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ACVE Publications


Tech Prep

Trends and Issues Alert

by Susan Imel


This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0013. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. ERIC/ACVE publications may be freely reproduced.


Tech prep, an articulated secondary-postsecondary program that provides technical preparation in an occupational field, integrates academic and vocational education, and leads to placement in employment, has emerged in response to the call for reform of educational systems. The idea for tech prep originated in the 1980s with the work of Dale Parnell, but it did not become widespread until the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act of 1990 provided federal funds for tech prep in every state (Scruggs 1996).

An initial national evaluation of tech prep (Silverberg and Hershey 1995) revealed the following trends related to implementation:

  • By 1993 almost half of all the nation's school districts,that included more than 60% of all secondary students,were involved in tech prep consortia. Only a small fraction of the students in these districts were actually participating in tech prep, however.
  • Changes resulting from tech prep are more evident at the secondary than the postsecondary level even though postsecondary institutions often play key leadership roles in tech prep consortia. For example, articulation agreements report the revision of postsecondary courses, but articulation affects secondary courses much more often than postsecondary curriculum offerings, at least initially.
  • Participation in tech prep is neither reflective of the student population nationwide nor within school districts. Tech prep students are concentrated in the south and in suburban areas. Although urban consortia have the potential to serve many students, thus far they have low participation rates. Also, the racial and ethnic composition of tech prep participants tends to differ from that of the overall student population in the school districts. Tech prep students are less likely to be members of a minority group.

The following programmatic trends were identified in an indepth study (Hershey, Silverberg, and Owens 1995) of 10 tech prep consortia:

  • Articulation agreements linking individual courses at the high school and college level are a major defining feature of tech prep. In most sites, these articulation agreements predated the existing consortia.
  • Consortia have made some efforts to upgrade vocational curricula, but most of the curriculum change has focused on the introduction of applied approaches to teaching math, science, and English.
  • Among the consortia studied, tech prep is viewed quite differently. In some it is considered to be a distinct, high tech form of vocational education for only some students and some occupations. In others, tech prep is primarily an upgrading of vocational programs with the addition of applied academic courses. Some consortia treat tech prep as a foundation for general school reform and provide career development activities for all students.
  • Sites use a variety of structures for planning and coordinating tech prep development, ranging from an extensive array of committees and subcommittees to incorporation within ongoing school district operations. However, all sites have at least one person serving as a coordinator.

The consortia involved in the study (ibid.) also face a number of issues including whom should tech prep serve, how central is articulation to its development, how much will tech prep change postsecondary education, and what can employers contribute to the development of tech prep programs. However, an overriding issue mentioned by others (e.g., Dykman 1995; Edgar and Parnell 1996; Grubb et al. forthcoming;) has to do with tech prep's role in the school-to-work movement. In its move to consolidate funding, Congress may eliminate tech prep funding in its current form and tech prep will become incorporated into school-to-work programs (Dykman 1995; Grubb et. al forthcoming). How that will happen, however, is likely to vary depending on tech prep's role in local and state school-to-work planning efforts. According to Edgar and Parnell, "[in] Ohio, Tech Prep is viewed as the pole holding up the school-to-work umbrella" (p. 34). In other states, however, the situation is not as clear because "the two groups don't talk," (Grubb et al. forthcoming, p. 53). The following resources can be consulted for more information on tech prep.

Print Resources

Anderson, L. D. "Implementing the Technology Preparation (Tech-Prep) Curriculum." Journal of Technology Studies 21, no. 1 (Winter-Spring 1995): 48-58.

Tech prep programs are built on the premise that youth must become involved in the development of a technological society. Several models for integrating tech prep with academic education hold promise.

Bragg, D. D. "Tech Prep: Where Are We Now?" Vocational Education Journal 70, no. 4 (April 1995): 18-23.

Looks at fundamental tech prep concepts that must be reinforced to ensure progress: it must be grounded in an integrated curriculum, articulation is necessary, school-to-work programs and tech prep must be linked, it should ensure access for all, and collaborative implementation is the foundation.

Bragg, D. D. et al. Building a Preferred Future with Tech Prep Systems. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education, October 1994. (ED 375 297)

This document is designed to help local practitioners construct new tech prep systems that bridge the federal Tech Prep Education Act with the new School-to-Work Opportunities legislation.

Developing Tech Prep Guidance Programs. Seattle Tech Prep. Seattle, WA: Seattle Community College District; Seattle Public Schools, [1994]. (ED 383 831)

This publication provides information on the six strategies used by Seattle Public Schools' counseling service and tech prep counselor to integrate the tech prep concept into comprehensive counseling activities.

Dykman, A. "What School-to-Work Means for Tech Prep. States Have Differing Views on Their Coordination." Vocational Education Journal 70, no. 4 (April 1995): 24-25, 44.

Survey responses from 42 of 50 state directors of vocational-technical education revealed the following: most agreed that tech prep is one option within school-to-work; tech prep's identity needs to remain strong; cooperation is needed; and coordinators are worried about the potential loss of funding.

Edgar, E. D., and Parnell, D. "Ohio's Community and Technical Colleges Are Powerful Partners in Developing Tech Prep Associate Degree Programs." Community College Journal 66, no. 4 (February-March 1996): 30-34.

Describes how Ohio has involved higher education as an integral partner in the development and implementation of the state's tech prep program. Includes critical components agreed upon by all players and provides an overview of Ohio's 24 tech prep consortia.

Grubb, W. N.; Badway, N.; Bell, D.; and Kraskouskas, E. Community College Innovations in Workforce Preparation: Curriculum Integration and Tech Prep. Mission Viejo: CA: League for Innovation in the Community College, forthcoming.

This monograph examines how community colleges are involved in educational reform by examining their role in integrating academic and occupational education and tech prep initiatives.

Hershey, A.; Silverberg, M.; and Owens, T. The Diverse Forms of Tech-Prep: Implementation Approaches in Ten Local Consortia. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1995. (ED 384 750)

This document profiles the diverse approaches to tech-prep taken by 10 local districts across the United States. The final chapter discusses a number of emerging issues.

Lankard, B. A. Tech Prep. Myths and Realities. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, 1995. (ED 378 423)

Reviews three misconceptions about tech prep (tech prep is an integration of academic and vocational education, tech prep is an articulation agreement between high schools and colleges, and tech prep is a 2 + 2 program that cannot include formal apprenticeship training) and refutes each by presenting the reality.

Lozada, M. et al. "The Payoff. Tech Prep Efforts Are Beginning to Show Dividends in Students like These." Vocational Education Journal 70, no. 4 (April 1995): 34-36.

Three articles show what tech prep can mean for young people preparing for the world beyond high school: "Cultivating Potential, Academy Style" (Lozada); "A Path out of Poverty for Oklahoman" (Killackey); and "An 'A' Student Who Found Tech Prep the Right Fit" (Dykman).

Owens, T. R. Washington Year Two Tech Prep Planning and Implementation Survey Summary. Portland, OR: Education and Work Program, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, April 1995. (ED 382 860)

A survey on selected aspects of tech prep planning and implementation on tech prep in the state of Washington found that lack of staff, time, and money dedicated to tech prep and lack of truly integrated curricula were the most commonly perceived program limitations.

Pianelli, M. A. "Technology Middle College." Paper presented at "Workforce 2000," the Annual Conference on Workforce Training of the League for Innovation in the Community College, San Diego, CA, February 1995. (ED 380 177)

Describes Tech Prep Middle College (TPMC), a Houston program designed to ensure that tech prep reaches at-risk students at the earliest possible stages. TPMC features a strong community-based component, encouraging field trips and community service at all levels. In fall 1994, the TPMC enrolled its first class of 60 students who were 46% Hispanic, 19% Black, and 55% male.

Scruggs, C. A. Tech Prep Q & A: Information for Program Development. Information Series No. 364. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, 1996.

Poses questions regarding tech prep as an educational reform approach in the areas of tech prep strategies, processes, teams, and strategic planning. Offers answers that give a practical example or consideration for program development. A checklist of questions that can be used to assess existing programs and guide their future development is provided.

Silverberg, M. K., and Hershey, A. M. The Emergence of Tech-Prep at the State and Local Levels. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1995. (ED 384 713)

A survey of tech-prep coordinators at the state and local levels focused on the following: state role in promoting tech prep; setting for tech prep initiatives; organization, leadership, and resources of consortia; definition of tech prep; participation; school and workplace content; staff development; student outcomes; and local evaluation.

Stadt, R. W., and Seng, M. P. "Tech Prep: Some Cautions Regarding Program Improvement." ATEA Journal 21, no. 4 (April-May 1994): 11-12.

Interviews with university, state, and local educators highlighted some of the admirable qualities of tech prep (relevance, value to noncollege-bound students) and some barriers (lack of standards/guidelines, articulation problems, need for inservice training and employer involvement).

Turlington, A. J. Developing a Career Awareness Program for Students. PACE "How To" Handbooks for Tech Prep. Pendleton, SC: Partnership for Academic and Career Education, September 1994. (ED 384 769)

Included are answers to questions about the need for career awareness programs in tech prep, program components and format, program facilitation, and integration of career awareness activities into applied academics classes.

Turlington, A. J. Integrating the Curriculum. PACE "How To" Handbooks for Tech Prep. Pendleton, SC: Partnership for Academic and Career Education, July 1994. (ED 384 716)

This handbook explains the process of integrating a tech prep curriculum. Included are the nature of curriculum integration, benefits of curriculum integration to students and teachers, and the link between curriculum integration and tech prep.

Walter, D. M. Integrating Work-Based Learning into Comprehensive Tech Prep Programs: Recommendations from a Practitioner's Perspective. Pendleton, SC: Partnership for Academic and Career Education, June 1995. (ED 384 717)

This handbook presents 10 recommendations concerning integrating work-based learning into comprehensive tech prep programs.

Resource Organizations

American Vocational Association, 1410 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314; (703/683-3111).

American Association for Community Colleges, One Dupont Circle, Suite 410, Washington, DC 20036-1176; (202/728-0200).

ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges, UCLA, 3051 Moore Hall, P. O. Box 951521, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1521; (800/832-8256).

ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, 1900 Kenny Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1090; (800/848-4815, ext. 4-7686).

National Tech Prep Network, Center for Occupational Research and Development, P. O. Box 21206, Waco, Texas 76702-1206; (800/231-3015).

S2WTP Listserv. To subscribe send a message to tech prep. Enter "subscribe" in the message line.


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