Examining the Impact of Tracking on Long-Term Student Outcomes

Examining the Impact of Tracking on Long-Term Student Outcomes

Edward C. Fletcher (Illinois State University, USA) and Chris Zirkle (Ohio State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-747-3.ch010
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The focus of this chapter is to review the literature dealing with the impact of tracking on long-term student outcomes, such as postsecondary education attainment and earnings potential. As a result, this chapter will examine whether the goals of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act of 1990 have been met: that is, preparing CTE students for the workforce as well as for postsecondary education. This particular legislative initiative is critical since it was the first endeavor to expand the historical goal of preparing students solely for the workforce. The discussion ends with an articulation of future trends for practice and research.
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10.1 Introduction

Vocational education and academic education has traditionally constituted two separate trajectories stratifying students with low academic promise into vocational education and students with strong academic promise into academic education, along with administering distinct curricula (Castellano, Stringfield, & Stone, 2003; Gordon, 2008; Lewis, 1998; Lynch, 2000; Plank, 2001; Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2008). As a result, vocational education and academic education had separate funding sources and had different objectives (Bragg, 1999; Castellano et al., 2003; Gordon, 2008; Gray, 1999; Gray & Herr, 1998; Lynch, 2000; Plank, 2001; Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2008). According to Lewis (1998):

The practice of dividing the curriculum into academic and vocational aspects, and treating the latter as a default for and those deemed to be ill-suited to the former, has been an enduring staple of educational systems across the globe…those who pursue the vocational route thereby effectively forfeit the opportunity to go on to university and then on to high-status jobs. (p. 284-5)

However, current educational legislation and comprehensive school reform (CSR) efforts are attempting to re-structure entire schools to promote an increasingly integrated system of CTE and traditional academic education (Castellano et al, 2003; DeLuca, Plank, & Estacion, 2006; Gordon, 2008; Hudson & Hurst, 1999; Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2008). As a result, the objectives of CTE (formerly known as vocational education) have transformed to not only preparing students for the workforce, but for postsecondary education attainment as well (Association for Career and Technical Education [ACTE], 2006; DeLuca et. al, 2006; Gordon, 2008; Hudson & Hurst, 1999; Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 2008; Stone & Aliaga, 2005). Despite this recent phenomenon, little research has been rendered examining CTE’s impact on students’ educational outcomes (Fletcher, 2009; Kulik, 1998). Kulik (1998) indicated the pressing need that exists to study CTE student outcomes by stating, “To decide whether vocational education shortchanges students, we must first know what its results are and whether they differ from results of other programs.” (p. 7)

The objectives of this chapter are first to provide a background discussion of federal legislation leading up to the current Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 that has and continues to shape the goals and direction of CTE. Second, this chapter reviews the literature regarding tracking and long-term student outcomes. Third, this chapter articulates future trends related to tracking, as well as implications for further research.

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