To address the high school drop out rate and improve the number of students graduating from high school, educators, policymakers and community business leaders are supporting the strategy of career academies in high schools. Career academies are not the latest fad; they have been around for at least forty years. Career academy experts know what works and what doesn’t. The Career Academy Toolkit is a book that describes the process of creating and establishing a career academy in great detail.
So what are the pros and cons of these career academies? Pros for career academies are that students have improved high school attendance, additional earned credits, higher grade point averages and graduation rates, and are more career and college ready. Cons include that career academies are more expensive to establish and implement, difficult to schedule, and require partnerships between education and the community. Let’s discuss each of these pros and cons in more detail.
Pros of Career Academies:
1. Improved High School Attendance: Because students elect to be in an academy, they are more apt to attend school. The more students stay in class, the more they are motivated to learn. The more motivated students are, they more they are engaged in learning. The more engaged students are, the more they learn. This, them, becomes a circle: the more they learn, the more they are motivated to learn more.
Motivation is one of the major keys to the success of academies. Academies do several motivation strategies, such as integration of the curriculum between both academic and technical courses. Now students not only learn the knowledge, but they have the opportunity to apply it. We, at Bright Futures Press, call this “Sticky Learning.” Because academies have partnerships between the academy and the community, students can then go into the “real world” to see how their learning truly fits there. This is exciting for students and reinforces the classroom learning.
2. Additional Earned Credits: Based on pro number one, students who stay in school tend to earn more high school credits and the more high school credits students earn; the more they are apt to graduate.
3. Higher Grade Point Averages: This brings us to pro number three. Students need credits to graduate and students who stay in school earn the credits to graduate. Students on the path to graduation have more self esteem and have improved motivation to learn more, which increases their grade point averages. Students who graduate from high school are generally encouraged to attend college or post-secondary learning.
4. More Career and College Ready: Students that feel they are college ready make an effort to attend college or receive post-secondary learning. Students who immediately go to work are more readily to receive company policy and any additional training that the company supplies.
Now let’s discuss the cons of career academies. There are three major cons to career academies. One is that they are more expensive to establish and implement. The second is that they are difficult to schedule, and lastly, they require partnerships between education and the community.
Cons of Career Academies:
1. More expensive to establish and implement: Because academies include a “real world” theme with community partners, this application of the learning process requires more money for student field trips and internships, plus monies to pay for teacher externships. Additional resources does not end there, funding is needed to pay for teacher time to collaborate in the curriculum development and time to collaborate with business partners and post-secondary learning institutions. And, all of this requires more professional development for the educators. True, careers academies are more expensive to operate, but the ROI (Return on Investment) is worth it (i.e. additional revenues from improved student attendance).
2. Difficult to schedule: Due to the curriculum integration, the student field trips and internships, teaching teaming activities, career academies are a nightmare to schedule. However, many career academies have overcome this obstacle and are willing to assist high schools who have decided to establish academies. Additional resources include career academy consultants who are experts in this field and will help schools for a fee. Because these experts save both time and money, they should be considered as a viable option.
3. Partnerships between education and the community: This is the trickiest of the three cons of career academies. Business and education speak different languages and there needs to be someone who can translate what each is saying. These partnerships require both a igniting and nurturing process. Establishing the partnership is more difficult that it seems. Most schools go for the “affair” over the “marriage.” They tend to ask for money (short-range goal) rather that the value the business can bring to the relationship like mentors, real-world site learning, etc., which is the “marriage.” Once the partnership has started, teachers need time to keep the relationship progressing, and time is something that more schools are not willing to pay for. The school that thinks the teacher will stop and visit the business on the way home from school (on the teacher’s own dime) is dooming the education/business relationship to failure.
Career academies work! They require more time and resources in order to be successful, but they are well worth the effort. They are a time-tested strategy that results in more students who graduate on time ready both/or for a career or college.