The Smith-Hughes Act, also known as the Vocational Act of 1917, represented the first national approval of vocational education in the public school. Written by Hoke Smith and Dudley Hughes, the act established vocational education in the areas of agriculture, trades and industry, and home economics.
In early 1914, President Woodrow Wilson appointed a commission to study national aid to vocational education. On April 2, 1914, The Commission on National Aid to Vocational Education was organized with Senator Hoke Smith as its chairman. The Commission used figures from the 1910 Census Report to stress the need for vocational education. The report stated over 12,000,000 males and females in the United States were engaged in agriculture, and over 14,000,000 were engaged in manufacturing. The report further stated it was probable that less than one percent of these individuals had adequate training (Smith, 1999).
The Smith-Hughes Act created a Federal Board of Vocational Education to establish and oversee the operation of vocational education. Also, the act mandated the creation of state boards to work in cooperation with the Federal Board of Vocational Education. States were required to submit plans for vocational programs to be offered and for teacher training in specific vocational areas. Additionally, each state was required to submit an annual report on the status of vocational education in the state.
The act specified the use of Federal money, given annually until $7,000,000 was reached, for vocational programs below baccalaureate level. Also, funding was provided to states for teacher training and half of vocational teacher's salaries. Targeted at students over the age of 14, the legislation was aimed at employment preparation. Education was required for individual who desired training in a chosen vocational area as well as those who were employed and sought additional training for improvement or advancement (Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski, 1996).
Although the act was intended to promote vocational education in the public school, several elements of the act served to separate vocational education from academic education. The Smith-Hughes Act stated funds could be used for the salaries of vocational teachers but not for the salaries of academic teachers. The act required students who received instruction from teachers paid with Federal vocational education funds to receive no more than 50 percent academic instruction. Students were taught job-specific skills but not theoretical or academic skills. This resulted in difficulties for the students when new technologies were introduced in the workplace. While these requirements were intended to protect the interest of vocational education, they ultimately served to separate vocational education from academic education (Prentice, 2001).
The Smith-Hughes Act gave vocational education a place in the public school. Before the act was implemented, the United States had 200,000 vocational students and less than three million dollars were devoted to their education. By the end of the 1950's, the number of vocational students had grown to 3.4 million with 176 million dollars spent annually on their education (Prentice, 2001).
Prentice Hall Documents Library: Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. Retrieved October 12, 2001, from http://hcl.chass.hcsu.edu/garson/dye/docs/smith917.htm
Scott, J.L. & Sarkees-Wircenski, M. (1996). Overview of vocational and applied technology education.
Homewood, IL: American Technical Publishers.
Smith, N. B. (1999, Fall). A tribute to the visionaries, prime movers and pioneers of vocational
education. Journal of Vocational and Technical Education, Volume 16, Number 1. Retrieved October
16, 2001, from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JTVE/v16n1/smith.html