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'Career Academies' May Benefit Students, Teachers, Analysis Finds

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The nation's more than 300 high school "career academies"--separate schools-within-schools that combine academic and vocational preparation--seem to offer students attractive alternatives to traditional programs and teachers a challenging professional home, a report released last week concludes.

Career academies center their coursework on a single theme, such as banking or the health professions, and often maintain relationships with local businesses and employers in order to provide students with career guidance and practical experience.

Researchers with the New York City-based Manpower Demonstration Research Corp. studied 10 high school career academies in urban and small-city high schools in California, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia to determine what underlying characteristics successful programs share.

Studying what makes career academies attractive is important because they are viewed as a vital part of a comprehensive effort to smooth the transition between school and the job market for students who do not plan to attend college.

But the researchers also note that the schools-within-schools concept may come to play a larger role in education reform generally as a method of making large institutions more educationally effective.

"These 10 programs clearly show the potential of career academies to provide large numbers of students with solid preparation for further education and a career after high school," said James Kemple, the report's co-author.

Diverse Enrollments Found

The researchers found that career academies have several factors in common:

  • They attract demographically and educationally diverse student populations, including students traditionally termed "at risk." All the schools studied enrolled large proportions of low-income students, racial minorities, and students with limited proficiency in English.
  • They encourage teachers to think of their school as a "learning community" and to get to know their students better.
  • They are flexibly structured, allowing them to be established in a wide variety of school settings.
  • Although more complicated to operate than traditional schools, they are sustainable in a wide range of high schools.
  • They appear to have relatively few dropouts. The study found that 75 percent of students enrolled in academies stayed with the program for at least two years.

The report is the first in a series of studies of career academies the MDRC is undertaking. The project is being underwritten by the U.S. departments of Education and Labor and 14 private foundations.

The nonprofit research organization next plans to track the successes and failures of 2,000 students enrolled in the 10 academies to answer such questions as how the academy experience differs from traditional high school instruction; whether students stay in such programs until they graduate; and what postsecondary options academies open up for students that traditional high schools do not.

For More Information:

Copies of the report are available for $12 each, plus $3 postage and handling, from the publications department at the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp., 3 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016-5936; (212) 532-3200.

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