greater insight into the problems, politics, and possibilities of the current school-to-work movement, it is helpful to recognize two opposing perspectives that emerged in the late 1800s and have contributed to the current discourse on educational reform. One view has been labeled as instrumental because it contends that the purpose of schooling is to increase social and economic efficiency ( Kinchloe, 1995 ; Simon, Dippo, & Schenke, 1991 ). This view was espoused by two leading educators at the turn of the century, David Snedden and Charles Prosser . Snedden , then the Commissioner of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Prosser, who later became Executive Director of the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education (NSPIE), became leading advocates of secondary vocational education as trade training ( Drost, 1977 ; Kantor, 1988 ; Snedden, 1977 ). Impressed with the research and writings of Frederick W. Taylor, Snedden and Prosser adapted Taylor's theories on scientific management to schooling in an attempt to better meet the needs of industry.

The noted American philosopher, John Dewey ( 1977 ), vehemently criticized the instrumental view because he felt that it took the interests of students and made them subservient to the interests of employers. Though Dewey ( 1916 ) rejected vocational education as training for specific trades, he passionately supported an education through occupations. Dewey's view has been labeled as pedagogic and democratic because he felt that teaching and learning through occupational studies was the most powerful way to acquire practical knowledge, apply academic content, and critically examine industrial and societal values ( Drost, 1977 ; Kantor, 1988 ; Kinchloe, 1995 ; Lakes, 1985 ; Simon, et al., 1991 ; Wirth, 1979, 1983 ). Because of such a view, Dewey supported study through occupations by all students; not just by those whose probable destinies were in the trades.

Several academicians have concluded that the instrumental view became the dominant paradigm of vocational education ( Gregson, 1993 ; Kinchloe, 1995 ; Simon, et al., 1991 ). They point towards historical practices and the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, which was, in effect, authored by Prosser, as evidence for their position ( Wirth, 1974 ). However, evidence suggests that a paradigm shift has begun to occur that moves learning and teaching toward more of a Deweyan vocationalism ( Pratzner, 1985 ). Scholars who support this position make reference to contemporary practices (e.g., integration of academic and vocational education) and legislation, such as the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act of 1990 and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, as evidence for their position ( Gregson, 1993 ; Grubb, 1995 ; Wirth, 1992 ).

The purpose of this article is not to critique Federal legislation but to critique the school-to-work movement through a Deweyan lens. To accomplish this goal, the context of the school-to-work movement will be recognized by reviewing the factors that have contributed to current school-to-work efforts (e.g., youth apprenticeship). Many of the concerns originally raised by Dewey will be revisited to explore democratic problems and possibilities with current school-to-work efforts.

The School-to-Work Movement and Educational Reform

While the perspectives voiced by economists, employers, labor representatives, policy makers, and educational and social reformers in the school reform dialogue have varied significantly, all have expressed concern about the education of our nation's youth. This section discusses some of the factors most often cited in the literature for developing youth apprenticeships and a comprehensive school-to-work transition system. While democratic issues will be discussed within the description of these factors, a more extensive critique in the Deweyan tradition will be provided in the following section.

Minimizing Floundering

One of the most often cited factors for developing youth apprenticeships is to help solve the problem of U.S. youth "floundering" in the labor market ( Rosenbaum, Stern, Hamilton, Hamilton, Berryman, & Kazis, 1992 ). For example, high school youth between the ages of 18 and 27 who did not enroll in post-secondary education held approximately six different jobs and experienced four to five periods of unemployment ( Veum & Weiss, 1993 ).

Veum and Weiss ( 1993 ) cited many factors that contributed to this employment pattern. One factor is that employers have the perception that recent high school graduates lack the basic skills and work habits necessary to become valued employees. Such a perception may help to explain why employers tend to hire more mature applicants over recent high school graduates even when older applicants are less qualified ( Hamilton, 1986 ; Rosenbaum, 1989 ). However, Veum and Weiss also contended that the employment pattern, or lack thereof, among high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 27 is also, to a limited extent, the result of decisions made by the youth themselves. Perhaps because the vast majority of jobs these youth hold are low skill, low wage, and do not possess a career ladder, youth seem to feel no major commitment to employers and may leave to search for more rewarding, meaningful labor.

Similar to reformers at the turn of the century, many contemporary U.S. education reformers have embraced an educational system similar to Germany's dual system to improve the employment patterns of youth. For example, many of these reformers have expressed the belief that Germany's apprenticeship programs have made significant contributions to that country's economic prosperity and have minimized many youth employment problems with which the U.S. is currently faced ( Bailey & Merritt, 1992 ; Cheek & Campbell, 1994 ; Dowling & Albrecht, 1991 ; Hamilton, 1993 ; Rosenbaum, et al., 1992 ). They point out that Germany's youth unemployment rate has historically been consistently below 5%, which is substantially lower than most other countries ( Hamilton, 1986 ). German high school youth, students from the Realschule (vocational middle/secondary school 5-10) and Hauptschule (lower-level vocational middle school, grades 5-9), "enter full-fledged careers at an age when their counterparts in the U.S. are graduating from high school only to begin serving hamburgers, mopping floors, and running cash registers" ( Hamilton, 1986, p. 240 ). While U.S. employers with career-entry jobs do not hire 18-year-old youth, even if the 18-year-old youth successfully graduated from a vocational-technical program, German youth apprentices are highly favored over applicants who have not completed an apprenticeship ( Hamilton & Hamilton, 1992 ). In addition, over half of the German apprentices become regular employees in the firms in which they received their training ( Hamilton, 1986 ).

German apprentices welcome the opportunity, even though there is no obligation, to continue to work in the organization in which they were trained because they are accustomed to that particular workplace's culture and have also developed supportive relationships with many of their co-workers. German employers welcome the opportunity, even though there is no obligation, to hire the apprentice as a regular employee because they are already familiar with the capabilities of the apprentice, and it is an opportunity for them to re-coup some of their investment.

While many U.S. school-to-work reform advocates have enthusiastically endorsed Germany's dual system, others have identified problems with it and suggest that youth apprenticeship enthusiasts have somewhat idealized this form of work-based learning ( Bailey, 1993 ). For example, those who see through a Deweyan lens have contended that Germany's dual system is socially deterministic-thus undemocratic-because it begins tracking at an early age ( Kinchloe, 1995 ; Levine, 1994 ). Others, less philosophical and more pragmatic, have argued that it is very difficult to make conclusions about the effectiveness of specific educational practices based on cross-cultural comparisons because of the differences in economical, political, industrial, and sociological contexts. Consequently, they have been unwilling to conclude that any educational system significantly impacts economic prosperity, youth unemployment rates, and real earnings ( Becker, 1993 ; Levine, 1994 ).

Ensuring Work Experiences are Educative

A second factor that has contributed to the youth apprenticeship movement has been the realization that many work experiences available to U.S. youth actually hinder their education. Historically, there has been the perception that work experience of almost any kind is good for youth because it promotes maturity by teaching the work ethic and the value of a dollar ( Stern, McMillion, Hopkins, & Stone, 1990 ). However, there is evidence to suggest that some jobs may actually have a negative impact on youth. Because these low skill jobs are largely repetitive, unchallenging, and provide little contact with adults, they may contribute to cynicism about work and promote immaturity among youth ( Greenberger & Steinberg, 1986 ). In addition, there is also evidence that youth who work excessively or late hours at such jobs spend less time on homework, receive lower grades, experience more stress, use more drugs, and are less likely to graduate from high school ( Stern et al., 1990 ).

Because European youth become employed in career-entry jobs, rather than the repetitive and unchallenging jobs in which the vast majority of U.S. youth are employed, Hamilton and Hamilton ( 1992 ) contend they are more likely to experience cognitive work environments. Cognitive work environments have frequently been identified as high performance work organizations because they empower workers capable of effectively using mathematics, communication, problem solving, and teamwork to make decisions so that productivity and profit are increased ( Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 1990 ). To assist students in developing the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to become high performance employees, Berryman ( 1992 ) identified several characteristics necessary for work sites in order to promote apprenticeship as a paradigm for learning. One of the most fundamental characteristics, and one which she contends is lacking in most jobs held by U.S. youth, is that the tasks at work become increasingly complex so that more and more skills are required for expert performance. Another characteristic, similar to increasing complexity, is increasing diversity. Apprentices learn not only a wider variety of skills, but also a wider variety of contexts in which to use their skills. Consequently, transferable skills are heavily emphasized.

Critical theorists and cognitive scientists, who have expanded upon Dewey's vision of education through occupations, seem to have embraced cognitive work environments as meaningful and appropriate places for young people to learn. However, they are concerned that too few cognitive work environments exist for many students to learn academic or technical skills, much less independent thinking ( Kinchloe, 1995 ; Levine, 1994 ; Roditi, 1992 ). In addition, some evidence suggests that school-to-work advocates may have idealized German work organizations as learning environments ( Bailey, 1993 ).

Mentorships are another characteristic that is absent from most U.S. work sites where youth are employed but are prevalent in European work sites ( Caldwell & Carter, 1993 ; Hamilton & Hamilton, 1992 ). Mentors are an important element to youth apprenticeships because they provide guidance about social and personal aspects of work as well as instruction on how to perform job tasks. Mentorships also increase the extent to which working youth have meaningful contacts with adults who are interested in their welfare and willing to invest time in them. When "mentors are carefully matched with students on the basis of interests and, where possible, gender and ethnicity," students find the relationships helpful in making work more meaningful and in assisting them in gaining maturity ( Stern, Raby, & Dayton, 1992, pp. 110-111 ). While there seems to be a lack of consensus in the literature on whether mentors should be assigned to apprentices or whether they should emerge once experienced workers and the apprentices have the opportunity to get to know one another, the value of mentors to apprentices remains uncontested ( Caldwell & Carter, 1993 ).

Educative places of work then teach heuristic strategies (i.e., problem solving strategies appropriate for a given context), metacognitive skills (i.e., goal setting, strategic planning), and personal and social skills as well as occupational specific skills. They accomplish this through multiple teaching strategies, some of which Berryman ( 1992 ) identified as modeling, coaching, articulation, reflection, and exploration. As a result, for those apprentices who are fortunate enough to be in educative environments, work experiences seem to be less exploitative and more democratic in nature than the work that the majority of U.S. youth experience.

Increasing Earnings and Education

A third factor that has contributed to the youth apprenticeship movement has been that high school graduates are now experiencing a reduction in real earnings compared to high school graduates of the 1970s ( Levy & Murname, 1992 ). While this trend alone is undesirable, what is even more disturbing is that by age forty, a significant percentage of these workers still have not found stable employment in a career ( Stern, Finkelstein, Stone, Latting, & Dornsife, 1994 ). The result is that a number of young people, many of whom are parents and are having an increasingly difficult time "making it," often become burdens to society rather than contributors.

While the percentage of high school students employed in naturally occurring, paid, unsupervised jobs (i.e., no school or public agency involvement) is at an all time high ( Stern, et al., 1990 ), there has also been a significant increase in the percentage of youth who fall below the poverty level ( Kozol, 1991 ). Many factors have contributed to this phenomenon. One such factor is that the vast majority of U.S. youth are working at low skill, low wage jobs. Another factor is that young low skilled workers frequently experience periods of unemployment. However, even when these factors are considered, there is evidence that the average hourly earnings (adjusted for inflation) of nonsupervisory workers are now lower than in any year since 1965 ( Wirth, 1992 ). This trend in earnings has contributed to an increase of 43% of full-time, year-round workers who fall below the poverty level.

While the evidence suggests that members of the "neglected majority" fall behind in the global economy when they enter the workforce full-time ( Parnell, 1985 ), evidence also suggests that some U.S. citizens are doing quite well. For example, though the average income of the poorest fifth declined about seven percent between 1977 and 1990, the average income of the richest fifth increased about 15% during this time period ( Wirth, 1992 ). This trend toward greater inequality is even further exemplified when one compares the income of college graduates with high school graduates ( Reich, 1991 ).

Some educational reformers feel this widening gap in income and in level of education is a threat to U.S. democracy. Consequently, they have advocated as one of their principles that youth apprenticeship results in or contributes to a two year associate degree that can then be articulated with a four year college degree. This initiative, often referred to as Tech Prep, is intended to articulate secondary and post-secondary educational programs and provide specific training for technical careers ( Parnell, 1985 ). For example, Craftsmanship 2000 metalworking apprentices in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have the opportunity to attain a associate degree in applied science while serving their apprenticeship. Further, their associate's degree can articulate into a bachelor's degree in Technical and Industrial Education from Oklahoma State University (OSU). However, and some would contend unfortunately, a similar articulation agreement does not exist with OSU's College of Engineering.

Because youth apprenticeships have only recently emerged, there is a lack of data which provide evidence that they can be an effective tool for closing the income gap and level of education between the neglected majority and the privileged minority ( Pauly, Kopp, & Haimson, 1994 ). Nevertheless, there is some preliminary data which suggests that youth apprenticeships have the potential for increasing the percentage of those who complete some form of post-secondary education and attain careers that provide higher earnings ( Goldberger, Kazis, & O'Flanagan, 1994 ). Further, as discussed in the next section, cognitive scientists and critical theorists are interested in the possibilities of "cognitive apprenticeships" for making school more meaningful as well as promoting a more equitable and democratic society.

Making School More Meaningful

While the first three factors suggest that the U.S. is experiencing a major waste of human resources, a fourth factor that has contributed to the youth apprenticeship movement suggests that U.S. schools are ill-serving over half of our nation's population. Specifically, critics of contemporary U.S. schools have contended that the majority of academic subjects are sterile and useless, that much of vocational education is outdated and second rate, and that the general track is unfocused and unproductive ( William T. Grant Foundation, 1988 ). The result of such schooling is that a significant percentage of high school graduates, labeled as the "neglected majority," lack academic excellence or job readiness ( Parnell, 1985 ). Consequently, evidence suggests that members of the neglected majority are not prepared for higher education or career work but rather are prepared for only low skill, low wage work.

It has been the position of many educational reformers that an increased number of high school youth would complete some form of post-secondary education and attain careers if they found school to be more meaningful. Numerous reports have captured this perspective (e.g., The Forgotten Half, America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages?, What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000 ) and have provided evidence that U.S. schools are ill serving more than half of our nation's student population. The authors of these reports, and numerous other scholars ( Bottoms, Presson, & Johnson, 1992 ; Gregson, 1993 ; Marshall & Tucker, 1993 ; Parnell, 1985 ; Rosenstock, 1991 ), have argued that schools need to be redesigned and refocused so that students become actively engaged with what is to be learned and are exposed to a context in which they can apply what they have learned. To accomplish this, schools must discontinue the practice of fragmenting knowledge into pieces, focusing on right-answer/fact-based learning, individual learning, abstract thinking, and symbol manipulation (e.g., math formulas). Rather, if students are to see a real world application of classroom learning, schools need to emphasize cooperative learning, concrete thinking (e.g., using tools), and reasoning to multi-specific situations ( Berryman, 1992 ). Cognitive scientists ( Berryman, 1992 ; Raizen, 1989 ; Resnick, 1987 ) contend that youth apprenticeship can serve as a vehicle for democratic reform because it effectively challenges distinctions between "head and hand, academic and vocational education, knowing and doing, abstract and applied, education and training, and school-based and work-based learning" ( Berryman, 1992, pp. 25-26 ).

Youth apprenticeship can serve as an impetus for the integration of academic and vocational education. For instance, persons associated with Craftsmanship 2000, a youth apprenticeship program in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have developed classes provided at Tulsa Technology Center where students learn physics, algebra, trigonometry, and communications skills through the study of manufacturing and the metal trades. Not only does Craftsmanship 2000 integrate academic and vocational education, but it also integrates classroom learning with work-site learning since company mentors and teachers cooperate on evaluating learning as well as facilitating instruction.

Youth apprenticeship can also provide the opportunity for vocational education to be organized around career clusters rather than by specific jobs. Career clusters tend to increase career options rather than narrow them. For example, Pioneer Technology Center in Ponca City, Oklahoma, restructured its various independent mechanics programs (i.e., small engines, agricultural diesel mechanics, large truck diesel mechanics, automotive mechanics) to form a Transportation Technology Department. In this example, students learn broad transferable skills in areas such as the principles of combustible engines and electronics, and then explore the numerous careers within the area of transportation. To become skilled workers in a specific technical area, students are then given the opportunity to participate in a youth apprenticeship or articulate their educational experiences to a post-secondary technical institute.

The School-to-Work Movement and Democratic Concerns

Failure to Recognize Transformative Potential

While there have been instances in which youth apprenticeship has seemed to serve as a vehicle for educational reform, advocates of youth apprenticeship have failed to recognize that education can aim "at transforming society and the organization of work within it to reflect participative, democratic values" ( Simon, et al., 1991, p. 5 ). In the early 1900s Dewey ( 1916, 1977 ) advocated an emancipatory education that would transform schools, work organizations, and the society at large into more participative, democratic cultures. He observed the extent of oppression in society and exploitation in the workplace and recognized the radical potential of education taught through the study of occupations. Contemporary scholars, who operate from a critical theoretical framework ( Bettis & Gregson, 1993 ; Gregson, 1993, 1994 ; Lakes, 1991, 1994 ; Rehm, 1989 ; Shor, 1988 ; Simon & Dippo, 1987 ) have expanded upon Dewey's vision and have advocated a critical pedagogy. These critical pedagogues have maintained that vocational education and cooperative work-site learning possess the potential for uncovering unjust contradictions, questioning taken-for-granted assumptions about how work is done, and exploring possible alternatives so that work can become more democratic and humane. However, there is little discussion among youth apprenticeship advocates of its transformative capacity. Rather, the emphasis seems to be on the transmissive capacity of youth apprenticeship because industry wants students to function productively in the existing industrial environment regardless of how unjust it is.

Failure to Expose Students to Issues of Worker Empowerment

The transmissive pedagogy described above seems to represent dominant practice among vocational educators since there is an explicit commitment to adapt youth to meet the needs of employers ( Gregson, 1991 ). This is in contrast to the pedagogy advocated by Dewey and contemporary critical pedagogues that is transformative in nature because its goal is to empower students so they can later transform the social relations of the workplace into more democratic cultures ( Herschbach, 1994 ). Though Dewey did not use the term "empowerment," his vision of schooling provided the conceptual base for critical theorists in their use of this term. For instance one critical theorist, Giroux ( 1988 ), defined empowerment as "the process whereby students acquire the means to critically appropriate knowledge existing outside their immediate experience in order to broaden their understanding of themselves, the world, and the possibilities for transforming the taken-for-granted assumptions about the way we live" ( p. 189 ). Giroux envisioned a schooling environment that not only promotes critical thinking but also action directed towards the creation of a more just and equitable society.

Historically, organized labor has advocated worker empowerment because of its concern for improving the quality of life for workers. As a result, organized labor and the vocational education community have often had a strained relationship, in part, because of the perception from labor that vocational educators "disempower" rather than empower students ( Kantor, 1988 ; Violas, 1978 ). While labor leaders no longer publicly accuse vocational schools of producing compliant workers willing to work for low wages, the perception does remain that vocational educators use predominantly an instrumental approach for the preparation of vocational students and that this contributes to an economic and social efficiency ( Kinchloe, 1995 ; Simon, et al., 1991 ).

Because of these perceptions, some labor leaders have criticized elements of the school-to-work movement (personal communication J. Fish, October 31, 1994). One reason for this criticism seems to be the belief that the term youth apprenticeship contributes to confusion between work-site learning agreements and licensed union apprenticeships. Use of the term youth apprenticeship, some labor leaders have contended, symbolizes the extent to which they have been excluded from meaningful input on school-to-work initiatives. In addition, labor fears that some school-to-work efforts have been a calculated assault against unions and that elements of the movement are representative of the anti-unionism climate presently in the United States.

The labor perspective maintains that if advocates of the school-to-work movement are as committed to meeting the needs of students as they are to meeting the needs of industry, then vocational education must promote a discourse on the organizations and conditions of work. Herschbach ( 1994 ) contended that the nature of vocational education lends itself to help empower students so they could later improve the social conditions of work. However, the practice of such a transformative pedagogy requires the realization that schooling is political and involves a struggle among groups (e.g., management, labor) with different interests. Critical pedagogues have argued that to promote critical reflection and democratic action, the political nature of schooling needs to be exposed by introducing conflict into the curriculum.

Failure to Introduce Conflict into the Curriculum

Numerous studies have reported successful instances in which science, math, and communication concepts have been effectively applied in a vocational or workplace context ( Bottoms, et al., 1992 ; Grubb, Davis, Lum, Plihal, & Moraine, 1991 ). However, in part because the role of social studies seldom seems to be considered in occupational studies, integrated curriculum is devoid of the conflict that exists in our society and places of work. Critical theorists find this omission problematic because it fails to inform students of the historical conflicts that have contributed to the struggle for freedom, social justice, and equality. Because many recently developed youth apprenticeships have been designed to teach students about particular trades, they provide the opportunity for students to examine collective struggles of unions, crafts people, and artisans. Not only should the struggles of these various groups be addressed, but their successes should also be discussed to encourage students to become actively involved in shaping their occupations. Apple ( 1992 ) suggested that the nature of conflict has usually been presented to students in a negative way, and he believed that this perspective was misleading, particularly in a pluralistic society. He, like Dewey and Freire, endorsed introducing conflict into learning experiences and advocated the use of problematics as one approach for doing so.

Apprenticeship, as a topic for study, lends itself to problem-based learning. While apprenticeship has historically been used effectively to produce highly skilled workers, it also has a long reputation of exploiting workers. Consequently, students could examine case studies that show how apprenticeship has improved the quality of work life for some as well as explore instances in which it has been used as a "form of control over the most valuable, least powerful workers" ( Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 64 ).

Failure to Critique "High-Performance" Workplaces

Gregson ( 1993 ), Marshall and Tucker ( 1993 ), and the influential report America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages? ( Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 1990 ) have criticized workplaces and schools for still reflecting the pyramidal, autocratic factory model of the early 1900s that Frederick Taylor helped to develop. The literature associated with these critiques suggests high performance workplaces have increased worker productivity, quality of work life, and profit through worker empowerment. See, for example, Xerox's Leadership Through Quality ( Marshall & Tucker, 1993, pp. 95-98 ).

Some case studies support the position that Total Quality Management (TQM) and similar participatory management approaches have helped to transform traditional organizations into "high performance" places of work and have improved the quality of working life for their employees in the process ( Wirth, 1992 ). Other case studies have provided evidence that many high performance initiatives were sophisticated means to enhance management control ( Levine, 1994 ; Wells, 1987 ). In these instances, workers experienced an intensified work pace, an increased number of duties, and poorer working conditions. In addition, their participation in decision making resulted in "a relocated tool tray, a larger oil drum, and a top for a garbage can" rather than "decisions involving planning, product design, and the organization of work" ( Levine, 1994, p. 45 ). Educational reformers in general, and youth apprenticeship advocates in particular need to acknowledge the variance among companies that identify themselves as high performance organizations and address the conflict of transforming the theory of empowerment into practice through public discourse.

Similarly, Bailey ( 1993 ) and later Kinchloe ( 1995 ) suggested that because U.S. employers still rely predominantly on a "Tayloristic" approach to work, very few places of employment emphasize learning. What training employers do provide, they contended, goes to older workers with higher levels of education. As a result, their respective texts raise the issue that there could be a conflict between the apprentice as worker and the apprentice as learner.

Failure to Acknowledge Labor Market Realities

In the discussion of present and future work organizations, many educational reformers contend that high technology dictates that future workers need to have higher skills to be successful in the world of work. Absent in much of this discussion has been the extent to which technology has also deskilled work ( Feenberg, 1991 ; Thompson, 1985 ; Zuboff, 1988 ). Berryman and Bailey ( 1992 ) not only captured the complex relationship between technology and work skills, but they also systematically analyzed the occupational outlook for low and high skilled work. Based on their discussion, and that of Mishel and Teixeira ( 1991 ), it appears that while high-skilled fields are generally experiencing the highest job growth, they will only employ a small proportion of the work force by the year 2000. Levine ( 1994 ) pointed out

that the five most highly-skilled occupations, will only employ 6.1 percent of workers by the turn of the century. Meanwhile, such occupations as cooks, waiters, custodians, security guards, and other relatively low skill occupations will experience the greatest numerical growth between 1984 and 2000, at which time these jobs will employ 16.8 percent of the work force. ( p. 36 )

Students need to be accurately informed of career opportunities rather than be the recipients of extensive marketing efforts that misrepresent available professional career paths.

Failure to Effectively Eliminate Tracking

Because the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 targets youth not likely to graduate from college, especially at-risk students, there is concern that youth apprenticeships will continue the historical tracking of working-class youth and minorities into educational programs that have lower expectations and negligible impact on future earnings. The Tech-Prep option that ties secondary career majors to two-year technical degrees is admirable but still underscores that such school-to-work initiatives as youth apprenticeship are not likely to attract baccalaureate-bound students ( Levine, 1994 ). In fact, many boards of regents for higher education are still struggling with accepting Tech Prep's applied academic courses for admission into their respective institutions.

In their text on career academies, Stern et al. ( 1992 ) recognized that dividing students into fundamentally different educational programs at age 16 or younger, based on ability, interest, or likely destiny, reflects the turn of the century social efficiency model. Though tracking is broadly accepted, 60 years of research provides evidence that students placed in high tracks are not harmed by being in heterogeneous classes and that students placed in low tracks are often hurt by being in homogenous classes ( Braddock & Slavin, 1993 ; Levine, 1994 ; Oakes, 1986 ). In addition, there is evidence that when "de-tracked" classes employ cooperative learning, students' academic skills as well as their interpersonal communication skills increase ( Levine, 1994 ). Consequently, if tracking is not effectively eliminated in youth apprenticeship programs, it would seem that parents and students have legitimate democratic concerns. Bailey ( 1993 ) and Hamilton ( 1993 ) recognized the enormous problem tracking posed in their debate over schooling, work, and inequality. They agreed that there have been extensive inequities in U.S. schools and that workplaces have been more unequal than schools. However, Bailey and Hamilton disagreed on the extent to which youth apprenticeship could serve as an effective tool for reducing inequities in schools and places of work.

This article has attempted to provide evidence that both Snedden's instrumental view and Dewey's pedagogic or democratic view are alive and well in the current discourse on educational reform. Similar to Dewey's position on vocational education, it is this author's position that school-to-work initiatives, such as youth apprenticeship, have the potential for serving as vehicles for needed educational reform and democratic renewal. However, again like Dewey, there is also fear that leading advocates of this reform movement, who seem to hold the instrumental perspective, will develop school-to-work transition programs as training centers for existing corporate interests. While reform efforts should give consideration to the needs of industry, in fact they must if they are to become more prevalent; school-to-work initiatives should be as concerned with meeting the needs of students, parents, and communities as they are with meeting the needs of industry.

School-to-work efforts, and youth apprenticeship in particular, have the potential to meet the needs of students in several respects. First, they can increase the likelihood that more high school students attain some type of higher education. This is especially true when youth apprentices have the opportunity to articulate their experiences to a post-secondary institution where they can obtain an associate or even a baccalaureate degree. Youth apprenticeship can provide the impetus to reform educational practices so that schooling becomes more meaningful to students. When students find schooling more meaningful, they are likely to exert more effort and experience greater achievement. Youth apprenticeship might also increase the likelihood that a greater number of young people will experience careers where they find work to be meaningful and profitable. Currently, much work that youth are employed in is miseducative and fails to provide them with an opportunity for "making it."

Parental perception of youth apprenticeship has been repeatedly identified as a potential obstacle for the development of a comprehensive school-to-work system. Further, there seem to be legitimate parental concerns about such issues as equal educational opportunity, tracking, and training versus education. With contemporary youth becoming increasingly dependent on their parents well after reaching adulthood, youth apprenticeship might better meet the needs of parents if implemented appropriately. Youth apprenticeship could be an effective strategy for increasing the likelihood that youth attain independence earlier in life. Youth apprentices could gain independence earlier in two ways. One way would be that they would earn while they learn, thus making the pursuit of higher education more feasible. Another way would be that youth apprentices would have increased career options. As a result, they would experience less unemployment and potentially greater earnings earlier in life.

Youth apprenticeship could help schools better meet the needs of communities. While participating in youth apprenticeships, high school students often have the opportunity to become engaged in projects that are of real value to their communities. Community-based projects, such as the construction of low-income housing, provide socially meaningful as well as rewarding work. Further, community members develop a greater appreciation of schools because they witness students becoming contributors rather than burdens to their communities.

Recognizing the possibility for school-to-work initiatives to possess broad social meaning and to assist in transforming society and work organizations to reflect participative, democratic values does not prohibit students from learning about work. However, it does threaten the status quo by refusing to make the interests of students subservient to the interests of employers. The critical perspective holds that work-site learning programs can provide students with an understanding of the realities of life in the job market and avoid becoming training centers for existing corporate interests. To contribute to democracy rather than hinder it, school-to-work initiatives such as youth apprenticeships need to employ a pedagogy that is both concrete and transformative. This can be accomplished through applying theoretical subject matter to problem-solving in a practical context as well as allowing for and encouraging alternative approaches for possible solutions. When students are active participants in such a learning process, they become change agents as well as makers of meaning. Similarly, through exploring broad career clusters, students learn about work in addition to learning how to do work. When youth apprenticeship is practiced as such a pedagogy, students have the opportunity to experience personal and social growth as well as to contribute to social and economic efficiency. If leaders in the school-to-work movement embrace such democratic principles, students will not only deepen their understanding of existing requirements of the world of work, but they will also understand how work requirements might be altered and work possibilities expanded. The school-to-work movement would then resemble the reform movement that Dewey envisioned.


Gregson is Assistant Professor, School of Occupational and Adult Education, Oklahoma State University. This article is based on a paper presented at the 1994 National Association of Industrial and Technical Teacher Educators Annual Meeting, Dallas, TX.


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Reference Citation: Gregson, J. A. (1995). The school-to-work movement and youth apprenticeship in the U.S.: Educational reform and democratic renewal? Journal of Industrial Teacher Education , 32(3), 7-29.