Institute on Education and the Economy

IEE Insider — Issue 2, December 1996

Director's Column

The Institute on Education and the Economy is now ten years old. Since its inception, we have maintained a focus on two broad areas of research and policy development. One involves education and education reform, especially as it relates to preparation for work, and the other is concerned with how work is changing and what implications that has both for educational requirements and for the welfare of workers. We have expanded our work in both areas over the last year. Several of our projects and new initiatives are explained in more detail in this newsletter. These include projects on employer participation in school-to-work programs, work-based learning, skill standards, the role of school-to-work in preparing students for college, and the effect of the changing nature of work on skills, wages, and the quality of jobs in the service sector.

The biggest change that has taken place at IEE during the last year has been the establishment of the Community College Research Center with a three year grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Community colleges are becoming increasingly important educational institutions especially for the preparation of the workforce. And many of these colleges are working closely with businesses as they restructure their operations. Despite the importance of these educational institutions both for students and businesses, they have not received enough attention from scholars or policy makers. Because of the emphasis on workforce preparation and the close relationship between the colleges and changes in the workplace, the Center will be built on the traditional strengths of the Institute. Working from this solid foundation, the Center will work to promote new research and to widen the dialogue about the role and effectiveness of community colleges.

One of the most troublesome social developments during the last fifteen years has been the dramatic growth in inequality of earnings and wealth. Moreover, this has been accompanied by stagnation in the standard of living for large numbers of Americans. Education reform is one broad policy strategy to address these problems. But building on our knowledge of the changing nature of work, we have looked for alternative policies that might address these labor market problems. Annette Bernhardt, a senior research associate at IEE, organized a conference in October for the Russell Sage Foundation on the effect of firm-level restructuring on labor market outcomes. I am working with the Economic Policy Institute on a project that examines, among other things, the effects of high performance work organizations on the employment and wages of workers. And we are now working with the William T. Grant Foundation to organize a working group to explore policies that could help build job ladders and strengthen career opportunities for low-level workers.

Despite ebbs and flows of interest in Washington, the relationship between education (including learning on the job) and work will continue to be a fundamental policy issue. This intersection is the primary focus of our work at the Institute and we are committed to continue to pursue both research and policy development with a continued emphasis on how changes in work and education and in the associated policies will affect the opportunities and standard of living of all members of our society.

IEE Cosponsors Westchester Conference on School-to-Work: Preparing Students for College and Careers

Over 600 teachers, guidance counselors, business people, and policy makers attended the Westchester Education Coalition's sixth annual conference on school-to-work. The conference, held on May 15 on the campus of Purchase College, SUNY, in Purchase, New York, was jointly organized and sponsored by IEE and the Westchester Education Coalition (WEC). This year's conference focused on creating a broader vision of school-to-work, that is, understanding its potential benefits in expanding the postsecondary options of all students, not simply those who plan to work after high school. The pedagogical benefits of school-to-work are not only consistent with the demands of the changing workplace, but are also in line with student-centered and authentic learning practices that have proven to be successful for both traditional college-bound and vocational students. It is particularly noteworthy that the conference was held in Westchester County—where college preparation is the major objective of parents, and the school districts contain some of the nation's most exemplary academically oriented schools.

IEE's director, Thomas Bailey, gave the keynote address at the conference, pointing out that the school-to-work strategy has three basic elements: The first involves what has come to be called "learner-centered" or "authentic" teaching. The second involves guided experiences outside the traditional classroom and especially in the workplace. The third is a structured approach to help young people begin to form ideas about their interests, to think about the work they would like to do, and to understand how they can achieve their work goals.

Extensive research on school-to-work reveals a strong potential for integrating rigorous academic preparation with specific workplace applications. Not only are students given the opportunity to develop authentic problem-solving skills; they are also exposed to career options that will guide their education and career decisions.

After Dr. Bailey's talk, the conference split into two sets of concurrent sessions. The first explored substantive issues, including obstacles, professional development, changes in college assessment and admissions practices, and the role of guidance counselors. Erwin Flaxman, IEE's associate director, conducted a workshop on how to develop mentoring programs for academically achieving students. Clifford Hill, professor of language and education at Teachers College, conducted a session on ways that alternative assessment can make authentic use of the workplace. Katherine Hughes, a senior research associate at IEE, led a session that focused on effective methods for obtaining business involvement and for assuring quality work-experience placements as programs increase in scale.

The second set of sessions showcased exemplary school-to-work programs that have been distinguished both regionally and nationally. Representatives from Central Park East in New York City and the Ringe School of Technical Arts in Cambridge, MA, highlighted the key components of their work-based learning strategies which include strong internship and apprenticeship placements. Notable achievements in integrated and applied instruction were discussed by delegates from Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt Manor, NY and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, VA. Developments in competency-based assessment and changes in the college admission process were presented by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Maryland System.

The Westchester Education Coalition, Inc. is a unique collaboration of local schools, colleges, social service agencies, government, business, and parents working to improve the quality of education within the region. Together with the IEE, the WEC was successful in soliciting financial and manpower support from a diverse set of constituencies interested in promoting school-to-work. National research foundations such as the National Center for Research in Vocational Education, National Center for the Workplace and Jobs for the Future lent their support as sponsoring organizations. In addition, private corporations such as CIBA, IBM and MasterCard International Incorporated donated their time and funding to the conference. The involvement of all of these different organizations is a clear sign of the importance of school-to-work as an educational reform and as a necessity for the development of the future workforce.

A follow-up report, School-to-Work for the College Bound, discussing the conceptual and implementation issues discussed at the conference is available from the National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE) at 1-800-637-7652, reference number MDS-799.

NCRVE Conference on Integrating Academic and Industry Skill Standards

The National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE) and IEE conducted a conference last May (in Harriman, NY) on integrating academic and industry skill standards. The conference, which brought together educators, employers, and policy makers, was unique in that it was a working and exploratory conference rather than one designed primarily to convey information. Except for some brief introductory remarks by Thomas Bailey, IEE's director, there were no prepared presentations. Virtually the entire conference consisted of small group discussions, and plenary sessions in which these groups reported back to all conference participants. The work of the groups was based on the analysis and comparison of actual sets of standards from academic fields and several industries.

The sixty participants, all of whom were invited, included representatives from the US Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the National Skill Standards Board, the US Department of Labor, and the National Alliance of Business; the Presidents of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Center for Occupational Research and Development, and the Vocational-Technical Education Consortium of States; and the Executive Director of the National Council for the Social Studies. In addition, participants included professors from several academic domains, directors of alternative high schools, senior program officers from foundations, representatives from business associations, industry executives, representatives from teachers' unions, education coordinators from industry groups, secondary school teachers, and many others for whom the conference topic was of significant interest and concern. At the time they were invited, over half of the participants were actually involved in standards development.

The purpose of the conference was to strengthen the relationship and interaction between the developing systems of industry and academic standards. The agenda was based on the idea that standards must work together toward broader education and workplace reform efforts, including school-to-work strategies proposed by the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. The specific task of the participants was to develop concrete recommendations for how academic and industry standards might be coordinated and structured so that they contribute to strengthened academic learning and occupational education. For IEE and NCRVE, the conference was part of an effort to develop and deepen the partnership between schools and employers; increase learning that takes place on-the-job; help change education so that it is more in tune with the current needs of the workplace; and, ultimately, transform workplaces into high-performance work systems.

The breakout sessions were organized around the examination of particular sets of standards. For example, on the first morning, sessions consisted of five groups organized around the academic frameworks of English, Math, Science, History, and Social Studies. Each group reviewed two sets of industry standards and discussed the extent to which the academic standards were reflected in the industry standards. In the afternoon, the situation was reversed: The sessions were organized by industry groups—automotive, bioscience, electronics, health, retail, and photonics—and, in each of these sessions, the participants examined the five academic standards from the perspective of the industries represented. In addition to the substantive content of these discussions, each grouping enabled educators and business people to work on issues together, thus beginning that essential dialog between the two.

There was a strong sense in many of the groups that skill standards should (1) focus on broad problem-solving, critical-thinking skills, (2) allow for progression from entry-level to most master-level work, (3) be oriented to the future, and (4) be connected to teaching strategies that promote life-long learning, citizenship and autonomous workplace behavior.

It was evident in the final day's sessions that the participants felt that this conference represented a major step toward a better understanding of the components of integrated standards. A summary and review paper will soon be available from NCRVE, and a follow-up conference is being planned for 1997. An earlier report written by Thomas Bailey and Donna Merritt, Making Sense of Industry-Based Skill Standards, which set the framework for the conference, is available from NCRVE at 1-800-637-7652, reference number MDS-777.

Community College Research Center

A national center focusing on community colleges which already enroll 40 percent of the nation's college students and will play an even larger role in the future of US education has been established at Teachers College, Columbia University, by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Community College Research Center (CCRC), which will be part of the College's Institute on Education and the Economy, will conduct cutting-edge research on the promise of the community college, and will work to strengthen the link between the scholarly community and the community-college community.

Dr. Ralph Gomory, president of the Sloan Foundation, expressed the hope that the new Center "will work closely with community colleges to better understand the important effects that community colleges have in this country." "Community colleges have expanded dramatically in the years since World War II," said Arthur E. Levine, president of Teachers College and a nationally recognized expert on higher education. "They are the newest sector of higher education and have experienced the fastest growth in the history of higher education. With that growth, major policy questions have arisen regarding their purpose, impact, programs, and future directions." Levine described community colleges as "one of the nation's most outstanding educational resources," and he added that the Center "would seek to develop a new generation of scholars and scholarship focusing on emerging policy issues about the key roles community colleges can and do play."

"When we speak of the transition from school to work, we will be speaking more often of the community college," said Thomas Bailey, IEE's director, who also serves as the director of the Community College Research Center. "When we speak of retraining our nation's labor force, we will also be speaking more often of the community college. The role of the community college in our changing national economy has to be more closely studied."

The research initiated by the new Center will include analysis of the academics of the community college and the role the institutions play in local and regional economic development. Researchers will also look at the "shadow community college," the growing area of non-degree programs and services in such areas as short-term job training, customized training, and adult basic education and remediation. A national advisory committee of community college practitioners, policy makers and academics will be established to help set the research agenda. One of the overall objectives of the Center will be to work toward improvements in the data available for the study of community colleges.

The Center will fund fellowships to doctoral students who are interested in writing dissertations on community college issues. The fellowship recipients will work at the Center and participate in the Center's research projects.

The creation of a Community College Research Center carries on a tradition at Teachers College, which was instrumental in shaping community college administration and curriculum in the post-World-War-II era. Led by the late Professor Walter E. Sindlinger, the Teachers College Community College Research Center, in existence throughout the 1960s and 1970s, prepared administrators to serve in the growing number of community colleges. Today, those administrators are presidents of community college systems from coast to coast, and many will be part of the national advisory committee of the new Center.

Employer Participation in School-to-Work Programs

The question of how to secure intensive and widespread employer participation in school-to-work programs has been a major focus of IEE research over the past year. This three-year project, which receives financial support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE), and the Spencer Foundation, is progressing well. IEE researchers have traveled to upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, visiting twelve school-to-work programs in nine sites. Katherine Hughes and Susan Wieler, senior research associates at IEE, and Lea Williams, senior research assistant, conducted in-depth interviews with program personnel, teachers, students, counselors, and employers at each site, with the aim of identifying incentives and disincentives for employer involvement in these programs. The fieldwork has been completed, and the data are being analyzed. Katherine Hughes recently presented preliminary results at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in Toronto.

The second phase of the project, telephone surveys of employers who are participating in school-to-work or other internship programs, and employers who are not involved in any such programs, is complete, and the data are being analyzed. Together, the survey results and the field data will enable us to give a clear and detailed account of the incentives and disincentives for employer participation, as well as a general view of the state of school-to-work in the US.

This fall, the third and final phase of the research began, the pedagogy and work-based learning part of the project. We plan to select several students from the school-to-work sites, observe their on-the-job learning, and conduct before-and-after in-depth interviews. Our objective is to understand what and how students are learning at the workplace, as well as students' views about how participation in a work-based learning program is valuable to them. Few previous studies have analyzed what exactly goes on in student internships: what the student is being taught, how, and by whom. John Wirt, a senior research associate at IEE, will be responsible for this phase of the work.

Economic Opportunity in Low-Wage Service Industries

Continuing its research on work reform, IEE has recently begun a major three-year research project funded by the William T. Grant Foundation. The project examines how restructuring by firms in the service sector is affecting job quality and the advancement opportunities for young workers. Today, the service sector employs a large majority of the US's workers. Three questions guide this research:

  • Can the service sector absorb workers without a college education and provide them with jobs that allow for upward mobility into middle-class careers?
  • What types of service firms are taking the "high road," that is, combining high productivity with quality employment, and can such models be adopted by other companies?
  • Can training programs and school-to-work partnerships strengthen the paths to upward mobility, especially for inner-city youth?

An analysis of national data on trends in employment, wages, and occupations will be combined with a series of in-depth case studies of firms in traditionally low-wage service industries. The aim is to chronicle a wide range of production and workplace reforms and their effects on training, skill acquisition, wages, and the likelihood of promotion. The findings will be used to review such recent proposals for labor market reform as national standards for education, training, and skills, and the creation of multi-employer career ladders. The principal investigators are Thomas Bailey, IEE's director, and Annette Bernhardt, senior research associate.

Changing Jobs: Technology and the Transformation of Employment

The Citicorp Behavioral Sciences Research Council (CBSRC), which was established to give researchers access to Citicorp as a site for in-depth study of organizational structure, operation, and change, has recently awarded a grant to IEE. The grant will be used to conduct an exploratory study of how firm restructuring affects the nature of work, wage inequality, and career mobility. A key issue will be the role of technological change and its effects on skill requirements, human resource strategies, and the firm's job hierarchy. Our goal is to link information gained from qualitative fieldwork at Citibank with quantitative analysis of the company's personnel records during the 1980s and 1990s. If this research proves feasible, IEE plans to submit a full-scale research proposal to the CBSRC program. The principal investigators are Dr. Annette Bernhardt, Professors Martina Morris and Mark Handcock of Pennsylvania State University, and Professors Nachum Sicherman and Seymour Spilerman of Columbia University.

New Publications

Working Papers

In Search of the High Road in a Low-Wage Industry — Thomas Bailey and Annette D. Bernhardt, October 1996

This paper summarizes initial findings from an ongoing IEE research project on firm restructuring in the low-wage service sector. The project is motivated by the persistent rise in wage inequality in America, and the fact that policy makers are increasingly looking to innovations in the business community for solutions. Advocates argue that high performance systems will both strengthen the competitiveness of American firms and improve the quality of jobs. But the proposed benefits for workers remain largely untested. Drawing on a series of case studies, the effect of firm restructuring on job quality, defined in terms of wages, benefits, and the opportunities for skill acquisition and promotion is examined. The firms were chosen from the traditionally low-wage retail trade industry, and each had implemented some level of reform in both the production and the service ends of their operations.

Can Technological Change Explain Inequality Within Age, Schooling, and Gender Groups? — Susan S. Wieler, June 1996

The rise in the inequality of labor earnings since the 1970s is not well understood. In addition to real wage declines for less educated workers, there have been significant increases in inequality within age, education, and gender groups. Several economists have argued that skill-biased technological change within industries is responsible for these within-group trends. This hypothesis is tested by linking direct measures of job skill derived from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles with earnings and demographic data from the Current Population Survey. The analysis tests whether the increase in within-group inequality between 1972 and 1990 is a function of a change in the demand for skills that is not captured by changes in the distributions of age, education, and gender. Trends in wage inequality for 33 industries are examined, and little evidence is found to support the skill-biased technological change hypothesis. To the extent that recent wage changes cannot be explained by changes in the demand for skills, policy initiatives designed to upgrade worker skills may have little impact on the distribution of earnings in the United States.

Going to Scale: Employer Participation in School-to-Work Programs at LaGuardia Community College — Susan S. Wieler and Thomas Bailey, October 1996

The 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act (STWOA) promoted an educational strategy that incorporates work-based learning as both a solution to the employment problems of the "non-college-bound" and as a pedagogical reform designed to promote learning for all students. But several authors have questioned whether it is possible to achieve the level of employer participation required for the success of a widespread educational reform movement centered on work-based learning.

This paper uses a case study of the internship program at LaGuardia Community College in New York City to explore the crucial issue of employer participation. LaGuardia's program began in 1970, yet it embodies the fundamental characteristics of the school-to-work model articulated by STWOA. The report traces the difficulties the program has encountered in recruiting employers and describes how the program has responded to those difficulties. It then analyzes how these responses have influenced the nature and goals of the program.


School-to-Work for the College Bound — Thomas Bailey and Donna Merritt, November 1996

This publication makes the case for school-to-work as a college preparatory strategy, arguing that it can teach academic skills as well as and possibly even better than more traditional teaching strategies. Bailey and Merritt cite empirical evidence to illustrate that quality school-to-work programs can and do exist and, indeed, effectively teach academic skills and prepare students for college. They also describe the barriers to making school-to-work a strategy for all students and include a discussion of the misperceptions of parents and school staff as well as the problems created by the traditional college admissions process. By making the case for school-to-work, the authors hope to create a better understanding of its components and expand its use so that all students have the opportunity to benefit from it. The report ends with suggestions for broadening the acceptance of school-to-work as a strategy to educate all students.

From the Back List

Learning to Work: Employer Involvement in School-to-Work Transition Programs — Thomas Bailey, 1995

Using What We Have To Get the Schools We Need: A Productivity Focus for American Education — Consortium on Productivity in the Schools, 1995

The Double Helix of Education and the Economy — Sue E. Berryman and Thomas R. Bailey, 1992



Institute on Education and the Economy, Teachers College, Columbia University
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