Institute on Education and the Economy

School-to-Work/Career-Technical Education

The passage of the 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act was spurred by national concern that America’s students were not being adequately prepared for rapidly changing workplaces, and research showing that many youth spend their early years in the workforce moving from one low-wage, dead-end job to another. This legislation calls for new partnerships to be formed between educators and employers, through which a quality school-to-work transition system will be created and sustained. Employers are asked to provide work-based learning opportunities (internships or apprenticeships) to students, and educators are asked to better integrate workplace experiences and career information with the classroom curriculum.

Research at IEE on school-to-work has focused on the following areas: employer participation, the promise of school-to-work efforts for the college-bound student population, pedagogy for work-based learning, and the potential of work-based learning for teaching academic skills.

The IEE publication, School-to-Work: Making A Difference in Education reviews all of the research to date on school-to-work outcomes for students, teachers, and employers.

Look for our comprehensive book Working Knowledge: Work-Based Learning and Education Reform, which was published in 2004.


Thomas Bailey

Katherine Hughes

Melinda Mechur Karp

Study of the Virtual Enterprises Program (Pilot Phase)

Celebrating its tenth anniversary in New York City , Virtual Enterprises (VE) represents a well-established approach to teaching high school students about business through task-oriented and hands-on coursework. VE students, with the assistance of a course instructor and businesses mentors, oversee a virtual corporation, enabling them to learn about careers, develop interpersonal and organizational skills, and use technology, as well as develop an in-depth knowledge of one particular type of business.

Participation in Virtual Enterprises is believed to benefit students on a range of outcomes, including career preparation, college planning and readiness, and academic achievement. Yet, it has been increasingly recognized that educational programs should undergo rigorous research to demonstrate effectiveness, so that resources may be invested accordingly. Hence, the Institute on Education and the Economy (IEE), in collaboration with Virtual Enterprises staff, is conducting a pilot study to begin to document and measure the presumed outcomes.

The pilot phase of the research entailed the selection of 10 VE programs in New York City, visits to these programs to explore content, and an end-of-the-year student survey. The survey asked students to compare the program with their other, non-VE courses and programs, and describe what they see as the unique benefits to their participation. The researchers also explored data the program already collects, such as a pre- and post-test and individual firm reports. A report was completed in September 2007, yielding a deep description of the program features, with suggestive conclusions on the relative effectiveness of the various aspects of the program, for example technology use, financial knowledge, and teamwork. Additional research that will use a comparison group of students to better measure the influence of the program is a possibility for the future.


When the Virtual Becomes Real: Student Learning in the Virtual Enterprises Program
Katherine L. Hughes & Joanne Wang Golann – 2007
Abstract | Download PDF

Impact Studies of NAF Career Academies

IEE has completed its impact study for the National Academy Foundation (NAF). The main purpose of the project was to evaluate how the NAF Academy model benefits students, graduates, teachers, schools and employers. Career Academies represent a well-established, multi-faceted approach to organizing student learning for high quality academic skill development and successful transitions to further education and career-track employment. The National Academy Foundation (NAF) has had a leadership role in developing the model, providing technical assistance for local site development, and providing professional development for beginning and on-going teacher support. NAF helps local communities develop employer advisory boards to engage their peers in supporting work-based learning experiences and curriculum development.

IEE's research focused on how well current and former students were being served by the Academy model, especially in terms of their academic achievement and post-secondary education and employment histories, as compared with students enrolled in the regular high school program. It identified ways in which the small-learning environment of the Academy benefits teachers, and it explored ways by which partnerships between the programs and employers may be improved.


Orr, M. T., Bailey, T., Hughes, K., Karp, M. M., & Kienzl, G. (2007). The National Academy Foundation's Career Academies: Shaping Postsecondary Transitions. In David Neumark (Ed.). Improving School-to-Work Transitions (pp. 169–209). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation. Order online or call 1-800-666-2211.

Hughes, K. L., Karp, M. M., & Orr, M. T. (2005). Business Partnerships for American Education: Employer Involvement in the National Academy Foundation's High School Career Academies. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 54(3). View PDF

Employer Participation

We have concluded this portion of the research, the purpose of which was to try to determine why employers participate, or decline to participate, in school-to-work programs. Thirteen programs or systems at ten different sites around the country were studied, all of which had a significant work-based learning component. We designed a study that combined case study fieldwork with telephone surveys of employers. Some programs are enjoying significant employer involvement, and we identified the ways in which employers benefit from their participation.

IEE Publications

Achieving Scale and Quality in School-to-Work Internships: Findings from an Employer Survey (IEE Brief No. 20)
Thomas Bailey, Katherine L. Hughes, & Tavis Barr – April 1998
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Employer Recruitment is Not the Problem: A Study of School-to-Work Transition Programs
Katherine L. Hughes – June 1998
IEE Working Paper | Brief Version

Going to Scale: Employer Participation in School-to-Work Programs at LaGuardia Community College (IEE Brief No. 16)
Susan Wieler & Thomas Bailey – September 1997
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Other Publications

Bailey, T. (Ed.). (1995). Learning to Work: Employer Involvement in School-to-Work Transition Programs. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.

Bailey, T. & Hughes, K. (1999). Employer Involvement in Work-Based Learning Programs. Download PDF from Teachers College

Bailey, T., Hughes, K., & Barr, T. (1998). Achieving Scale and Quality in School-to-Work Internships: Findings from an Employer Survey. Download PDF from Teachers College

Bailey, T., Hughes, K. L., & Barr, T. (2000). Achieving Scale and Quality in School-to-Work Internships: Findings from Two Employer Surveys. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 22(1), 41–65.

Wieler, S. S. & Bailey, T. (1996). Going to Scale: Employer Participation in School-to-Work Programs at LaGuardia Community College. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 19(2), 123–140. Abstract

School-to-Work for the College-Bound

A report written by IEE researchers Thomas Bailey and Donna Merritt and published by NCRVE argues that school-to-work, an education reform that features a strong connection between the subjects being taught and the world outside the classroom, should be available to all high school students - college-bound included.

This advocacy of school-to-work for the college-bound students flies in the face of prevalent assumptions about education in this country. Most of our high schools still operate on the two-track model, established in the days when industrial economy required a large supply of low-wage, low-skill workers. The volatility of today's information-based, highly competitive economy has made this system obsolete.

A powerful hybrid, school-to-work brings together the best from a range of educational philosophies and reforms, from guided learning experience outside of the classroom and innovative teaching approaches, to increased counseling that enables students to think systematically about their goals. The authors of the report argue that school-to-work offers a challenging, rigorous education well designed to prepare all students for a world where learning and work are increasingly intertwined.


School-to-Work for the College Bound
Thomas Bailey & Donna Merritt – 1996
Report | Brief

School-to-Work for the College Bound: Strategies for Maximizing the Educational Opportunities of School-to-Work Students

A new report entitled, School-to-Work for the College Bound: Strategies for Maximizing the Educational Opportunities of School-to-Work Students is an extension of Thomas Bailey’s and Donna Merritt’s original School-to-Work for the College Bound study. In this most recent report, IEE researchers Briana Cons, Donna Merritt, and Lea Williams investigate exemplary school-to-work initiatives that have led to college acceptance.

The report focuses on the three principles previously highlighted in the original School-to-Work for the College Bound report: authentic teaching and learning, guided experiences that take place outside of the classroom, and career and interest exploration.

The researchers found:

  • Authentic teaching and learning methods have driven school-to-work programs to have broader goals.
  • Various school-to-work programs around the country are instituting systematic school changes, rather than isolated activities that occur within a school.
  • State standards have been used as a supporting infrastructure for school-to-work activities for students, including the college bound.
  • "Guided experiences that take place outside of the classroom" provide strategies to counteract the negative stereotypes associated with career or work-based learning.
  • Career and interest exploration is used to minimize the disconnectedness between traditional academic courses and a student's desire to learn what goes on beyond school walls. In addition, students are given exposure to career information.

In conclusion, many of the programs highlighted in the study are worthy of recognition. Most importantly, they have found a way to use school-to-work to enhance their students' potential of going to college and graduating.


Merritt, D., & Williams, L. (1999). School-to-Work for the College Bound: Strategies for Maximizing the Educational Opportunities of School-to-Work Students. View in HTML

Pedagogy for Work-Based Learning

In recent years, researchers and educators have been paying increasing attention to work-based learning as a promising educational strategy. However, despite increased enthusiasm over work-based learning and anecdotal evidence supporting it, there have been few empirical studies that test whether and how students are actually benefiting. And the time, energy and money required to implement work-based learning programs are justified only if internships have more educational value than the after-school jobs that the majority of American high school youth already hold.

There are ways for school personnel to examine workplaces, oversee internships, and create classroom-based assignments and activities, so that work-based learning is educational. In this project, we explored the different ways work-based learning is organized at the workplace, and how it can be enhanced in the classroom. In our report, we give guidance as to how to achieve quality internships, by describing what educators should look for at worksites, and describing methods used in schools, to ensure that students' work experiences yield learning.

At each of five school-to-work programs, several student interns were interviewed and observed over the course of their internships. In total, data were collected from observations and interviews of 25 student interns. The students were placed in a variety of workplaces, ranging from small non-profit organizations to large Fortune 500 companies, and they worked in many different fields, for example health, business and administration, education, the arts, and construction. This is not a representative sample; our findings are used only to illustrate different strategies for, and types of learning in, different workplaces.


Pedagogical Strategies for Work-Based Learning (IEE Working Paper 12)
Katherine L. Hughes & David Thornton Moore – April 1999
Abstract | Download PDF

Toward a Theory of Work-Based Learning (IEE Brief No. 23)
David Thornton Moore – January 1999
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School-to-Work and Academic Learning

As part of the DeWitt Wallace – Readers Digest Fund’s Career Academy Support Network initiative, we received a grant to conduct research on the potential of work-based learning to improve or reinforce academic learning. To investigate the argument that work-based experience improves students' academic performance, we reviewed existing studies of how work affects youths’ academic performance, as well as studies of the academic achievement of students in programs that include work-based learning. We also analyzed our own empirical data from five internship programs.

In the internships we studied, we did not find students frequently learning academic concepts or applying academic skills. Yet there are ways to apply knowledge gained in the workplace to academic subject-matter. Rather than students using academic skills in a work context, which we found occurring infrequently, activities engaged in at the workplace can be used to bring about a better understanding of knowledge or concepts being taught in the classroom. This more promising way to reinforce academics through work-based learning was found in one program. Rather than assuming that academic learning will be possible at the workplace, real-world situations and examples are imported into the classroom.

We conclude that the evidence does not provide strong support for the assertion that work-based learning reinforces academic learning, but there are other, non-academic but equally important forms of learning that can come from work experience and that these forms give us good grounds for supporting work-based learning.


Work-Based Learning and Academic Skills (IEE Working Paper 15)
Katherine L. Hughes, David T. Moore & Thomas R. Bailey – September 1999
Abstract | Download PDF

Work-Based Learning and Academic Skills (IEE Brief No. 27)
Katherine L. Hughes, David Thornton Moore, & Thomas Bailey – November 1999
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Institute on Education and the Economy, Teachers College, Columbia University
525 West 120th Street, Box 174, New York, NY 10027
Phone: (212) 678-3091 | Fax: (212) 678-3699 | iee@columbia.edu