Educating for Industry: Allentown's Vocational Program

A native Pennsylvanian who attended Dickinson College and took his doctorate in education at Penn State in 1947, JOHN I. SHUMANis assistant superintendent of schools in Allentown. He has had wide experience in both the academic and the vocational areas of public education. In the preparation of his pa per Mr. Shuman has had the cooperation of Clifford S. Bartholomew, principal of the William Allen High School, and George W. Elison, director of vocational and adult education in Allentown.

ALLENTOWN, nestled in the Lehigh Valley, within easy reach of six colleges and innumerable industries, is a community largely of Pennsylvania German origin whose needs have been anticipated by the curriculum of its oldest high school, the William Allen High School. In reaching for the utmost in educational opportunity for each student, Allen High School, within a comprehensive framework and without neglecting its academic standing, has over the years achieved a signal success in vocational-technical education.

Our academic program maintains a high standard of excellence, as evidenced by the achievements of the students who have passed through it. Our vocational program has distinguished itself by its quality and the records of its graduates as key men in business and industry. Special opportunities have been provided for both the gifted pupils and slow learners. An attempt has been made to give each pupil the kind of education that is best for him.

Here is a breakdown of the school community in the William Allen High School: of the 2803 pupils, 1311 are enrolled in the college preparatory curriculum, 727 in business education, 613 in technical and industrial courses, and 79 in general education. Seventy-three students are in courses designed for those requiring special education. One of the effects of strong vocational-technical and business curricula is evident in this distribution of students — that is, only 79 pupils are to be found in the general curriculum. This is a much smaller proportion of pupils than is ordinarily found in the general curriculum of the usual American high school. It is so small because pupils have been able to enroll in a curriculum in which they are interested and which gives them realistic goals.

Nor is there any strong feeling of so-called “dumping of poorer students” into the different departments. It is far better to have the student elect a curriculum in which he will have interests and the requisite aptitudes, and then have him select within that curriculum courses suitable to his level, than it is to have him take courses not suited to his needs.

Extension of the curriculum to provide for the academically able has resulted in honors courses in English, social studies, mathematics, and the sciences. Honors courses in the tenth and eleventh grades provide sequential preparation for advanced placement courses in the twelfth grade. Pupils are admitted to the honors program on the recommendation of their teachers, the results of achievement and ability tests, and demonstration of their willingness to accept the intellectual and emotional challenges of the course. In the senior year there are advanced placement classes in English, European and American history, mathematics, chemistry, and physics.

The honors and advanced placement courses in science are freshman college chemistry, quantitative analysis, organic chemistry, and chemical instrumentation. In English the honors and advanced placement courses provide for work in small groups and for much independent study and writing. Students working independently are excused from regular assignments. They may undertake, for example, the production of short literary works of their own — essays, fiction, or poetry. Drills and the dull routine of many once mediocre classes are avoided. The mathematics courses at this level make full use of a contemporary approach Stressing thinking, discovery, and the structure of mathematics. Enrollment in these courses totals 285. Forty-two percent of the Allen High School graduates continue their education in institutions of higher learning; 85 colleges are represented.


Until 1959, the Allentown High School was the only high school in a city of 109,000 people. The student body numbered around 3000 students. In 1959 a second high school was opened, the Louis E. Dieruff High School, with an enrollment of 1310, and it is still developing. William Allen High School currently enrolls about 68 percent of the public senior high school pupils. It has had a vocational, industrial, and technical program for many decades. About half the Dieruff High School students registered in the vocational-technical curricula take their shop and laboratory work in the vocational-technical center on the Allen High School campus. In the future, these two high schools working together will develop a citywide system of vocational-technical education instead of maintaining duplicate departments in each.

There are a number of reasons why our vocational education has developed so successfully. First of all, the people most closely involved in the running of the school system had an honest conviction that good vocational-technical education was a necessary part of a comprehensive program of education and that it could be integrated with the academic program without sacrificing quality in either. The principals of the William Allen High School have had an intimate acquaintance with the crafts and with industry, and have been enthusiastic about giving training in occupations.

The directors of vocational education have been as professionally competent as the academic personnel of the school district. The teaching staff is competent technically and professionally and is respected by industry. They are teachers who take pride in excellence in their respective fields.

The members of the school board respect all occupations and have permitted the administration considerable professional freedom in developing the vocational-technical program. All these persons created a climate in which vocationaltechnical education had dignity and status and could grow.

Furthermore, the school has stayed close to the needs of the community and of industry, and as a result, to the needs of the individual student. For example, in 1950 the vocational-industrial department had five carpentry and cabinetmaking instructors; today it has three. This change in emphasis followed very closely the disappearance of the major furniture manufacturing plants from the area. Contrariwise, in 1950 the school offered no television or electronics courses, although there were courses in electrical construction and power electricity. Today there are four different electrical courses, one of them an extensive and highly technical electronics course. This new course was instituted to meet new developments in our technology, and it grew as our local electronics industry grew.

In response to changes in the nature of occupations in Allentown, several new courses have been added during the last seven years; namely, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, industrial electronics, chemical technology, medical and dental assisting, data processing and computer programming. These courses are offered to both high school students and graduates. Although the community does not have a community college, the school board operates these courses for high school graduates who need them for economic reasons or who want to enter these areas of work.

We believe that the greatest gap in American education today is in the field of post-high-school technical education. Technological developments within the last decade have forced the issue upon the schools. The facts of our industrial society make it clear that at both the high school and posthigh-school levels we must prepare workers for jobs that have demands for knowledge and skills which fall between those of the craftsman and the professional worker. Consequently, we try to assist these high school graduates also to continue their education.

Meantime, other courses had to be upgraded to keep pace with technical developments in industry. Offset printing was added to letterpress printing. In the drafting courses machine design was added, and the teaching of mathematics was done in considerable depth so that the students could better cope with design problems. With each change or addition, the training of our teachers was improved so that they could teach the newer technologies. Local industries were glad to assist us and took the teachers into their plants for instruction. Frequently the teachers taught themselves. These curriculum developments indicate how the school has changed with the times.

Ten years ago all students taking vocationalindustrial education took their mathematics, English, and history in their own separate classes.

Today this is still the practice for some, but for many others there are very significant differences. For example, any student who is able academically and who is enrolled in the technical-level program takes his academic subjects in regular college preparatory classes. We believe that academically able technical students should take academic subjects under the best academic teachers and with good college preparatory groups. These students are really enrolled in a dual-purpose course which is both technical and academic and committed to a high standard of academic and technical excellence. Such graduates are highly desirable engineering students or technicians. On the other hand, the vocational chemical-technology laboratory is available for instruction in instrumentation to college preparatory students in advanced placement chemistry; the electronics laboratory is used to teach precollege students those phases of physics they can best learn here. As a result, there can be a free flow of students between the departments.

In addition to the academic classroom work, all industrial and technical students are regularly taught the necessary applications of mathematics, science, and English in their shops and laboratories. Instruction will vary from the basic arithmetic used in estimating a job by a bricklaying student, to vector analysis, trigonometry, and calculus in the electronics class, or to a technical report based on research conducted by the chemical technology students. In many instances the mathematics taught in the laboratory goes beyond that taught in more formal classroom procedures.


One of the keys to the changing pattern of the vocational, industrial, and technical courses and to the good relations with industry is the extensive network of advisory committees which the high school has recruited from industry.

First, the plant managers of area industrial plants have made public education one of their chief concerns and have served in a general advisory capacity. They actually constitute a small top-level steering committee on policy, and they have been helpful in keeping the school administration informed of coming trends and of changes in technology.

Second, currently 148 men and women from local industry serve on advisory committees in specific occupational areas; they meet as individual committees on call, and once each year all convene at one large general meeting, following which they inspect the laboratories and talk personally with each instructor about his course, his objectives, and his problems. The committee meetings are giveand-take sessions at which both industry and school representatives express their views frankly.

The recommendations of these committees guide the administration in its future planning — and their recommendations are taken seriously for the simple reason that each advisory committee consists of competent men and women who are actually working in the occupations they represent. Committee members are largely foremen, supervisors, heads of maintenance departments, owners of small industrial concerns, engineers, draftsmen. In other words, these are working committees consisting of men who can tell us if need be how to cross the t’s and dot the i’s in their respective fields. For example, the advisory committee on plumbing and air conditioning has among its membership: The manager of a plumbing and heating contracting and repair service, the foreman of maintenance for Western Electric Company, the secretary of the joint apprenticeship committee for the United Association of Plumbers and Fitters, the vice president of an air conditioning company, and the city plumbing inspector.

The results of one advisory committee’s work can be seen in the recent development of courses in chemical technology. A preliminary survey of the Allentown area indicated that there was a growing need for technicians to provide supporting services to chemists and chemical engineers employed by area industries. The good relations with local industry made it possible to appoint an advisory committee with a wide range of experiences. The nine men on this committee include two professors from local universities, representatives from companies engaged in the processing of ferrous and non ferrous metals, a chemist from a large electronics manufacturing firm, and two chemists from companies engaged in the manufacture of chemicals. They met with the director of vocational and adult education regularly for over a year. As a result, two separate courses in chemical technology have been developed. One course is for students still in high school, the other for those who desire to take this highly intensive program for a year beyond their graduation. The high school course covers general chemistry and qualitative analysis in grade 10, quantitative analysis and organic chemistry in grade 11, and instrumentation in grade 12.

Our instrumentation laboratory is well equipped and represents a new area of instruction in high school chemistry. Equipment is available to conduct analytical techniques such as infrared, ultraviolet, and visible spectroscopy, gas chromatography, polarography, and polarizing microscopy. The results of modern instrumentation are also found in the use of analytical balances. Students are instructed in the use of chainomatic adjusted balances in the early phases of the course, then change to the use of electric balances. This permits them to become familiar with both the old and the new techniques.

Although the objective of the course is to prepare students for beginning positions as chemical technicians, it was recognized that a broad academic program would be required to build a foundation for future growth and also to make it possible for the students to enter institutions of higher education if they should desire to do so.

Therefore, students enrolled in the chemical technology course are placed in college preparatory sections for all other subjects of their educational program. This makes a very rigorous program and requires the selection of students who have the ability and willingness to handle the program.

The work of the chemical technology advisory committee did not stop once these courses were developed. It continues to meet to assist the teachers in maintaining an up-to-date program; to help in evaluating the results of instruction; and when the occasion requires, to discuss with these classes such highly specialized fields as spectrophotometry and chromatography. Committees like this one, operating in each area of instruction provided by the industrial-technical department, play an important part in maintaining a dynamic program.

Parenthetically, it should be mentioned here that similar committees of interested citizens have been organized and also meet in other areas of instruction, such as business education.


The instructors and the administration do not wait for graduation to assist the student in locating a job consistent with his ability and his objectives. Between 60 and 125 of these students are placed during the school year on cooperative jobs in industry. As the senior year passes, the number working cooperatively in industry increases. In the average American high school, vocational guidance and placement are both neglected areas. In Allentown the cooperative training program helps a boy to find himself as a worker; it permits effective placement prior to graduation, so that 85 percent or more of these students stay with the employer following graduation.

For many years Allentown has worked diligently at its cooperative program. Cooperative training differs in certain respects from the typical work experience program. In the cooperative program the student is allowed to work only in an occupational area in which he has received some training and in which he can perform competently. He is placed in a job consistent with occupational and life objectives which are reasonable for him. The job is one which continues to advance the training of the student.

How is this accomplished?

In actuality the cooperative program takes boys from the vocational department and places them directly at work in industry. The cooperative boys spend three weeks in a shop and the next three weeks attending high school for classroom work. However, the boys must meet definite standards. They must have completed at least a year and a half of trade or technical training, and must have good attitudes and good work habits.

The employer who takes the boy into the shop is closely investigated and must meet certain standards. The job must also be related to the occupational area the boy is studying in school. Employers agree to provide cooperative on-the-job training under the direction of skilled workmen and to assume responsibility for the boy’s attendance and rating or grades.

The students are under close check. While working in industry the cooperative pupils are kept under supervision by the school. At least once in each three-week period either the coordinator or the head shop teacher visits the boy at the plant or on the job, and his work is checked. If either the student’s work or working conditions are found unsatisfactory, he is recalled to the school shop for further basic training. Also if the training situation is found unsatisfactory, the boy is withdrawn and an attempt is made to place him with another firm in the cooperative placement program. While they are working in industry, the boys are paid prevailing apprentice or learner wages. We never make a cooperative placement if it would mean that some man would lose his job.

The cooperative training program has been vital to adequate guidance and job placement of the graduates. It has served a further purpose — that of bringing teachers into close working contact with their peers in industry. The teacher is the key; he must know enough about the cooperative job, the personnel in the plant, and the youth to match them properly.

We believe that one learns best by doing. In the industrial-technical courses the shop and the laboratory are the centers about which the students’ schedules revolve. In the craft and skilled-trade areas, one half of the school day is spent here; in the technical areas, fully one third of the time is devoted to laboratory work. Why? Because we want the student to have a background of experiences on which he can base his learning and his thinking or problem solving.

The challenge of good workmanship and success in meeting the standards of an occupational field give the student yardsticks to measure his performance. The school industrial shop, the science laboratory, and the computer room give him access to real experiences.

Many students learn things most readily by doing things, seeing things, and reading and reasoning about them at the same time. The starting point for many should be the laboratory plus the textbook and other learning aids. Here learning proceeds from the experience to the theory and the scientific principle behind the experience; thus, comprehension, achievement, and performance are all increased.


A strong vocational, industrial, and technical department enhances other areas of instruction in our schools by making education a realistic and a dynamic process for many students and by providing supporting services. For example, few academic teachers of physics have the equipment or the background to present the more advanced concepts of electronics. The electronics technology teacher has this knowledge and is thus able to enrich the physics program. Similar examples can be found in chemical technology and data processing. For example, the development of the chemical technology program which we have described at some length has permitted the Allentown schools to expand course offerings in three directions.

First is the high school program which we have described; second is a full-time post-high-school program in chemical technology which was developed at the same time; and third is the utilization of this facility by advanced chemistry students enrolled in the college preparatory curriculum. It is interesting that these three groups are able to work together in the laboratory without problems.

On the other hand, a good academic program can contribute to the vocational-technical by providing assistance in the development of programs of mathematics, science, economics, technical report writing, the humanities, and other activities.

The question of the effect on the dropout problem inevitably arises. Recently the National Education Association released a study of the holding power of school systems in 128 large cities, population over 90,000, based on the graduating classes of 1960—1963. In these cities, of the classes of 1963, 70.8 percent of the pupils who had enrolled in grade 10 graduated; the national average was 76 percent. At the same time the William Allen High School graduated, in June of 1963, 86 percent of the number who had entered the tenth grade in September of 1960; and in June of 1964, 91 percent of the number who entered the tenth grade in 1961.

The industrial-technical program is certainly not proposed as the solution to the dropout problem, but if holding power indicates the degree to which a school meets the needs of the total student body, then the William Allen High School may claim to have achieved some success.

High school years are the years of the individual; these are the years he begins to assert himself. His prospective career and interests determine his educational path, and the student who finds in high school little that is realistic for him or that interests him is a potential dropout. Those who ignore the needs and interests of youth ignore the strongest motivational factors in the lives of these students. It is urgent that we realign our perspectives of both vocational and academic education. The traditional view that vocational versus college preparatory work is a clear dichotomy is no longer tenable. All students, insofar as possible, must be permitted to follow curricula from which they may either continue their education beyond high school or enter an occupation for which they have basic preparation. Either should be possible.

This philosophy leads inevitably to an organization of vocational education in the high school serving three broad occupational groups: those who will attend college and enter the professions; those who will enter technical education via the community college; and those who will enter industry after graduation at the semiskilled, the craft, or the technical level.

The William Allen High School has developed as a truly comprehensive high school because it has been large enough to provide for diversity in the needs of its students; it has been able to provide programs of excellence for all the children of the community. Furthermore, Allentown has consistently had good school boards. And the public schools have consistently had able administrative leadership under administrators who accepted their responsibility to provide a comprehensive educational program for all youth. Above all, vocational, industrial, and technical education has always been looked upon for what it is — good education dignified by its excellence, by its representatives, and by its graduates.

This series on outstanding high schools will turn next to the Midwest to discuss the Dunbar High School of Chicago.