JITE v37n3 - At Issue - Trends in US Technology Teacher Education Programs:Home Thoughts From Abroad

Volume 37, Number 3
Spring 2000

Trends in U.S. Technology Teacher Education Programs:
Home Thoughts From Abroad

Kenneth S. Volk
The Hong Kong Institute of Education

Several years ago, I wrote two articles concerning trends in technology teacher education programs. The first article, using data contained in the Industrial Teacher Education Directory, examined the number of degrees granted (by type) during each five-year interval from 1970 to 1990, by the universities listed in the Directory ( Volk, 1993 ). The results indicated serious erosion in the numbers of technology teaching graduates, as well as the detrimental effects that non-teaching options, such as industrial technology, had had on teaching programs. I also projected at that time that, given the analysis of past and current trends, technology teaching programs would virtually cease to exist by the year 2005.

In the second article, an editorial entitled "Going, Going, Gone?," I used data from the 1995 Directory to reexamine the original projection ( Volk, 1997 ). The findings supported the predicted date of the profession's demise. There was little evidence the rate of decline was changing. Although I identified economic incentives, political action by education departments, and a new interest exhibited by secondary students in becoming technology teachers as factors that might slow the decline, I was not overly optimistic. I also challenged the profession in that editorial to "give serious attention to the issues influencing the downward trend, for the survival of the profession is at stake" ( p. 70 ).

When I had the opportunity to continue my comments and analysis of trends by contributing to this special issue, I was hesitant, as I have not been directly involved in the U.S. technology education scene for over four years now. Perhaps I was in many ways paying heed to my own research and conclusions concerning U.S. technology teacher education, when in 1995 I decided to take up a challenging position at the newly formed Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Nevertheless, I did not completely abandon my former professional base and interest in "home." I continue to serve as a reviewer for two U.S.-based journals, contribute to conferences such as the International Technology Education Association (ITEA), and participate in listserve discussions relating to technology education. I also regularly scan publications such the Chronicle of Higher Education to keep abreast of university trends and technology teacher opportunities.

There have been changes to the U.S. technology education profession since I left in 1995. However, it appears many of the problems that I identified and predictions that I made earlier about the profession have not changed. It is from this background of predictions made and observations from afar, that the following "home thoughts from abroad" are based.

Recent Trends

The Industrial Teacher Education Directory ( Bell, 1999 ) was again reviewed to examine the most current data about technology teacher preparation programs. As done in the first follow-up study using 1995 figures, the 1999 data were combined with the original 1970-1990 graduation rates. The result of this analysis is shown in Figure 1 .

The 1999 data indicated that less than 850 students graduated from technology education-related programs in U.S. universities, and of these, approximately 30% were graduate students. From this analysis, there seemed little evidence that the slope had deviated from my earlier projections of the impending demise of technology teaching programs.

It was also surprising to see the number of universities that reported zero or less than three graduates from their programs. There are still the "Oswegos," "Stouts," and "Millersvilles" that continue to produce sizeable numbers of teachers, but they are few and far between. For instance, in Florida, where the government is spending a considerable amount of education resources to upgrade secondary school technology facilities with modular labs, the only program producing more than a handful of teachers is the University of South Florida. The others have virtually ceased to exist. Texas, Maryland, and California are additional examples of states with large populations without a single program that prepares a significant number of teachers. With such small numbers of graduates coming out of these states' universities, it is highly unlikely they will be able to meet their projected demand for technology teachers through traditional routes ( Litowitz, 1998 ; Weston, 1997 ).

Figure 1
Industrial arts/technology education teacher graduation rates.

volk chart


It appears to this expatriate there are several professional responses being made as a result of the collapse of technology teacher programs. These responses center on alternative ways to fill the ever-increasing gap between the supply and demand for new teachers, a shift in subject focus to elementary grades, and a change in emphasis for university programs. None of these responses are expected to have any significant impact on maintaining most technology teaching programs.

Alternative Certification Programs

Weston's ( 1997 ) research on the supply and demand of technology teachers pointed out the difficult task ahead for states seeking to fill the projected thousands of positions required by 2001, since technology teacher programs were on such a "downward spiral" ( p. 6 ). To satisfy the immediate and pressing need of states to find teachers who are not training through traditional means, alternative certification programs seem to be expanding. Estimates from the directory indicated that approximately 275 technology education teaching certificates were awarded through such alternative means.

It must be noted, however, that the numbers provided in the directory are only a rough indication of the total number receiving certificates. The counting of "certificates" may not reflect true numbers of those entering the teaching profession. For example, in instances where universities appeared to have reported certificate numbers as being the same as their bachelor's degree numbers, those certificate numbers were eliminated when figuring the approximate certificate total. Also, in programs such as at Appalachian State University, "lateral entry" and "provisionally certified" students going through alternative means to obtain a teaching license do not show up as graduates (M. Hoepfl, personal communication, December 11, 1999). Teaching certificates for such candidates are issued by the states, with universities just providing the necessary classes. For this reason, Bell believes that alternative certification tends to be underreported in the Directory (personal communication, October 8, 1999).

Going back to my previous example of the University of South Florida (USF), although 7 students graduated with bachelor's degrees in technology education in the most recent year reported, 47 received teaching credentials through an alternative route. The USF program prepares teachers who have a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Atypical of the technology education profession as a whole, 75% of students in the USF program are female (K. Smith, personal communication, October 5, 1999). It may be premature to speculate as to the reasons for this ratio, but perhaps the aforementioned modular labs being introduced in Florida are being perceived by these certificate candidates as more appealing and less dangerous than the power tool and machine environment associated with traditional programs. Obviously, this phenomenon at USF merits further investigation.

According to Litowitz and Sanders ( 1999 ), of the states offering tuition assistance for alternative licensure/certification programs, nearly half had specific programs targeting transitioning military personnel. One such program, The Military Career Transition Program at Old Dominion University (ODU), specifically seeks individuals with 20 to 30 years of active service and who have earned officer rank ( Ritz, Berry, & Radcliffe, 1999 ). But unlike the USF program, military transitioning programs like ODU's may be perpetuating some of the problems industrial arts/technology education has always faced. That is, individuals participating in the program may represent a sector of the population having generally more conservative social views than the population the program seeks to serve. More on this later.

Elementary School Technology Education

To this overseas observer, a positive trend coming out of the United States is the increased emphasis on elementary school programs and activities. Through the work of individuals such as Kirkwood and Foster ( 1997 ) and others, elementary school students and teachers are starting to receive more attention. The ITEA is even now actively embracing this area, through enterprises such as the Technology and Children Journal and the Technology Education for Children Council. ITEA's The Technology Teacher recently devoted an entire issue to technology education in elementary grades (November, 1999). While laudable, such efforts may have little or no impact in saving the university technology teacher programs that are fast disappearing.

Most university programs deal specifically with secondary technology education, with perhaps only limited extra offerings for non-technology education majors, such as science, technology and society and creativity for the elementary child classes. The programs do not produce specialized technology teachers for the elementary grades. Furthermore, technology education methods and activities can easily be incorporated into existing elementary school teachers' professional education classes that deal with science, art and mathematics. A look at popular resources such as Scholastic Instructor, Science and Children, and Mathematics Teacher illustrate this usurping of "technology" by other disciplines. Thus, the need for a technology education department/faculty to center exclusively on elementary education is not justifiable. For this reason, the emphasis on elementary schools will have little impact on projected trends in technology teacher preparation programs.

Changing Emphasis in University Programs

From a comparison of the 1995 and 1999 Directories, it appears that programs that prepare technology teachers are spending a greater proportion of their effort on graduate students. While undergraduate degrees declined approximately 30% during this time, graduate degrees declined by only 20%. This trend is not surprising, given the reduced numbers of new teachers in recent years, and the time lag from seasoned teachers seeking advanced studies. Greater declines in graduate numbers can be expected in the future as the pool of teachers requiring advanced degrees diminishes.

What I find quite disturbing are rumors about the closing down of doctoral programs. With the closure of the program at University of Maryland (my alma mater) in the early 1990s, I personally thought the profession lost one of its most prestigious programs, with a solid record of producing leaders and scholars in the field. In spite of that loss, there still remained a sufficient number of quality programs to produce doctorates. Without such a pool of doctoral students and new scholars, professional debate, enthusiasm and rejuvenation of the field are limited.

But rumors persist. And even in this remote Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, it is heard that several other universities with traditions as long and respected as Maryland's are soon to close (or already have closed) their doctoral programs. What this forebodes is a further reduction in our critical mass of scholarship. Our legitimacy with professionals from other disciplines is also called into question, if we do not have a robust graduate field.

Besides the reduction in doctoral programs and students, professional atrophy and erosion appears to be accelerating, resulting in a decline in academics actively engaged in technology education matters. For instance, although the overall membership numbers for the National Association of Industrial and Technical Teacher Educators remained "relatively constant" from 1995 to 1998, those claiming affiliation to the Technology Education division fell from 103 to 83 ( Lorenz, 1999, p.2 ). This goes back to the same problem we've been experiencing for several years, the failure to produce sufficient undergraduate numbers, which in turn reduces the number of university programs, which reduces the numbers of new faculty required, which causes doctoral programs to wane.

Issues of Sustainability, Acceptance and Survival

It has been well documented that the technology education profession contains a skewed segment of the U.S. population ( Barnette, 1998 ; Haynie, 1999 ; Hill, 1998 ; Zuga, 1998 ). In simple terms, the technology education population is disproportionately white and male. This is not a new phenomena, for as Trautman indicated in her critique of the teaching profession, "the personnel developing and delivering technology education look much the same as the [sic] they did 10 to 20 years ago" ( 1998, p. 7 ).

Indications are that a conservative ideology permeates the technology education profession, reflecting the profession's demographics ( Petrina 1998a , Volk, 1995 ). In his creative critique of the Council on Technology Teacher Education's Foundations of Technology Education Yearbook, Steve Petrina ( 1998b ) made a point on this issue. Petrina condemned the interpretation offered by the authors in the yearbook and further claimed the Yearbook was "essentially an ideological, and ultimately conservative, disciplinary project" ( p. 108 ). This conservatism is not unexpected, for factors of race and gender generally characterize specific social/political ideologies. In U.S. social/political terms, this translates into conservative ideologies (Republican party) representing more white and male populations; and liberal ideologies (Democratic party) representing more minorities and female populations ( Bendyna & Lake, 1994 ; Giles & Hertz, 1994 ; Pew Research Center, 1999 ).

Liedtke ( 1998 ) reflected on this issue and how it relates to technology professions. She stated "people usually accept (or gravitate toward) organizational cultures that are like themselves" ( p. 159 ). If this is true in the technology education profession, then past records and the current practice of preparing technology teachers, which represents the values and agenda of skewed demographics, leave little opportunity for encouraging diverse views. In all fairness, the "culture" of exclusion is not the sole domain of technology education, for other "technical" areas such as engineering, computer science, and architecture have similar problems, albeit not to the same degree.

The additional demographic factor of "military service" promoted by aforementioned military transition programs like ODU's may tend to exacerbate this already conservative imbalance in the profession. As suggested by a recent study by Kohn and Feaver ( 1999 ) on the Gap Between the Military and Civilian Society, ordinary Americans divide almost evenly between calling themselves Democrats or Republicans, while 64% of the military elite called themselves Republicans and only 8% percent called themselves Democrats. Besides this political imbalance, opinions on social issues such as prayer in school and allowing lesbians and gay men to teach, were also divided along military/non-military lines. Should this conservative imbalance in new technology teachers coming out of ODU's program exist, then perhaps the overall contribution to and perpetuation of a conservative ideology under such programs needs to be examined. This author recognizes that claims about ODU's program must be tempered by the lack of specific data about race/gender percentages.

Obviously, the issue of political/social ideologies within the whole technology education profession is a question requiring further research. If distinct differences are found between members of the profession and teachers in other subject areas or the general population, or both, then the rationale, objectives, approach, and content of technology education are suspect. For example, recent initiatives such as the Technology for All Americans Project and Standards for Technology Education are replete with rhetoric about "national economic prosperity" ( ITEA, 1996, p. 6 ) and what it means to be "technologically prepared" ( Satchwell & Dugger, 1996, p. 6 ). The justification of technology education on economic grounds reflects its conservative alignment and is a long way off from the profession's roots in social reconstruction ( Herschbach, 1996 ; Petrina & Volk, 1995a , 1995b ; Zuga, 1996 ).

My sense is that the profession's euphoria and optimism about the standards reflects a belief that they will somehow "legitimize" the profession in the public's mind, resulting in some sort of groundswell of support for the program. No doubt, the only certain result is that they will be used to benchmark elementary and secondary school programs against the goals and statements about what is valued. Contrary to what the profession may believe (or wish), the standards have nothing to do with technology teacher programs. Therefore, there is no reason to believe the standards will be able to attract new teachers into the profession.

Final Thoughts

Most researchers would naturally be gratified at seeing their earlier predictions being confirmed. However, this researcher was distressed viewing the recent data, for there is no joy in having to witness the slow demise of the profession that is my foundation. From my observations, there is still very little in the way of encouraging words, actions, or events to alter my original projection of the technology teaching profession ceasing to exist near the year 2005. University programs are still closing, the number of new teachers graduating is still falling, the profession still reflects skewed demographics, and the standards will not legitimize the subject to magically create a need for new teachers.

Economics may influence this rate of decline, as the sheer numbers of retiring teachers in all discipline areas will force school districts to make teaching more financially attractive. Already, anecdotal stories are being reported of larger freshman classes in some technology teacher programs. If this is in fact the case, the numbers being reported in a few years of time will cause the slope to begin to level off.

Questions still remain about the future. Why are some programs, such as SUNY-Oswego, University of Wisconsin-Stout, and Millersville University of Pennsylvania still thriving? How is a program at the University of South Florida able to attract a high percentage of female students? What are the real numbers involved in alternative certification programs and how are they fulfilling the immediate and dire need for technology teachers? How can better disaggregated data collection and reporting be done in order to determine whether the numbers of minority groups represented in the profession are increasing or decreasing relative to the overall drop? Perhaps, answers to questions such as these would provide guidance for program survival.

I've been in Hong Kong for nearly five years now and plan on returning "home" some day. The problem with such plans is the uncertainty of what sort of profession will be left. My greatest fear is that, based on the trends identified in my earlier research and confirmed by the most recent data, there will be few professional options to return home to!


Volk is Principal Lecturer in the Department of Information and Applied Technology, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong.


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