JVER v26n2 - The Intended Curriculum in Co-operative Education in Ontario Secondary Schools: An Analysis of School District Documents

Volume 26, Number 2

The Intended Curriculum in Co-operative Education in Ontario Secondary Schools: An Analysis of School District Documents

Nancy L. Hutchinson
Queen's University, Canada
Hugh Munby
Queen's University, Canada
Peter Chin
Queen's University, Canada
Karol Lyn Edwards
Queen's University, Canada
Karin Steiner-Bell
Queen's University, Canada
Christine Chapman
Queen's University, Canada
Katherine Ho
Queen's University, Canada
Wendy Mills de España
Queen's University, Canada


By assuming policy represents curriculum intentions, this paper analyzes policy documents from nine school districts in Ontario, Canada, to track the intentions of work-based education, using co-operative (co-op) education as the case in point. The explicitly stated purpose for co-op education in most school districts was career preparation for students, with frequent references to co-op education as an alternative mode of instruction to obtain credits in academic subjects, which is Ontario Ministry of Education and Training policy. The analysis reveals that documents gave inconsistent policy statements about curriculum intentions in areas like evaluation and remediation. There was little consistent attention to issues of equity and to the qualifications of those teaching co-op education. Although the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training prescribes co-op education as an alternate mode of delivery for academic subject knowledge as well as a means of career preparation, district policy is shown to focus almost exclusively on career preparation and personal growth of adolescents. This represents a "drift" in curriculum intentions between the Ministry and the school districts.

This paper is from a continuing research program in co-operative (co-op) education. In Canadian high schools, co-op education refers to the practice in which schools and employers co-operate to involve students in extended periods of time at a workplace while they are enrolled in full-time study. Typically, students also engage in classroom orientation to the workplace and in reflective seminars. Co-op education programs appear to be thriving--in Canada, about 10% of secondary school students enroll in co-op education each year ( Munby, Cunningham, & Chin, 1998 ). Although this component of school programs is popular among students, the appeal is not reflected in the amount of research conducted in the area. Our research is aimed at correcting this imbalance. Specifically, we are concerned to address secondary school co-op education as curriculum because this allows us to explore a range of issues like intentions, teaching, learning, assessment, and so forth. In this paper, we focus on intentions. Here, we report on the intended curriculum for co-op education in Ontario schools as expressed in a sample of curriculum documents obtained from 9 of the 72 school districts across Ontario, Canada. Our point is not simply to document the intentions, but also to reveal inconsistencies and to mark "policy drifts"-the subtle (sometimes not so subtle) transitions that occur in policy as it is rewritten for readers at lower levels of administrative hierarchies ( Conley & Goldman, 1998 ; Finney & Callan, 1997 ). This paper, then, is a case study of curriculum policy, the case being co-op education in a sample of Canadian school districts.

Even with the current enthusiasm for work-based curriculum experiences ( Bailey & Merritt, 1997 ), there is not agreement on the educational goals they are to serve. Stasz ( 1997 ) stated that some of the most valuable skills students can gain from work-based learning programs include problem solving, communication, and teamwork. Work-based learning programs can enable students to get a general sense of a career area ( Stone & Mortimer, 1998 ). Stasz ( 1997 ) suggested that, through the learning of rules, norms, and professional ethics, students involved in work-based learning programs could enhance their personal and social competence. Others have produced inconclusive data on the effect of work-based learning programs on academic achievement (e.g., Hughes, Moore, & Bailey, 1999 ; Stasz & Brewer, 1998 ; Stasz & Kaganoff, 1997 ).

Our research on co-op education reflects the current situation in Canada, where high school co-op education is a component of the curriculum ( Gidney, 1998 ). It is neither designed to prepare adolescents for entry-level jobs nor to teach specific skills for such jobs; that is, co-op education in Canada is not vocational education as defined by Kliebard ( 1999 ). Co-op education provides opportunities for many Canadian adolescents to experience the integral connection between learning in thought and in action ( Dewey, 1916 ) by studying secondary curriculum subjects (e.g., biology, drama, mathematics) in the classroom and in the workplace. For example, in Nova Scotia, the provincial department of education has committed to making co-op education available to every student, including those intending to attend university (e.g., Nova Scotia Department of Education and Culture, 1998 ). In 1996-1997 in Ontario, the province that is the focus of the current study, over 42% of students enrolled in co-op education were in the academic stream ( Ontario Co-operative Education Association, 1998 ). In a study of students enrolled at Queen's University (the second ranked university in Canada) we found that 34% of those in Nursing had enrolled in co-op education in high school and 33% of those in Education had enrolled in co-op in high school ( Chin, et al., 2000 ).

The stance that co-op education is curriculum has both theoretical and practical support. Theoretically, it is particularly fruitful to view co-op education as curriculum because then we can apply curriculum concepts to the analysis of co-op education policy and experience. For example, Schwab's ( 1972 ) four commonplaces--students, teachers, subject matter, milieu--provide one clear framework for analyzing educational experiences. Also useful are distinctions among different versions of the curriculum: the intended curriculum (in policy documents), the enacted curriculum (in workplace settings), and the experienced curriculum (as learned by students). The intended and unintended curriculum and the overt and covert curriculum are further dichotomies that come from viewing educational phenomena as curriculum. Distinctions like these have been used to show how the knowledge of the co-op curriculum is organized differently from traditional school subject knowledge ( Munby, Chin, & Hutchinson, 2000 ). From a practical viewpoint, co-op education in Canada is treated as curriculum in the policy documents of educational jurisdictions ( Hutchinson, et al., 1999 ). Indeed, in some cases, co-op credits are tied to school subjects so that the credit is a biology credit, for example, even though the subject matter may bear little relationship to the biology offered as part of the in-school curriculum. In our studies of what is learned, we have found students learn in the classroom component about résumés, job interviews, self-awareness, reflecting on their learning in the work placement, safety, unions, the expectations of employers, and biology, drama, etc. (if they are in a subject-specific co-op course). In their workplace component, students learn general knowledge, like the importance of taking initiative and of learning by observing and asking questions; and specific knowledge, like the routines of the workplace (e.g., sterilizing instruments) and the role of these routines in the workplace. They also learn to relate their experience of this workplace to their expectations for career satisfaction and to their self-awareness ( Munby, Chin, Hutchinson, & Young, 1999 ).

Background to the Analyses of the Intended Curriculum

Our recent analysis of curriculum documents in co-op education from all twelve jurisdictions in Canada showed that co-op education is largely viewed as an integral part of the secondary school curriculum ( Hutchinson, et al., 1999 ). In recent reforms of secondary education, co-op education has clearly acquired the appearance of a curriculum subject. For example, in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta, the same process was used for curriculum development in co-op as in history and science. Also, required credits in career/co-op education were initiated in each of these provinces, and curriculum documents on the ministry of education websites include curricula for co-op education (e.g., Alberta Ministry of Learning, 1997 ; British Columbia Ministry of Education, 1999 ; Ontario Ministry of Education, 1999a ).

On the other hand, co-op education differs from all other secondary curriculum subjects in critical ways. One of these differences is that co-op education is predominantly situated in a workplace rather than in a school classroom. Our case study research suggests that each workplace is unique and that the curriculum of the workplace emerges "naturally" as a result of the workplace's purposes and the student's interests and abilities ( Chin, Young, & Munby, 1998 ; Munby, Cunningham, et al., 1998 ). Arguably, the most important of these differences is that co-op education has not undergone a lengthy period of development and discussion in which educators, parents, philosophers, and curriculum developers have debated the fundamental curriculum questions. In science education (e.g., Munby, Orpwood, & Russell, 1980 ), in mathematics education (e.g., Robitaille et al., 1993 ), and in all other secondary curriculum areas, there are continuing debates on questions like "What knowledge is most worthwhile? Why is it worthwhile? How is it acquired or created?" ( Schubert, 1986, p. 1 ).

Theoretical writings about the intended curriculum have used an array of terms and arguments. In his discussion of images of curriculum, Schubert ( 1986 ) referred to the focus on curriculum as "intended learning outcomes," ( pp. 28-29 ) which shifts the focus from means to ends. He suggested that the point of this focus is to be explicit and defensible about what is offered to students. His criticism was that such a focus may draw attention away from the unintended outcomes. To guard against this difficulty, we have deliberately examined the curricula in our sample for unintended outcomes and for the hidden curriculum. Rather than referring to the intended curriculum, Goodlad, Klein, and Tye ( 1979 ) referred to the ideological, idea-based, or ideal curriculum and suggested that "One determines the contents of ideological curricula by examining textbooks, workbooks, teachers' guides, and the like" ( p. 60 ). They wrote that "the formal curriculum could be a collection of ideal curricula" that "has been sanctioned," and they continue, "One gets closer to what is intended for the schools by examining what is to be studied by students than by examining statements of aims or objectives" ( p. 61 ). Consistent with this perspective, our analyses included searching for straightforward statements of aims but focused primarily on what students were expected to do and learn in co-op education. Robitaille and his colleagues ( 1993 ) applied curriculum perspectives to analyses of international curricula and data in the subjects of mathematics and science. They suggested that the intended curriculum is embodied in such documents as curriculum guides, policies, regulations, and other official statements that direct school systems, as well as in textbooks. Curriculum in co-op education is underdeveloped, and the field lacks the series of comprehensive and developmental textbooks that predominate in subjects like mathematics and science. Thus we focused on a sample of curriculum guides and policies provided by school districts in response to our requests.


Writers who address the intended curriculum argue explicitly or implicitly that the intended curriculum is set within both a specific educational context and the larger context of society. Robitaille, et al., ( 1993 ) made the case that the specific educational context includes institutional arrangements for the educational system, such as organizational patterns of schools, teaching assignments, and fiscal and human resource allocations.

The first aspect of the specific educational context consists of the approach taken in Ontario, historically. Our previous papers have described the wide variation in what counts as co-op education across Canada ( Hutchinson et al., 1999 ; Munby, Hutchinson, & Chin, 2000 ). In the latter paper, we described the general approach to co-op education that has characterized the field since its introduction in Ontario ( Ellis, 1992 ). The two expressed goals in Ontario have always been career exploration and subject-based learning through experience. The 1989 policy, still in force, saw co-op education as a "mode of delivery" for an academic course credit ( Ontario Ministry of Education, 1989 ). The new policy in Ontario for program and diploma requirements suggested that workplace learning will take two forms: (a) development of Ontario's co-op education program so that the semester-long placements "help students to acquire knowledge and skills and to apply this learning in practical situations" ( Ontario Ministry of Education, 1999b ), and promote awareness of career opportunities; and (b) work experience referring to one to four weeks of work-study components within regular courses ( Ontario Ministry of Education, 1999a ). Forty hours of community experience over the secondary career is also going to be required for graduation from Ontario secondary schools ( Ontario Ministry of Education, 1999b ). Career exploration for all students at all grade levels is prescribed in the policy document Choices Into Action ( Ontario Ministry of Education, 1999a ). In a review of the literature that served as a background paper for curriculum developers in Ontario ( Hutchinson, Munby, & Chin, 1997 ), we recommended that Ontario adopt a developmental approach to co-op and career education, like Alberta and British Columbia. This would involve learning goals of increasing complexity for each year of the secondary program and would use authentic or performance assessment to gauge learning. To date, the released curricula in Ontario suggest the province has not moved this far in its reformed secondary curriculum in career and co-op education.

The second aspect of the specific educational context is the day-to-day life in Ontario secondary schools while these analyses are being carried out. We wrote this paper within the first few months of the year 2000. In the past five years, schools in Ontario have endured the "Common Sense Revolution" of Premier Mike Harris and his Progressive Conservative Party, severe funding cuts, and the greatest curriculum change in the shortest period in the history of Ontario ( Gidney, 1999 ; Jefferson, 1998 ; McMurtry, 1995 ). Secondary schools, specifically, have experienced "job actions" (sometimes called strikes), lock-outs, work-to-rule actions, and major reorganization, including the elimination of the fifth year of high school. (Ontario was the only province in Canada to have a five-year high school program.) The new curriculum documents are now available for grades 9 and 10 ( Ontario Ministry of Education, 1999c, 1999d ), and will be available shortly for grades 11 and 12. Both the community (work) experience requirement and mandatory teacher advisor programs are being phased in ( Ontario Ministry of Education, 1999b ), and almost every school district has experienced amalgamation. Many amalgamated districts are in the midst of re-writing local curricula and policies for co-op education, and many have re-assigned former co-op education co-ordinators to the classroom, as a cost-cutting measure. Co-op education teacher-supervisors are more likely than in the past to teach other curriculum subjects for part of the day and to have fewer hours available to visit co-op students in their worksites. The specific educational context could be described as unsettled, changing, and under-resourced ( Jefferson, 1998 ).

The larger context of society also situates the intended curriculum. In Canada, there have been increasing and varied pressures on schools to prepare adolescents for careers. For example, the Conference Board of Canada released the Employability Skills Profile ( McLaughlin, 1992 ), which emphasized academic skills, personal management skills, and teamwork skills. The inclusion of community experience in the reformed Ontario curriculum and of work experiences in the British Columbia and Alberta curricula suggests Canadian society values work experience for adolescents. As well, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada (CMEC) included the link between education and the labor market as one of the five themes in its 1999 research agenda conference ( Council of Ministers of Education of Canada, 1999 ). One of the two CMEC-commissioned papers on this theme was about co-op education ( Munby, Hutchinson, et al., 2000 ).

Another indicator of the social value placed on co-op education is the rate of student enrolment. While it is difficult to obtain accurate enrolment figures for the number of secondary students in co-op education, we used data from Statistics Canada CANSIM Series and from the Ontario Co-operative Education Association (OCEA) to make an estimate. We estimate that about 10% of Canada's over 1.55 million secondary-school students enroll in co-op education each academic year (Hutchinson et al., 1999; Munby, Cunningham, et al., 1998). All of this suggests that while the basic curriculum questions may not have been answered for co-op education, and there may be a need for research on the intended, enacted, and experienced curricula, co-op education is an increasingly important curriculum offering in Canadian high schools.


It was necessary to develop a framework for analyzing the curriculum documents obtained from school districts. The research group met four times during the three-week period from October 8 to October 27, 1999 to develop, use, revise, and report on the utility of the analysis framework. Each set of revisions was prompted by the analyses conducted with the previous draft of the framework. The original framework for document analysis included ten topics and "other" (draft 1, October 12, 1999): workplace entry preparation, academic subject, preparing students for diverse workplaces, equity, reflection, hidden curriculum, career awareness, preparing workplace supervisors, mentors, and personal growth and maturity. Draft 2 (October 15, 1999) consisted of 17 topics plus "other." The first nine topics were: general features of the document; stated purposes or intents, early in the document; evaluation; general workplace entry preparation; preparation for the specific co-op education worksite; academic subject; preparing students for diverse workplaces; equity; and reflection. The remaining eight topics were: hidden curriculum; career awareness; preparing workplace supervisors; who can teach, supervise; mentors; personal growth and maturity; internal consistency; and goals to sub-goals. Draft 3 (October 16, 1999) appears in Figure 1, with all full topic headings as they appeared, but with the working space for entries removed. There were 16 topic headings grouped into four categories: description of document, kinds of learning, equity and diversity, and qualifications. For two categories (kinds of learning, equity and diversity), entries were made for the presence and nature of evaluation in the document as well as the presence and nature of the topic in the document.

Figure 1
Analyzing the intended co-operative education curriculum in documents

Title and source of document (APA style):
Researcher: Date:
  1. General features of the document (# of pages, format, intended audience if explicitly stated):
  2. Explicit (stated) intents, goals, purposes under such a heading early in document (if none, say none):
  3. Evaluation (kinds of intents that are explicitly evaluated; if none, say none):
4. General workplace entry preparation (e.g. letter of application, resume, appearance, punctuality, attendance, interview, safety)
Evaluation of general workplace entry prep
5. Preparation for the specific co-op ed worksite
Evaluation of prep for specific workplace
6. Academic subject (learning academic content through experience, hands-on, mode of delivery)
Evaluation of academic subject learning
7. Career awareness (enhance awareness of options, diversity of and reality of careers)
Evaluation of career awareness
8. Personal growth and maturity
Evaluation of personal growth and maturity
9. Integration, reflection, review (e.g., on what is experienced, what is learned; self-awareness)
Evaluation of integration, reflection
10. Hidden curriculum (e.g., citizens, workers, compliance; also note attendance, punctuality here)
Evaluation of hidden curriculum
11. Training plan for students (IEP)
Evaluation of training plan
12. Equity (references to the 4 groups: women, visible minorities, First Nations, with disabilities)
Evaluation that acknowledges equity issues
13. Preparing students for diverse workplaces
Evaluation of prep for diverse workplaces
  1. Restrictions on students who can take co-op, how many times, etc. and on credits that can be earned:
  2. Preparing workplace supervisor (for which of the above intentions?):
  3. Qualifications, expertise of persons who can teach, supervise co-op ed:

Documents and Analysis

Documents for co-op education were received from nine district school boards in Ontario in response to e-mail, telephone, and mail requests made to 48 boards in the summer and autumn of 1999. Four of these boards were located in metropolitan areas and five in districts containing small cities, towns, and rural areas ( Canadian Global Almanac 2000 , 1999 ). To ensure anonymity, each district board was renamed with a letter. The four school districts in metropolitan areas were named A, B, C, and D, and the five school districts in non-metropolitan areas were named E, F, G, H, and J.

The nine documents were analyzed using the above framework and notes were recorded in point-form on the presence and nature of each topic in the document. Then all data from the notes on the first topic of the framework were analyzed for common themes using the method of constant comparison. Discrepant data were noted. This procedure was repeated for each of the 16 topics. The documents were reviewed a second time to ensure consistency in the data across the documents. Any omissions were corrected. The theme analyses were re-written from point form to paragraphs.

Themes in the Analysis of School District Documents: Intended Curriculum

The data are presented for each of the 16 topic headings under the following four categories: description of document, kinds of learning, equity and diversity, and qualifications. For two categories-kinds of learning, and equity and diversity-we present data about the references to the evaluation of the intended curriculum as well as the references to the intended curriculum. (No page references are given for quotations from the documents because some bore no page numbers.)

Description of Document

(1) General Features of the Document

Length . The curriculum documents showed school districts at various stages of developing or revising the policies and procedures associated with co-op education in secondary schools in Ontario. The documents ranged from incomplete to detailed. The number of pages ranged from 5 to 131.

Format . Each document was presented in sections. Most documents included sections on the administration of co-op education, program management, and insurance or safety as well as information about program components that you would expect in any curriculum document. Documents were often accompanied by a series of handbooks for the groups associated with co-op education: teachers, students, and workplace supervisors. These handbooks included sections on such matters as special considerations (e.g., students with exceptionalities), ethical and legal issues, assessment, and benefits for co-operating workplaces.

Audience . The intended audience for most of the documents containing policies and procedures appeared to be teachers, because the language would be familiar to teachers, and perhaps less so to other audiences. A recurring phrase throughout the documents that suggested teachers were the intended audience was the description of co-op education as a "mode of instruction." Document D referred explicitly to teachers and B to teachers and administrators. Some documents contained explicit references to a wider audience, for example, one read "This Handbook will enable all parties involved to promote growth while maintaining excellence and consistency of program delivery" (C) without explicitly identifying the parties involved. As noted above, handbooks for specific audiences sometimes accompanied the general documents.

(2) Explicit Intents, Goals, Purposes

The framework for analysis stated that we were seeking explicit statements of intents, goals, or purposes under such a heading near the beginning of a document and prompted the researcher to note if none were present. The explicitly stated purpose for co-op education in most school district documents was career preparation for students. Other intents included creating links between the school curriculum and community experience, and preparation for future academic study and for the work world. There were also frequent references to personal, affective, and life skills goals for students. Each of the following intents was included in one document: to support and rejuvenate local businesses (F), to provide students with knowledge of cutting-edge technology that schools cannot provide (C), and to support life-long learning (D).

One district school board's document summarized many of the intents, goals, and purposes in the following way: "The out-of-school component should allow students to develop work-related and problem-solving skills; to acquire knowledge, skills, and attitudes related to the in-school course; and to gain self-confidence and maturity in an adult environment" (A). The same document provided a summary for students under the heading Benefits to You : "Co-operative Education ensures that the out-of-school learning enhances your educational experience." The benefits were elaborated:

Co-operative education: provides assistance in making career decisions; develops confidence and a positive attitude; develops interpersonal and communication skills; facilitates the transition from school to work; provides references for future employers; increases the opportunity for acceptance into post-secondary school and apprenticeship programs; permits training with equipment not readily available in the school; allows for valuable training by experts in the field; provides an alternative method of earning credits. (A)

(3) Evaluation

The analysis framework prompts the researcher to record the "kinds of intents that are explicitly evaluated; if none, say none." Most documents devoted little space to specific procedures or policies for evaluation of the range of intents, goals and purposes stated. In two cases, there were no stated methods of evaluation for co-op education programs (H, F). When evaluation was mentioned in other documents, policies were aimed at a range of participants (e.g., instructions for teachers and workplace supervisors), but no document included references to the evaluation of intents by all stakeholders or to evaluation of all components of co-op education. One board recommended continuous program evaluation in the section entitled "Evaluation," which focused on evaluating student performance in the workplace (A). No procedures were suggested for program evaluation here or in other parts of the document.

The in-school and out-of-school components of co-op education programs represented separate credits in some school districts and, in general, assessments were focused on student performance in both settings. Even in documents that stressed the academic component of co-op education, evaluation policies were aimed almost exclusively at the workplace component of the program. For example, evaluation was based on "three formal, written performance appraisals per individualized training plan." The final grade also included results from "students' weekly logs and journals; tests; assignments; preplacement orientation; teacher's observations, anecdotal and monitoring reports" (A). Tests and assignments might have referred to the academic portion of the program, but these were not linked directly to academic intents stated in the document. Most documents included references to specific workplace performance-oriented evaluation forms (e.g., "employability profile"). It is not clear how such forms of evaluation address stated intents like enhancing career decisions; rather, it appears they evaluate only student attitudes and workplace skills.

Three documents contained fundamental contradictions about the purpose of and responsibility for evaluation (A, G, D), and these contradictions were implied in other documents. The challenge appeared to lie in assessing learning in co-op experiences flexibly to honor differences in workplaces while maintaining consistency with evaluationin other curriculum subjects. On one hand, teachers could develop "individual evaluation procedures" for students in co-op education. Yet "The procedure for the evaluation of the achievement of Co-operative Education students must comply with the school's existing policy for evaluation of the achievement of all students, including requirements regarding methods and frequency, and must be stated before the program begins" (A). Similar confusion appeared about who was responsible for evaluation: "while the students' performance at the training station must be evaluated by the teacher in conjunction with the training station supervisor, it is the teacher who is responsible for the student's final mark" (A). These contradictions in evaluation policies raise questions about the relative importance of the competing intents suggested in the previous section, and raise concerns about whether school officials and other parties have clear purposes for co-op education.

Table 1
Summary of Analysis of Curriculum Documents in Co-operative Education
Aspect of Curriculum School District Documents which Included
Aspect or Summary of Analysis

Description of Document
(1) General features Varied, e.g., length ranged from 5 to 131 pages
(2) Explicit intents, goals Most common: career preparation
(3) Explicit evaluation of goals A, B, C, D, E, G, J; Contradictions in: A, G, D
Kinds of Learning
(4) General workplace entry prep 20 hour orientation: A, B, C, D, E, F, G
(5) Preparation for specific worksite None
(6) Academic content by experience A, B, C, D, E, G, J; Learning outcomes for subject: D, G
(7) Career awareness
(a) Self-awareness A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J
(b) Career exploration A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J
(c) Future employ/educ A, B, D, E, G, H, J
(8) Personal growth and maturity A, B, C, E, F, G, J
(9) Reflection on what is learned Integration sessions: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J
(10) Hidden curriculum
(a) Attendance A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J
(b) Prep for citizenship None
(11) Training plan
(a) Indiv training/learning plan A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J
(b) Reflects acad course goals B, D, E, F
(c) Reference to IEP B
Equity and Diversity
(12) Reference to equity groups
(a) Gender A, B, H
(b) First Nations None
(c) Racial minorities A, B, G
(d) Exceptional learners A, B, E
(e) Students at all levels A, B, C, D, G, H, J
(13) Preparing for diverse workplaces G
(14) Of students in co-op education A, B, C, D, E, H
(15) Prep of workplace supervisor A, B, C, D, G
(16) Of co-op teachers, dept heads
(a) Co-op ed courses A, C, F
(b) Acad course knowledge B, D, E, F, G
(c) To monitor worksite H

Kinds of Learning

(4) General Workplace Entry Preparation

Under this heading, the analysis framework prompted the researcher to seek examples of learning about the letter of application, résumé, appearance, punctuality, attendance, interview skills, and safety. Seven documents described a pre-placement orientation with a minimum of 20 hours (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) to take place in the school before the students began work in their co-op placement. The pre-placement orientation included topics such as: health and safety, self-assessment, job readiness skills, labour unions, confidentiality, ethics, and school and workplace expectations.

Our analysis showed that two districts (E, G) evaluated general workplace entry preparation completed in the school before students were accepted into the co-op placement: to gain acceptance into the co-op placement students were recommended by teachers based on the students' maturity, work habits, ability to learn, leadership qualities, and educational background. Document A stated workplace entry preparation was evaluated through weekly log sheets, anecdotal reports, and interviews. Document C included a sample of a student interview evaluation. The other five documents in the sample did not include evaluation of this component.

(5) Preparation for the Specific Co-operative Education Worksite

In addition to the general workplace expectations, each adolescent in co-op education probably enters a specific workplace with unique expectations for learning. There was no mention of specific worksite preparation in the school district documents we analyzed. However, all school district documents in our sample referred to individual training plans that would be developed for each student. There was insufficient information to judge how "individualized" these plans would be. They could include further preparation for specific worksites.

Three documents referred to evaluation of the preparation for a specific co-op education worksite (D, F, G), while the other documents made no reference to evaluation (A, B, C, E, H, J). Document D included a form for the workplace supervisor to evaluate the interview, and Document F included a list of criteria (for the worksite entry interview) under the headings of interview arrival, interview behavior, conclusion of interview, personal characteristics, communication, cover letter, and résumé. Document G stated that evaluation of this component should take place, but did not elaborate.

(6) Learning Academic Content Through Experience

Although seven of the school district documents (A, B, C, D, E, G, J) encouraged students to participate in co-op education as a mode of delivery for all school subjects, only two (D, G) made specific reference to the learning outcomes for the academic subject area and connected these learning outcomes to the co-op education learning. Eight of the documents (all but F) discussed the importance of combining classroom learning with practical experience to allow students to "explore careers, gain valuable work experience, strengthen employment skills and improve qualifications for future employment" (E). Thus students in Ontario are granted academic credits for co-op education (Ontario Ministry of Education, 1989), while the school district documents we analyzed stressed personal growth and career development above subject knowledge. Only four documents referred to evaluation procedures for learning of academic content-A contained a reference to meeting in- and out-of-school course objectives, B said evaluation must follow the school's existing policies, D stated "relevant content to each unit is the responsibility of each subject writing team," and G suggested that individual training plans should include individual evaluation criteria.

(7) Career Awareness

Self-awareness. The framework for analysis provided the following examples for this topic: enhance student awareness of career options and of the diversity of and reality of careers. Three main themes emerged from the analysis of career awareness. The first theme, providing opportunities for personal awareness, emphasized enhancing self-confidence and self-reliance, exploring personal interests, aptitudes, abilities, and values, and focused on fostering the learner's emotional, social, physical, and moral development. The documents suggested that when students increase self-awareness they are better prepared to make career choices and to engage in careers in the future. This theme was apparent in all the school district documents sampled.

Career exploration. The main concepts within this theme of facilitating students' career exploration were (a) providing resources about potential careers, (b) providing opportunities for exploring diversity and options in career choices, and (c) assisting students make wise career decisions. Although this theme was emphasized consistently across all the school district documents, there were no explicit descriptions of how this kind of learning was to be assessed.

Helping students achieve future employment or education. This theme focused on strengthening personal and employability skills that would assist students attain personal goals for both future employment and higher education. This third theme in career awareness was not strongly emphasized but was suggested in seven of the school documents (A, B, D, E, G, H, J).

Only two documents specified how career awareness was evaluated: student assessment on the basis of in-class assignments, co-op writings, and positive participation in class (B); feedback from parents and students on enhancing career awareness, and learning new skills for future employment and education (G).

(8) Personal Growth and Maturity

Enhancing personal growth and interpersonal skills was a main theme in seven school district documents (all but D and H). These seven documents referred frequently to co-op education providing opportunities for students to improve self-confidence, maturity, and attitude, as well as to develop leadership skills. Three documents emphasized this theme throughout (C, E, G). Personal growth and maturity specific to preparing students for successful entry to the world of work were discussed in two documents (C, J). These documents included discussion of developing employment skills and knowledge, as well as appropriate expectations and attitudes for entering the workplace shortly after the co-op education experience.

Evaluation of personal growth and maturity included the assessment of the quality and quantity of work completed in the workplace, job skill development, interpersonal skill development, flexibility/adaptability, attitude, attendance, and reliability. These assessments were usually conducted by workplace supervisors and less frequently by the co-op education teachers. Rating scales and anecdotal comments were the most common formats for these evaluations.

(9) Integration, Reflection, Review

The framework recommends that the researcher look for evidence that students were asked to engage in integration (a term used in many documents), reflection, and review about what they were experiencing and learning and to show self-awareness of their learning. All school district documents sampled emphasized the use and importance of "integration sessions" for linking work experiences with classroom instruction. A minimum of 15 hours (E) and of 10 hours (D) of integration sessions per credit were required in two documents. Four documents specified a minimum of 5 hours for "integration sessions" (A, B, C, G). The classroom experience that was linked to workplace experience was focused on career preparation rather than the academic subject in which the credit was earned.

Reflective learning, defined as "the process by which students become introspective" (C), was discussed in eight documents (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, J). Reflective learning was expected to facilitate learning and personal growth, and to encourage students to share and analyze their work experiences with teachers and peers. Three documents (A, F, J) mentioned the importance of teamwork among teachers, workplace supervisors, parents, and students. Communication between teachers and students was encouraged to ensure students were informed about and were reflecting on their progress in the program.

Evaluation of integration and reflection was based primarily on students' journals and reflective writing assignments, portfolios, group discussions, and group presentations. The documents suggested that workplace supervisors and teachers jointly assessed students in these areas, although journals, reflective writing assignments, and portfolios were submitted to teachers while group discussion and presentations were held in integration sessions at the school.

(10) Hidden Curriculum

Our analysis of the nine school district documents for co-op education suggests that what we usually consider to be the "hidden curriculum" forms, for this curriculum subject, a large part of the "intended" or explicit curriculum. Within schools, the overt curriculum concerns subject matter and the hidden curriculum is typically associated with compliance, attendance, and punctuality. All the school district documents sampled made explicit references to mandatory attendance by the student at the co-op placement. Six emphasized that it was the student's responsibility to notify the workplace and school prior to an absence from the placement (A, B, C, D, E, H). Four documents (A, B, D, E) included attendance, appearance, co-operation, reliability, ability to follow instructions, and health and safety issues in the pre-placement curriculum, the integration activities, and the individual learning plans. There were no explicit references to co-op education as preparation for citizenship.

Logs of workplace attendance, performance reviews, and other forms of monitoring at the workplace were the principal modes to evaluate the learning of the hidden curriculum. Interestingly, student difficulties in the workplace were described (in documents for C, D, E, G) as resulting from lack of interest, lack of initiative, or poor attendance rather than from lack of specific knowledge or skill, or from insufficient academic background. The strategies recommended for dealing with these workplace problems were increased monitoring and counseling and, if necessary, removing the student from the placement. Remedial teaching in the curriculum subject for which the credit would be granted was not mentioned in any of the documents. Surprisingly, the typically "intended" curriculum of the classroom--academic or subject area knowledge--is suggested but never assessed and does not appear in the discussion of student learning difficulties in co-op education.

(11) Training Plans for Students

All documents in our sample referred to individual training or learning plans. There was considerable variety in the specificity of these references. Four documents (B, D, E, F) stated that the generic learning or training plan should reflect the course objectives stated in the curriculum guideline for the academic credit to be earned. These four documents (B, D, E, F) also specified that the following must be included in the Individual Training Plan: name of Ministry document on which course is based, course code, credit value of course, grade and level of difficulty, out of school objectives, evaluation practices, tasks to be completed, and time allotments for these tasks. Four documents required that students be monitored and appraised regularly: three times per credit, once every 40 hours of the placement, or at three-week intervals (B, C, D, E). Two required that teachers holding qualifications, in the subject area of the credit granted, participate in developing the learning plan (B, E). The individual training plans or learning plans were not described thoroughly in these documents and there was little to identify what made them individual .

The analysis framework contained a specific prompt for references to Ontario's Individual Education Plan (IEP), because the Individual Education Plan (IEP) Resource Guide ( Ontario Ministry of Education, 1998 ) now requires an individual transition plan for any exceptional, secondary student, in addition to the student's IEP. Our previous analysis of the provincial and territorial co-op education documents ( Hutchinson et al., 1999 ) suggested that only about half of them contained explicit references to the need for equitable co-op education for exceptional students. While all documents in our sample of nine from Ontario school districts referred to training plans for students in co-op education, usually calling them individual training plans, only one (B) referred to IEPs for students who had been identified as exceptional students. This document (B) described the process that should be followed to choose these modifications, based on the student's IEP. Some of the other documents included sections on modifications for exceptional learners but did not include references to the IEP, and these are discussed under the topic of equity, below. Because the IEP had only been mandated in Ontario a year before this analysis of documents began, it is not surprising that there were few references to the IEP. However, this will become a major concern if amalgamated school districts continue to use existing co-op education documents, or make minimal changes to existing documents to reflect only new policies in co-op education, without incorporating changes from other documents like the IEP Resource Guide ( Ontario Ministry of Education, 1998 ).

Equity and Diversity

(12) Equity

The framework for analysis referred to the four equity groups that have been the focus of equity issues since the passage of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ( Government of Canada, 1982 )-women, visible minorities, First Nations, and persons with disabilities. These four groups were also the focus of our analysis of provincial and territorial documents on co-op education ( Hutchinson et al., 1999 ). Three boards (A, B, G) made general statements that "all students…must receive equal encouragement and support without regard to race, ethnicity, or faith…and programs must avoid stereotyping and type casting" (B). Strategies to help remove these barriers appeared in two documents (A, G). Only two school district documents made no reference to equity issues and did not mention adaptations or special considerations for any of the four groups (D, F). None of the documents named students from First Nations specifically. Three documents (A, B, H) emphasized the need to remove gender barriers and to encourage male and female students to explore non-traditional career options in and out of school. "The equal availability of all courses in schools to female and male students is a high priority of the Ministry of Education…every effort should be made to stimulate the participation of both female and male students in non-traditional occupational areas" (B). Document B also listed resources for the pre-placement and integration components of co-op education courses on the topics of women and minorities in the workplace.

Seven documents (A, B, C, D, G, H, J) stated that co-op education courses should be available to students working at all levels of difficulty. Exceptional students are frequently placed in the lower streams. One document (G) suggested co-op as an option for potential drop-outs in grades 9 and 10. Document A included a general statement about encouraging adult learners to take co-op education and about the possible need for adaptations to their program. The only equity group mentioned with reference to program modifications in co-op education was exceptional learners (in documents A, B, E). These three district boards required adaptations to the objectives, supervision, monitoring, and training of exceptional students for the in-school and out-of-school components of co-op education. Two of these documents (B, E) specified that students with special needs could be placed within the home school for co-op education. Only Document B referred to IEP's and students identified through the formal IPRC process (Ontario's set of steps for identifying exceptional students is called IPRC or Identification, Placement, and Review Committee).

There were few references to evaluation processes that acknowledged equity issues (only documents A, B). For example, Document A advised, "Teachers should be sensitive to the needs of both sexes when preparing students for placement selection and when working with community employers and training station supervisors," and B stated, "A variety of evaluation techniques should be considered" for exceptional students in co-op education.

(13) Preparing Students for Diverse Workplaces

Writers and educators ( Cox, 1993 ; Gardner & Tysck, 1994 ) have suggested that participation in co-op education and workplace learning might help students from homogeneous neighborhoods and schools to prepare for the diverse workplaces they are likely to experience as adults. The sample of school district documents we analyzed did not refer to preparing students for diverse workplaces, although four school districts were in metropolitan areas that could be expected to have high cultural diversity in many of the workplaces for co-op education. The exception was Document G, which came from a district of small towns and rural communities. It suggested, "Resources that provide strategies for dealing with equity issues should be used in pre-placement orientation and integration activities." There were no references to evaluating the preparation of co-op education students for diverse workplaces.


(14) Restrictions on Students Participating in Co-op Education

The framework for analysis named restrictions on who can enroll in co-op education, how many times a student can enroll, and how many credits can be earned. Most documents included the requirement that students reach their sixteenth birthday prior to enrolling in co-op education. Four documents stated that there was no limit on the number of co-op credits that could be earned (A, C, D, H), although one recommended a maximum of six credits (H) and another suggested students should maintain a balance between co-op education courses and other courses (C). Four documents stated that OAC (fifth year of secondary school which is being phased out in Ontario) credits could not be earned through co-op education, but that OAC curriculum could be used to design a training plan (A, C, D, E).

Some school district documents included criteria for selecting students to participate in co-op education. Two documents said schools determined whether or not students had the necessary educational background and maturity (B, E). Document D listed criteria for selecting students to participate in co-op education that included motivation, understanding of subject area, dependability and initiative, level of self-discipline, attendance, punctuality, deportment, performance, or teacher references.

(15) Preparing Workplace Supervisors

While teachers receive professional education in university settings to prepare them for working with students, how are workplace supervisors prepared to work with co-op education students, and for which of the above curriculum intentions are they prepared? Four documents in our sample made no reference to the preparation of workplace supervisors (E, F, H, J). Five documents included a supervisor's manual (A, B, C, D, G). The emphasis for workplace supervisor preparation was on legal issues, safety, and reporting accidents (A, B, C, D). However, the responsibilities of the workplace supervisor included evaluation of the students (A, B, D, G), developing training plans (A, B, C, D), monitoring students (B), and guiding learning (B, D). It appeared that workplace supervisors were well informed about the legal and technical aspects of their responsibilities, but the manuals included in this sample of co-op education documents did not prepare workplace supervisors for the mentoring, guiding, and evaluating roles many school districts expected them to assume.

(16) Qualifications, Expertise of School Personnel who Teach and Supervise Co-op Education

The documents in this sample showed large differences in qualifications for teaching co-op education. Three school district documents (A, C, F) required co-op education teachers to complete the Ontario Ministry of Education Continuing Education courses in co-operative education (minimum, Part 1 of this three-part qualification). Two documents (A, C) stated that the co-op education coordinator for a school district must have specialist qualifications (that is, have completed the three-part qualification). Knowledge of the Ontario Ministry of Education ( 1989 ) document, Co-operative Education was required in document J, and two documents (E, G) required teachers to have knowledge of co-op education. Knowledge of the subject area in which credit would be granted was required of co-op teachers in five documents (B, D, E, F, G), and a teacher qualified to monitor students' performance at the job site was required in one (H). One document suggested that co-op teachers should be members of a co-op education association (B).


Read individually, each document gives a rather unsurprising account of a particular school district's intentions for its co-op education opportunities. But when taken together, a careful document analysis rewards the reader by going beyond the particulars and by identifying internal consistencies and inconsistencies. The analysis also allows us to detect policy drift as policy at one level is recast for use at lower administrative levels.

Issues of Internal Consistency and Inconsistency

Attendance, workplace safety, and legal issues were consistent themes within and across this sample of documents. In contrast, several inconsistencies emerged from the analysis. For example, descriptions of teaching and of learning experiences were vague, while considerably more detail was given in descriptions of evaluations: sample evaluation forms or lists of skills, attitudes, and knowledge to be evaluated were provided when information about teaching and learning was not. Similarly, the set of documents contained few distinctions between general preparation for students' entering workplaces and specific preparation for a student entering a unique workplace. However, students received individualized training plans with learning outcomes that were described as specific to the student and to the workplace in which that student was placed. Again, descriptions of these individualized training plans were not consistent with descriptions or samples of evaluation forms that were used for all students in co-op education within a jurisdiction. Policy also seems to break down in areas that would appear crucial to successful implementation: there is almost indifference to equity issues and to the expertise one might wish of those who teach and supervise co-op education.

Policy Drift

All nine documents echoed the emphasis of the Ontario Ministry of Education (1989) that co-op education is an alternate mode of delivery for academic courses in the secondary program. For example, one document described co-op education as "subject-based, appropriate for all subject areas" and this connection between workplace learning and academic content guided the choice of workplace (D). But, in three ways, this policy emphasis is found to drift away from the Ministry's intent toward something else in the more local policy documents. First, it was found that the documents' discussion of reflection or integration sessions contained nothing to suggest how academic learning in the workplace (e.g., a veterinary clinic) might be related to academic course content (e.g., biology). Instead the focus was on relating what was learned in the out-of-class component (workplace learning through experience) to what was taught in the in-class component: general workplace preparation (e.g., interviews, safety, communication skills). Second, the evaluation forms and descriptions emphasized compliance, attendance, communication, co-operation, and some knowledge of the job (e.g., using equipment), but showed no examples of evaluating subject knowledge. And third, the difficulties experienced by co-op students were described in terms of truancy, or poor attitude, and not in terms of lack of subject knowledge. Furthermore, the local documents' recommendations for resolving these difficulties included increased monitoring of these aspects of personal growth and counseling, rather than remediation of inadequate subject knowledge. Overall, specific academic content does not appear to be stressed in the learning experiences of the students despite the Ministry's policy commitment to co-op education as an alternate mode of instruction for academic content. Thus the Ministry's policy emphasis on academic outcomes has drifted to outcomes associated with career education in the district policies.


The social value of co-op education is evident in recent curriculum changes in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia ( Hutchinson et al., 1999 ) and in the Employability Skills Profile of the Conference Board of Canada ( McLaughlin, 1992 ). Three of the nine sampled documents contained value statements about co-op education that reflected the value placed on workplace experience for secondary students. Two documents (C and G) went so far as to urge promotion and expansion of co-op education. Importantly, neither statement was accompanied by reasons describing the intended curriculum in co-op education, a circumstance that parallels the motive for our curriculum approach to this area.

By construing co-op education as curriculum, we have been able to analyze policy documents for their inherent curriculum intentions. In addition to consistencies and inconsistencies, our analysis shows that Ministry policy intentions have drifted as school district policy is created so that the subject matter potential of co-op education is underplayed in district policy.

As we pursued the document analysis, we were struck by the large number of references in our notes to the form of co-op education and by the relatively few references to the content that is taught and learned in co-op education. We are aware that many schools have developed curriculum packages that teachers use in teaching co-op education, and that these include specific teaching and learning activities. Analyzing this type of curriculum document would supplement the analyses we report in this paper on the intended curriculum of co-op education in Ontario. Equally important will be further detailed observational studies of the co-op education curriculum in the workplace itself. Our preliminary case studies (e.g., Munby, Cunningham, et al., 1998 ) have suggested that there is much to the co-op education curriculum that warrants close attention.


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NANCY HUTCHINSON is Professor at the Faculty of Education, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6 [E-mail: hutchinn@educ.queensu.ca ]. Dr. Nancy Hutchinson is an instructional psychologist and has special interest in students with exceptionalities.

HUGH MUNBY is Professor at the Faculty of Education, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6 [E-mail: munbyh@educ.queensu.ca ]. Dr. Hugh Munby conducts research on co-op education, and has a special interest in the curriculum of the workplace.

PETER CHIN is Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6 [E-mail: chinp@educ.queensu.ca ]. Dr. Peter Chin has expertise in science education and conducts research on science teaching and learning in school and workplace environments.

KAROL LYN EDWARDS is Science teacher at Vaughan Secondary School, 1401 Clark Ave., W., Thornhill, Ontario, Canada L4J 7R4 [E-mail: kledwards@sympatico.ca ]. Karol Lyn Edwards is a secondary science teacher who has a particular interest in teaching secondary science to students with exceptionalities.

KARIN STEINER-BELL is a Doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Education, Queen's University,Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6 [E-mail: karinsteiner@sprint.ca ]. Karin Steiner Bell's work reflects her interest in the social cognition of students with exceptionalities.

CHRISTINE CHAPMAN is a Masters student in Faculty of Education, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6 [E-mail: 9cyc@qlink.queensu.ca ]. Christine Chapman is a graduate student interested in ethics and moral education specifically relating to the natural environment.

KATHERINE HO is a teacher at Upper Canada College, 200 Lonsdale Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 1W6 [E-mail: 3kmh5@qlink.queensu.ca ]. Katherine Ho is a M.Ed student and an elementary science teacher.

WENDY MILLS DE ESPAÑA works for Pelican Falls First Nations High School, P.O. Box 1419, Sioux Lookout, ON, P8T 1B9 [E-mail: wespana@voyageur.ca ]. Wendy España teaches at a First Nations high school and has an interest in the mathematics of First Nations people.