Career Academies Discussion Group

On Monday, September 30, the American Youth Policy Forum partnered with the College and Career Academy Support Network (CCASN) and the National Career Academy Coalition (NCAC) to host a discussion group on the topic of career academies at the American Institutes of Research (AIR).

The goals of the discussion group were to provide updates on current policy efforts, build awareness of career academies, and announce the revised National Standards of Practice (NSoP) for Career Academies. The conversation highlighted state-level policies and innovations to support career academies, as well as opportunities to align with Common Core State Standards. 

Angie Grasberger, President of NCAC, presented the revised NSoP for Career Academies. The previous standards, released in 2004, outlined ten key practices that lead to high quality career academies that improve outcomes for youth.  The revised NSoP continue to build upon the three key elements of career academies – a small learning community; a college-prep sequential curriculum with a career theme; and strong connections to employers, higher education, and the community – and help chart a course towards excellence and success.

Gary Hoachlander, President of ConnectEd, presented work from the Linked Learning initiative.  Designed to strengthen pathways for students from secondary to postsecondary opportunities, Linked Learning connects academic content with technical education and “real world” opportunities.  Students in the Linked Learning pathway navigate four main components, closely connected to the Common Core State Standards:

  1. An academic core, emphasizing college-prep curriculum and real-world applications.
  2. A technical core, aligned with industry standards.
  3. Work-based learning.
  4. Personalized learning supports that include academic, emotional and social, and college and career guidance.

Linked Learning currently partners with districts in California, Texas, and Michigan. Charlie Dayton, National Liaison for CCASN, noted that many discretionary programs in California are at risk of being defunded due to a lack of evidence to demonstrate program effectiveness. However, due to its proven track record, funding for the California Partnership Academies continues.

Kim Green, Executive Director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc), discussed efforts across states to measure career readiness.  For example, Ohio and Kentucky have added measures of career readiness to their state report cards, and North Carolina will begin compensating Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers for the number of industry certifications their students obtain.  Career academies and CTE providers also remain attuned to the needs of the business community.

Susan Katzman, former president of NCAC provided further updates on state policies and efforts.  States like Florida continue to encourage career academies through legislative measures and communication across state agencies. This year Florida passed legislation (Statute 1003.493) calling for the establishment of at least one career academy in each high school.   

Career academies across states are also considering the challenge of implementing the Common Core.  As states recognize the need for professional development around the Common Core, efforts in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Nebraska are focused on bringing various state agencies together to strategize and promote funding for implementation in career academies. Leveraging Common Core to balance academic requirements with technical education also presents a challenge, but competency-based education has been identified as a promising opportunity to bridge these areas.  In Maine, policymakers have discussed competency-based education to link the skills required in both the Common Core and career academies.

The discussion group concluded their conversation by considering the future of career academies.  When discussing next steps, participants agreed that efforts should be made to highlight the strengths of career academies to students, parents, and the public.  By more effectively publicizing the promise of these programs, career academies could capitalize on their strengths – connections to the workforce and college, skills development, community engagement, and the use of student voice throughout the curriculum.  Finally, career academies should also continue to work closely with businesses to identify workforce needs, and strive to make the academic connections more explicit.

Erin Russ is a Program Associate at the American Youth Policy Forum

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