It could well be that “career academies” within Metro high schools are worth a try, but that's no excuse for breathless boosterism or lazy journalism in press reporting about initiatives in public education. Amy Griffith’s piece
at the City Paper
this morning on Chamber of Commerce support for the career academy concept inflates their scope and misrepresents research findings on their impact.
A career academy is a “school within a school”—a small learning community that frames some academic work around occupational or career themes. They often involve partnerships with employers to create work-related educational opportunities. The CP
story overstates the case in characterizing the inception of career academies as a “redesign of Metro high schools” when the academies by their very nature can serve only a small number of students—typically
30-60 kids per grade. Although the CP
story says “the concept was developed by the Chamber, Metro Nashville Public Schools, the PENCIL Foundation and Alignment Nashville,” career academies have been around for over 30 years and are found in more than 2,000 schools across the country.
Griffith in her piece points to research showing that career academies “increase student engagement and graduation rates.” Engagement maybe, but not graduation rates. The best research on this is a randomized, controlled field study by the respected policy evaluation think tank MDRC that followed 1,400 kids in nine cities. The findings
were upbeat for post-high school labor market outcomes, but non-existent for academic outcomes. Students participating in career academies had annual earnings after secondary school that averaged 11 percent more than non-academy kids, with an even greater gain (17 percent) for males only. There were, however, no advantages in test scores, graduation rates, or college success for students in career academies compared to students in control groups.
As I say, these academies could be worthwhile, but let’s decide that based on reporting that emphasizes facts and legitimate analysis, and leave the propaganda to private interest groups like the Chamber.