Dropouts and CTE
In October 2000, the overall picture of high school dropouts had changed little since the late 1980s (Kaufman et al. 2001): For every 100 young adults enrolled in high school in October 1999, 5 had left school without completing a program; of 34.6 million U.S. young adults aged 16-24, 3.8 million—almost 11 percent—had not completed high school and were not enrolled. Some studies have shown that students in schools with a concentration of multiple risk factors (e.g., large schools, large classes, high poverty, inner city location) have less than one chance in two of graduating from high school; furthermore, the economic costs of dropping out have increased as time goes on (Castellano et al. 2001). Adjusting for 50 years of inflation, young male college graduates at the end of the 1990s earned about one and half times as much as their peers in 1949, but the young male high school dropout earned less than half as much as his counterpart.
The conventional wisdom that CTE is one solution to the problem of dropouts is made clear in one statewide evaluation of STW (Schug and Western 1999). In telephone interviews, most randomly selected school district curriculum directors reported a belief that STW had beneficial effects on student outcomes like high school completion, but all 45 agreed that there was not reliable information on achievement, attendance, or completion rates. Another statewide study (Brown 2000) noted that state systems for collecting and reporting Tech Prep outcomes were poorly developed, perhaps because they were not required in the Tech Prep Education Act (Title III-E of Perkins II). So it would seem that the question remains: Is CTE one solution to the dropout problem or not?
Early Statistics on the Effectiveness of CTE
In fact, for some time there has been statistical evidence that CTE can play a role in reducing dropout. Mertens et al. (1982) analyzed data from the New Youth cohort of the National Longitudinal Surveys of Labor Force Behavior and found a very small (about 0.1 percent) but statistically significant effect of vocational education in reducing the likelihood of dropping out, particularly for at-risk students. Perlmutter (1982) compared secondary retention in a large urban school district among matched groups of students who applied to vocational high schools and were admitted (Vocational Controls), those who applied but were not admitted (Targets), and those who had not applied (Academic Controls). After 1 semester, 18 percent of the Targets had dropped out--but none of the Vocational Controls. After 5 semesters, Vocational Controls had the highest retention rate in district schools (73.7 percent), followed by Academic Controls (68.7 percent) and Targets (58.5 percent). Furthermore, when both Targets and Academic Controls received any occupational training in academic high schools, they showed better retention rates.
In a review of research, Boesel et al. (1994) noted that...