16 minute read

Business Education

College And Graduate Study, Preparation Of TeachersSCHOOL

Tena B. Crews
Wanda L. Stitt-Gohdes

Kwabena Dei Ofori-Attah

Judith J. Lambrecht


For many years, business education has been defined as the courses at the secondary level that prepare students for the business world. While that definition continued to have validity at the beginning of the twenty-first century, by then the range of the courses had expanded to include preparation for additional study at postsecondary institutions. As business education courses changed over the years, so did the level at which the classes are taught. For example, computer applications courses are often taken at the middle school level and keyboarding may be introduced in the third grade. Secondary level courses include accounting and management, but also branch into technology-based courses such as desktop publishing, multimedia, computerized accounting, and web page design.

The advent of business education in America occurred when the Plymouth Colony hired a school teacher to teach reading, writing, and casting accounts. Casting accounts, the predecessor to accounting, was a subject taught in business arithmetic. Signs of early school-to-work initiatives were evident as students who wanted a commerce or business career left school to work as an apprentice. It should not be surprising, then, that bookkeeping was the earliest business course taught in public schools, being offered in Boston in 1709, in New York City in 1731, and in Philadelphia in 1733.

The founding of Benjamin Franklin's Academy in 1749 was a significant event for business education. The Academy had three departments: the Latin School, the English School, and the Mathematical School. Business subjects offered included "accounts, French, German, and Spanish for merchants; history of commerce; rise of manufacturers; progress and changing seats of trade" (Hosler, p. 3). By 1827 Massachusetts passed legislation requiring municipalities with 500 or more families to establish a high school; Bookkeeping was one of the specific courses that had to be offered. During this time private business colleges opened to meet the increasing demand for well-educated business workers.

Several occurrences in the 1860s hastened the development of business education as an area of study. In 1862 the Morrill Act, more commonly referred to as the land-grant act, gave every state 30,000 acres of land for every congressional representative to establish a college for agricultural, mechanical arts, and business instruction. Also in 1862 shorthand was first offered in public high schools; the first comprehensive high school, which offered both college preparatory and vocational programs of study, was established. Educators generally accept this as the most important contribution to education. Finally, in 1868 Christopher Sholes invented the first practical typewriter. Historically, typewriting and subsequently keyboarding courses frequently encouraged students to enroll in additional business education courses. In the late 1800s John Robert Gregg brought his shorthand system to the United States from Great Britain and "by 1935 it was offered in 96 percent of public high schools teaching shorthand in this country" (Hosler, p. 10).

A turning point regarding business education curriculum occurred in 1946 with the invention of the first electronic computer, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator). As might be expected, the 1960s brought significant change in business education. IBM introduced the first Selectric typewriter in 1961 and the Magnetic Tape Selectric typewriter in 1964. In 1962 the United Business Education Association (UBEA) changed its name to the National Business Education Association (NBEA). In 1963 the Joint Council on Economic Education brought together "over 60 collegiate and secondary school business educators … to discuss how economics could be implemented in business courses" (Hosler, p. 23). That same year the National Business Education Association published the first NBEA Yearbook. The year 1965 saw the first minicomputer invented and word processing was then offered as a part of the business education curriculum. This marked the beginning of dramatic curricular change in business education.

The 1980s saw an era of standards development and the need for increased accountability. In 1983 the U.S. Department of Education accepted the Standards for Excellence in Business Education, developed by Calfrey C. Calhoun. This was followed in 1985 by The Unfinished Agenda, The Role of Vocational Education in the High School, and in 1987 bythe Database of Competencies for Business Curriculum Development, K–14 and the Business Teacher Education Curriculum Guide. The National Association of Business Teacher Educators (NABTE) published Standards for Business Teacher Education in 1988. All these efforts affected business education curriculum and standards from kindergarten through graduate school.

The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report, Learning a Living: A Blueprint for High Performance, was published in 1992. It provided clear guidelines regarding foundational skills needed for workplace success. This was followed in 1994 by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. The Goals 2000 Act, as it is often called, codified into law the six original education goals:

  1. School readiness
  2. School completion
  3. Student academic achievement
  4. Leadership in math and science
  5. Adult literacy
  6. Safe and drug-free school

Two new goals were also added to encourage teacher professional development and parental participation. This act also established the National Skills Standards Board to develop voluntary national skill standards.

Federal Legislation

As the nation grew and developed, and the economy changed from agrarian to industrial to technological, a number of factors consistently have influenced funding for educational endeavors. A few of these influences include the economy, society, demo-graphics, and technological advances. Beginning in 1862 with the passage of the Morrill Act, the U.S. government supported vocational education. However, it took nearly one hundred years after the Morrill Act for business education to be brought under the vocational education umbrella. And yet, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, some continue to hold the opinion that business education is not vocational education. However, the following definition of vocational education provided by the 1990 Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, challenges that perspective: "organized educational programs offering a sequence of courses which are directly related to the preparation of individuals in paid or unpaid employment in current or emerging occupations requiring other than a baccalaureate or advanced degree" (Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski, p. 3). Clearly, business education at both the middle and high school levels falls under this definition. The value and merit of secondary business education programs is their ability to enable a student to pursue a program of study, graduate, and successfully move into the workforce or postsecondary education.

The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, also known as the Vocational Act of 1917, promoted the vocational education programs of agriculture, trade and industry, and home economics. Key elements of this legislation defined vocational education as "less than college grade, for persons over 14 years of age who desire day time training, and for persons over 16 years of age who seek evening class training" (Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski, p. 122). This legislation also provided funding for teachers' salaries for the three program areas.

With the Vocational Act of 1963, the definition of vocational education was broadened to include "any program designed to fit individuals for gainful employment in business and office occupations" (Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski, p. 130). This was the first piece of federal legislation to specifically include business education. Vocational education funding was amended several times in the 1970s; however, the passage of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act of 1984 brought with it a stronger emphasis on local control. "The act had two interrelated goals, one economic and one social. The economic goal was to improve the skills of the labor force and prepare adults for job opportunities–a long-standing goal traceable to the Smith-Hughes Act. The social goal was to provide equal opportunities for adults in vocational education" (Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski, p. 145). The 1984 Perkins Act was amended in 1990 and renamed the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act. This act was significant for two reasons: first, a major goal was increased vocational opportunities for the disadvantaged; and second, funds were authorized for technical preparation (tech-prep) programs. Tech-prep programs are often referred to as 2+2+2, which refers to the articulated agreements between two years of concentrated vocational coursework at the high school level plus two years of advanced technical education at the postsecondary level and the potential for an additional two years of education leading to the baccalaureate degree. An important part of the Perkins legislation was the requirement of implementing state councils on vocational education and the development of long-term state plans for vocational education.

The Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994 had as its goal the development of national goals and standards and assistance to states in helping students reach these goals and, in turn, helping them succeed in a technology-based economy and society. A key part of this legislation was the creation of a National Skills Standards Board "to stimulate the development of a voluntary national system of occupation standards and certification" (Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski, p. 156).

"The School-to-Work Opportunities Act (1994) was passed to address the national skills shortage by providing a framework to build a high skilled workforce for our nation's economy through partnerships between educators and employers" (Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski, p. 157). It was hoped the School-to-Work Opportunities Act (STWOA) would encourage the integration of academic and vocational courses, improve career guidance, and include work-based learning, many times in the form of apprenticeships.

In 1998 the Carl D. Perkins Vocational-Technical Education Act was amended. The amendments included more funding at the local level and required an equity coordinator in every state. While business education is specifically included in little federal legislation, the impact of federal legislation is felt in every business education program today. Not only does the funding provide computers for classrooms, more importantly it provides for exploratory courses at the middle school level and career guidance, which helps students imagine opportunities available to them in the world of work and for which business education is a key factor.


Certification is the process by which an individual becomes licensed to teach in a particular subject area or grade level. All fifty states have various routes to certification; however, common elements include a baccalaureate degree and some competency test. Typical baccalaureate degree programs include a liberal arts core and upper division courses in business education subject matter and professional education, including a teaching internship. In recent years a number of states have moved to using the Praxis II subject-area test in Business Education as the competency test. The advantage of this test for teachers is its mobility, allowing a person to earn a degree in one state and meet certification requirements there, and move to another state and already have met its certification requirements.

Teaching certification is not a lifelong certification. Certificates must be renewed over a period of time, such as every five years. States require a varying number of either graduate credit hours or continuing education units over a specified period of time for teachers to retain for their certification. Typically, colleges and universities use certification guidelines in planning their pre-service teacher preparation programs. These programs are reviewed periodically by the associations that accredit them.


The primary mission of business education is to provide instruction for and about business. In the past, courses such as accounting, data processing, economics, shorthand, typing, basic business, business law, business math, office procedures, and business communication were taught as a part of the business education curriculum. Many of these courses continue to be taught, but the content and technology aspect has changed drastically. Common business education courses now include computerized accounting, business management, business law, economics, entrepreneurship, international business, word processing, desktop publishing, multimedia computer programming, and web page design. Keyboarding is still taught in some business education programs as a separate course or as a four-to six-week part of a semester course in computer applications, but there is a push to teach keyboarding at a much earlier stage in education. Many schools teach keyboarding at the middle school level and some offer keyboarding as early as the third grade.

Historically, curriculum was developed on a course-by-course basis; and the courses were seen as separate entities. Today a much more integrated approach is taken to ensure business skills at many levels throughout the curriculum. National standards have been incorporated into business education in the United States. In 1995 the National Business Education Association revised existing standards that were developed around specific courses offered. The revised standards centered around twelve topical areas: accounting, business law, career development, communications, computations, economics, personal finance, entrepreneurship, information systems, international business, management, marketing, and interrelationships of business. In 1995 the NBEA determined the following standards that exemplify what America's students should know and be able to do in business:

  1. Function as economically literate citizens through the development of personal consumer economic skills, a knowledge of social and government responsibility, and an understanding of business operations.
  2. Demonstrate interpersonal, teamwork, and leadership skills necessary to function in multicultural business settings.
  3. Develop career awareness and related skills to enable them to make viable career choices and become employable in a variety of business careers.
  4. Select and apply the tools of technology as they relate to personal and business decision making.
  5. Communicate effectively as writers, listeners, and speakers in social and business settings.
  6. Use accounting procedures to make decisions about planning, organizing, and allocating resources.
  7. Apply the principles of law in personal and business settings.
  8. Prepare to become entrepreneurs by drawing from their general understanding of all aspects of business.
  9. Understand the interrelationships of different functional areas of business and the impact of one component on another.
  10. Develop the ability to participate in business transactions in both the domestic and international arenas.
  11. Develop the ability to market the assets each individual has whether they be in the labor market or in the consumer goods market.
  12. Manage data from all of the functional areas of business needed to make wise management decisions.
  13. Utilize analytical tools needed to understand and make reasoned decisions about economic issues–both personal and societal.

The NBEA standards were developed by business educators at every level and are revised periodically. They were also developed with the belief that business education courses are designed for all students who need a general understanding of the role of business and its role in the economy.

The curriculum has developed into a criticalthinking curriculum with software applications combined. The students create real-world projects and are being taught about the "business of business" and not just simply how to create an accounting spreadsheet or use a word-processing software package. Topics such as ethics, diversity in today's society, global society, online learning, and emerging technology are also incorporated into the curriculum.

Work-experience programs are also a viable part of the business education curriculum. States have implemented different regulations, but many states have Cooperative Business Education (CBE) and/or apprenticeship programs associated with business education. Normally a course or courses are associated with the work-experience program, and students are given a specific amount of release time from school to work.

The connection between school and work has always been an important part of business education. These programs give the students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a real-world setting. It also gives them the opportunity to increase necessary business skills and connect their classroom knowledge to the business environment.

Student Organizations

Business education students have two student organizations from which to choose: Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and Business Professionals of America. In 1942 the National Council for Business Education sponsored the first FBLA chapter in Johnson City, Tennessee. Four years later the sponsorship was transferred to the then UBEA, now NBEA. In 1969 FBLA became an independent association. In 1958 Phi Beta Lambda, a collegiate division of FBLA was organized. Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski stated the purpose of FBLA-PBL is "to provide … opportunities for students in business and office education to develop vocational and career supportive competencies, and to promote civic and personal responsibilities" (p. 188).

International Business Education

The International Society for Business Education (ISBE) is an organization for anyone interested in international business education. Membership includes teachers, trainers, and administrators; however, collective memberships are also available to organizations, such as educational institutions, governmental and other agencies, industry, trade unions, and employers' associations. ISBE was founded in 1901 in Zurich, Switzerland. Approximately twenty countries worldwide have membership in ISBE. Groups from Eastern Europe, the Far East, Central and South America, and Africa are expected to join in the near future.


Educational environments experience continuous change and business education is no exception. Although it is clear that technology is an integral part of business education in the early twenty-first century at every level, a continuing question revolves around the appropriate use of technology: Does it drive the curriculum or should it be viewed as one tool in the curriculum toolbox? Distance learning and online learning are trends in the delivery systems. Providing educational excellence in a multi-faceted technological environment is a huge challenge. Accountability for the education of students results in a careful approach to many areas in education and technological applications are no exception. As business changes, business education must continue to change to keep up with the needs of business.

Certification in many areas such as Microsoft Office User Specialist (MOUS), A++ (the name of the certification for networking), Certified Novell Administrator (CNA), and many others are also being considered at the secondary level. Some courses are being designed so that the students will either become certified by the end of the course or be given the information to obtain certification on their own at the end of the course. Certification is obtained from an accrediting organization and may involve taking a test, depending on the type of certification.


The shortage of business education teachers is definitely an additional challenge. Alternative certification processes are being developed in many areas of the country to address this shortage. Incentives such as scholarships or grants are also being allocated to encourage adults to choose business education as a major at the postsecondary level.

The ever-changing role of technology continues to be a challenge for all educators, but especially business educators. Business education teachers are constantly required to update their software and hardware skills as well as learn new technologicallybased information. The incorporation of this new knowledge and the constant maintenance and updating of hardware is a real challenge for business educators.

Future Directions

Students may choose to take business education courses for a variety of reasons, such as learning about business, updating technology skills, and exploring career options. No matter what their reason, it is necessary for the business educators to provide those students with the skills to become productive and active members of society.


HOSLER, MARY MARGARET, ed. 2000. A Chronology of Business Education in the United States 1635–2000. Reston, VA: National Business Education Association.

LYNCH, RICHARD L. 1996. "Principles of Vocational and Technical Teacher Education." In Beyond Tradition: Preparing the Teachers of Tomorrow's Workforce, eds. Nancy K. Hartley and Tim L. Wentling. Columbia, MO: University Council for Vocational Education.

NANASSY, LOUIS C.; MALSBARY, DEAN R.; and TONNE, HERBERT A. 1977. Principles and Trends in Business Education. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

NATIONAL BUSINESS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION. 1995. National Business Education Standards. Reston, VA: National Business Education Association.

NATIONAL BUSINESS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION. 1999. The Twenty-First Century: Meeting The Challenges to Business Education. Reston, VA: National Business Education Association

SCHRAG, ADELE F., and POLAND, ROBERT P. 1987. A System for Teaching Business Education, 2nd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

SCOTT, JOHN L., and SARKEES-WIRCENSKI, MICHELE. 1996. Overview of Vocational and Applied Technology Education. Homewood, IL: American Technical.





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