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School-to-work and beyond

For many students, class work and paid work seem worlds apart. As Irene Brand observed, "Sometimes in class I'm wondering, How does what I'm learning relate to the job I will do after I graduate? How does it fit in? Do I really need this? They should start making school more career-oriented, and gear some of the classes more toward what each student wants to do."

It is precisely the desire to link academic learning with individual career goals that has inspired a cluster of educational reforms in the last decade known collectively as the "school-to-work" or "school-to-career" movement. According to its adherents, high school curricula should connect rigorous academic learning with on-the-job experiences and offer teenagers high-quality career exploration and counseling to help smooth the transition from school to career. This idea has been particularly attractive in urban districts and other places where school reform has received significant attention. In 1994, Congress passed the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, whose mandate was to improve the transition from school to work for all American youth by providing local communities with federal grants to help integrate school-based and work-based learning.

In the past decade, many school districts throughout New England have developed special schools or programs that reflect the school-to-career philosophy. Boston has the oldest and, in some ways, most developed initiatives; the entire school district is involved and the program has a dedicated staff that takes the lead in organizing employers. Pro Tech, one of its longest running programs, was launched in 1991 in the hospital industry and later expanded to include financial services, business services, and communications and utilities.

In Rhode Island, a number of city high schools have also partnered with local businesses. At Providence Place Academy, tagged the "mall school," the curriculum emphasizes retail skills, and students are required to complete internships at local stores such as CVS, Filene's, and Godiva Chocolatier. At Portsmouth's Newport Area Career and Technical Center, students in the marine occupations program have worked with boat builders on the shop floor of Vanguard Sailboats and at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport.

Nowhere has the school-to-career ethos led to more sweeping reform than at Providence's Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center. "The Met," which accepts just 200 students, has almost completely dispensed with the trappings of a traditional high school education. Although students are expected to take at least one course at a local college campus before graduating, the high school itself administers no exams and teaches no classes in the formal sense. Instead, faculty "advisors" help place each student in a two-day-a-week internship reflecting his or her "passions and interests," devise an academic program to complement each student's internship experience, and offer individualized mentoring and instruction.

The task of evaluating school-to-career programs has been complicated by the movement's loose definitional boundaries. "School-to-work" is itself an umbrella term that encompasses such diverse programs as job shadowing (in which students shadow workers at a work site), mentoring (in which students are matched with individual mentors pursuing their chosen career), cooperative education (combining academic and vocational studies with a job in a related field), career major programs (offering a defined sequence of courses to further a particular occupational goal), internships, and apprenticeships.

Partly because of the movement's recent vintage, no consensus has yet emerged as to whether the programs have lived up to their promise. In a study of a California high school composed of small, career-related learning communities, USC doctoral candidate Jeffrey Hittenberger found that a group of 48 sophomores who were randomly selected to participate in a global business academy had better attendance and grades than peers at the same school. However, in a larger study of New York City academic career magnet programs, Robert Crain and coauthors found that randomly selected program participants had lower high school graduation rates than those who were not selected-perhaps because career programs were more academically demanding-although participants were less likely to smoke or drink, and more likely to earn college credits.

The most recent assessment, a review of school-to-work programs by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, finds some successes, but also room for improvement. The study's authors conclude that school-to-work programs serve a broad cross-section of students-performing at both high and low levels-thereby serving as a vehicle for detracking. Participants tend to take difficult courses, and the programs can improve attendance, grades, and graduation rates. However, the authors note the lack of evidence on whether programs raise standardized test scores, and the limited evidence on whether they have a positive impact on college enrollment, graduation, and longer-term labor market success. Full implementation of the program model which requires coordinated curriculum between employers and schools may help. Evidence from high-performing Pro Tech programs, such as Madison Park Utilities and Communications, suggests that better implementation might improve high school grades and attendance.

Federal grant-giving legislation and aid-roughly $2 billion over the past seven years-will sunset this fall, so the school-to-career movement may lose strength in the upcoming decade. Increased emphasis on tests as a requirement for high school graduation may also create challenges, since it has so far proved difficult to demonstrate that school-to-work programs raise academic achievement as measured by standardized test scores.

Whatever its success as a method of educational reform, school-to-career programs have encouraged schools across the country to recognize the centrality of paid work in teenagers' lives and begin exploring synergies between workplace experiences and classroom learning. The research is unequivocal on one point: Part-time work is already a fact of life for most American teenagers. The continuing challenge is to use the policy instruments at our disposal-child labor laws, educational reforms, and career counseling programs-to minimize its short-term risks and enhance its long-term benefits.

Regulating Teen Labor
Just a century ago, the United States had no federal law in place that restricted or controlled child labor. Although some states took the lead and passed their own laws as early as the nineteenth century, it was not until 1938 that Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which restricted the ages, hours, and working conditions of school-age workers. The standards embodied in the FLSA are still with us today, but its provisions have evolved over the past sixty years.

An important characteristic of the FSLA is its limited coverage. The Act applies only to workplaces that are engaged in interstate commerce and have annual gross revenue of at least $500,000. Child actors, migrant farm workers, newspaper deliverers, and home wreath makers are entirely exempt. Children working for their parents are also exempt as long as they are not working in occupations deemed especially hazardous, such as manufacturing and mining. The agricultural sector is subject to especially lenient regulation. At age 14, child farm workers can choose their own hours, as long as they don't work while school is in session. Children even younger than 14 can perform hazardous tasks on a farm for their parents, and when they turn 16 years old, they can perform hazardous farm jobs for any employer.

For teens who don't fall under these exceptions, the FLSA regulates two aspects of employment: working hours and hazardous occupations. On school days, working teens 15 years old and under can work up to three hours a day and 18 hours a week. On non-school days, teens 15 years and under can work up to eight hours a day and 40 hours a week. Teens over 15 are not subject to any federal hours restrictions.

Restrictions on hazardous occupations apply to all teens under 18 years in nonagricultural occupations. The current list of banned jobs includes mining, working with explosives, driving vehicles with passengers, roofing, wrecking and demolition, meat packing, and slaughtering. Some argue that the list is incomplete and outdated, omitting occupations such as those that involve exposure to carcinogens and biohazards.

Federal regulations set minimum standards but these can also be overlaid by state laws. Some states have tightened hours restrictions, expanded the list of hazardous occupations, and plugged the gaps in FLSA coverage. Others have chosen standards that are more lax than the federal ones (which means that employers under FLSA are bound by federal law). This two-tiered regulatory structure has created wide disparities in the legal regulation of working teens. So have differences in enforcement. Some states allocate considerable funds; others do not. Some hire enforcement officials who specialize in child labor laws; others leave the task to the officials who enforce every other state labor law.

Evidence suggests that violations are common. In 1998, Douglas Kruse and Douglas Mahony estimated that during an average week about 148,000 minors were working in violation of the law. They also found that youths in banned occupations were paid $1.38 less per hour than adults in the same job, saving employers about $155 million per year.

Emily Payet's employer (see main story) appears to be violating several federal and Massachusetts laws: All workers (not just teens) who work more than six hours in a day are entitled to a thirty-minute meal break, and no worker under 18 years of age is allowed to start work until 6:00 a.m. or to work more than nine hours per day. Whether her employer is deliberately flouting the law is not clear. What is clear is that teens like Emily and her coworkers are often too worried about the reaction of their boss to even raise the issue.

How one employer complies
Some employers have responded to child labor laws by revising their business and personnel practices. Market Basket, a supermarket chain based in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, has taken several such measures, according to Jay Rainville, supervisor of store operations. Because a typical delicatessen contains so much age-restricted machinery (such as meat slicers and mechanical trash compactors), the company has decided not to allow employees under 18 to work in the deli. "Our in-house computer keeps track according to the employee's date of birth," Rainville explained, "so if a manager tries to punch someone in to work in the deli who is under 18, the computer automatically kicks them out."

To ensure that teenagers do not work more than the legally permissible number of hours, Market Basket does not schedule its 14- and 15-year-old employees for more than 14 hours a week. "Our policy is more restrictive than the labor laws themselves," said Rainville. "That way, if someone happens to go over their schedule here or there, we are still within the state guidelines. It'skindof a cushion."

Alison Morantz holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and a J.D. from Yale Law School. She got her first job at age 14 in Swenson's as an ice cream scooper. Shewasfiredsixweekslater.

Where Do Teens Work Percent of Employed Teens, 15 to 17 years of age, 1996-98
Industry Occupation
Eating&drinkingplaces Stockhandlers&baggers
GroceryStores Cooks
Misc. entertainment&recreationservices Cashiers
Agriculturalproduction, livestock Waiters&waitresses' assistants
Construction Misc. foodprep. occupations
Departmentstores Farmworkers
Landscape&horticulturalservices Janitors&cleaners
Newspaperpublishing&printing Foodcounter&relatedoccupations
Agriculturalproduction, crops Groundskeepers&gardeners, exceptfarm
Gasolineservicestations Salesworkers, other
Eating&drinkingplaces Cashiers
Grocerystores Foodcounter&relatedoccupations
Privatehouseholds Waiters&waitresses
Departmentstores Salesworkers, other
Misc. entertainment&recreationservices Child care workers, private household
Stores, apparel & accessory except shoe Cooks
Drugstores Stockhandlers&baggers
Nursing&personalcarefacilities Salesworkers, apparel
Retailbakeries Supervisors, of food prep. & service
Childdaycareservices Waiters&waitresses' assistants
Note: Figures are for school months, January to May and September to December Source: Report on the Youth Labor Force, U.S. Department of Labor, November 2000


How Much Do Teens Work?
Average hours at work per week for teens, 15 to 17 years of age, 1996-98
Allteens, 15 to 17 years 16.5 23.0
Age 15 11.6 18.9
Age 16 15.7 22.4
Age 17 18.2 24.9
Male 17.2 24.2
Female 15.8 21.6
White 16.4 23.0
Black 18.1 22.8
Hispanicorigin 21.0 25.1
Note: Figures are for school months, January to May and September to December Source: Report on the Youth Labor Force, U.S. Department of Labor, November 2000





Date: 2014-12-29; view: 1055

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