Greater Greater Education

Mayor announces 9 Career Academies for DC youth

Mayor Gray yesterday announced the creation of 9 Career Academies within public high schools. The Academies will operate as schools-within-schools and provide career-specific internships and occupational training integrated with regular high school coursework.


Photo by City Year on Flickr.

The Academies, based on a model found nationwide, are expected to boost academic and occupational outcomes of high school students. But Councilmember David Catania, chair of the DC Council Education Committee, questioned the modest scale of the initiative, and a study casts doubt on the extent of the Academies' impact.

The largest study of Career Academies concludes that they raise earnings for some participants and increase the chance that graduates will marry and raise children. But they do not raise graduation rates.

The Career Academies are a recommendation of a Career and Technical Education Task Force that issued recommendations to Mayor Gray last December. Students accepted at a participating high school will be eligible to enroll in the Career Academy at that school.

SchoolAcademy TypeWardSector
Cardozo Education CampusIT1DCPS
Columbia Heights Education CampusHospitality1DCPS
Dunbar High SchoolEngineering5DCPS
McKinley Technology High SchoolEngineering5DCPS
McKinley Technology High SchoolIT5DCPS
Phelps ACE High SchoolEngineering5DCPS
Wilson High SchoolHospitality3DCPS
Friendship Collegiate AcademyIT7Charter
Friendship Tech Prep High SchoolEngineering8Charter

When asked why no DCPS high schools east of the Anacostia River are participating, DCPS spokesperson Melissa Salmanowitz replied, "All DCPS schools were invited to apply. In the future, we hope to explore supporting more academies in more schools and industries."

Each Career Academy will have 75-100 students, according to State Superintendent of Education Emily Durso. The Academies will last from 9th or 10th grade through 12th grade.

The initiative is small from a funding perspective, only $2.7 million for the planning year, with future funding dependent on annual budgets. Eight Academy Directors and 9 College & Career Coordinators will be hired at a cost of $1.9 million. No additional teachers will be hired.

Councilmember Catania called the funding "paltry" in an interview with WAMU. Catania told the Washington Post that "if this city can find $150 million to build a soccer stadium, we can certainly find money to make a commensurate investment in our young people."

Why don't Career Academies have more of an impact?

But if the District wants to improve career pathways for high school students, it's not clear what we should spend more money on.

The largest study of Career Academies concluded not only that they don't increase graduation rates, but also that the boost in future earnings was limited to males in the group. And that boost was 17%, or $3,700 per year. These are hardly the dramatic outcomes many have expected from effective career and technical education in high schools.

The study, by education research organization MDRC, is fairly reliable. It is better than many education studies in that it tracked the same group of students over a period of time. And it compared students in Career Academies to students who applied to those programs but weren't admitted for lack of space, thus helping to ensure that the two groups studied weren't fundamentally different due to self-selection.

The Career Academy approach teaches basic education courses in the context of occupational training. When this approach has been used with adults who lack basic literacy skills, the academic and occupational outcomes have been far better than when the subjects are taught separately. So why isn't the same true for high school students in Career Academies?

One possible explanation is that the classes for adults put a basic education teacher and an occupational skills trainer in the same classroom, an expensive method. Career Academies simply retrain an existing teacher to integrate occupational skills into academic curriculum.

Is career and technical education in high school a good idea? Are Career Academies the right way to provide it? I don't know the answers to these questions, but they seem to be the ones that education officials in DC should be focusing on.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

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Wait, "engineering" is now a vocational field?

by oboe on Sep 5, 2013 4:04 pm • linkreport

No training for plumbers or mechanics or lab techs, but two programs for hotel workers. Aargh.

by BTDT on Sep 5, 2013 4:11 pm • linkreport

Didn't Dunbar already have an Engineering program for many years? Same with Cardozo. Didn't they already have an IT academy? How is this new for them?

And wasn't it Michelle Rhee who helped dismantle career programs in DC? MM Washington's had a successful nursing program and she closed the school completely down.

Looks like the latest reform efforts are going in circles.

by Concerned on Sep 5, 2013 10:31 pm • linkreport

Ok, each school was invited to apply. I don't think that is true. Let's see Woodson had a Barbering Program and Eastern has Health and Science (EMT) program. Yet, the lone comprehensive high-school in Ward 7 and the only high-school in Ward 6 was left-out of this opportunity because they did not apply. Now, who should get angry over this oversight? Then there's school that got two-bites at the apple, is that a coincidence or is it because the Chancellor boyfriend's child attends McKinley. I don't even want to discuss Friendship, they are either friend or foe when it comes to DCPS.

by BooBoo the Fool on Sep 6, 2013 8:40 am • linkreport

Why no hard science or "engineering" at Wilson? "Hospitality" jobs are all low-paid.

by polo on Sep 6, 2013 9:16 am • linkreport

@BTDT:

No training for plumbers or mechanics or lab techs, but two programs for hotel workers. Aargh.

Ah, okay, according to the various Googles "Engineering" in this context means HVAC, plumbing, etc...

by oboe on Sep 6, 2013 9:25 am • linkreport

$3,700 added income is not bad, given what a high school-only grad faces. Not sure why you seem to think this is not very impressive.

by polo on Sep 6, 2013 9:36 am • linkreport

You don't put a vegetarian in charge of your steakhouse and expect a decent steak.

To address some points, I think Mr Archer should spend some time reviewing the curricula before writing this article. He seems to be drawing some broad conclusions from "survey science" which I'm not sure are warranted. I'm also not sure he has the correct background in the matter at hand to have particularly useful experience in this matter, but let's press ahead. Maybe I can spark some deeper analysis.

As an aside, Phelps offers, plumbing, masonry, drafting, woodworking, and has a number of CAT simulators for training heavy machinery options.

Back to the issues.

I think most non-engineering/non-mathematical adults (which is to say the vast majority of the people in education policy and leadership) fail to grasp the main benefit of votech classes: practical application of mathematics.

I liken the loss of home ec, shop, etc. (which I refer to as practical math) to removing every work of fiction and non-fiction from the English curricula and trying to teach english with a grammar book for 2-3 years and then complaining when graduates aren't ready for "the real world". You can't teach writing and reading comprehension without literature of some form (to the vast majority of humans). Likewise you can't teach mathematics without some form of practical mathematical application. "Word problems", as they've been created are a complete failure as a practical substitute for hands-on mathematical training. They're like teaching English composition with haikus. Students quickly get bored of math because it's taught in a purely theoretical manner. They zone out, get behind, and (many studies have shown) it's nearly impossible to catch up once a student is a semester or more behind in math. Math education is a ladder with rungs, miss a rung and you're not going much higher.

Mathematics classes (as they are taught) are simply teaching the grammar of math, without any of the practical application. While the more brilliant students can make their way through this ok, the person of average abilities (and most of us are average) really needs the practical reinforcement of measuring, building and planning physical "things". This most often comes in the form of measuring and constructing whether that's cupcakes, chemistry experiments, or bird houses. This is where the light comes on for students.

If you look at the curricula of most votech programs, they suffer from two problems. The first is the curricula is still being designed by liberal arts majors and the requirements are still liberal arts based (i.e. they still overemphasize the arts at the basic credit hour level). The content of STEM classes in DC tend towards amazingly weak examples of STEM: powerpoint, adobe, and excel are not "STEM" training and are a hollow application of the STEM principles. The second is that the STEM professional pool is the extreme shallow end. Educators with no hard science training (professional training) are ill equipped to provide such training to students or even be able to define the bounds of what is appropriate training. The DCPS-WTU salary scale (even with bonuses for STEM teachers) which is probably appropriate for those with English, Philosophy and History degrees (given their relative employability), is not even in the ballpark of the types of mid career STEM professionals that one would need to attract to turn the tide of STEM education.

To conclude, the success and application of votech schooling has mainly suffered from the foundational construction and biases of liberal arts educators and education. It doesn't have to be this way, but it we want to provide the 'average' student with a better STEM foundation we have to radically reapproach the qualifications of STEM professionals (and the resulting salary scale) and radically reapproach the curricula requirements. This most likely means taking the planning and organization out of the hands of the traditional education bureaucracy and handing it to someone like ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) to devise a new map.

by Jim on Sep 6, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

If you look at the curricula of most votech programs, they suffer from two problems. The first is the curricula is still being designed by liberal arts majors and the requirements are still liberal arts based (i.e. they still overemphasize the arts at the basic credit hour level). The content of STEM classes in DC tend towards amazingly weak examples of STEM: powerpoint, adobe, and excel are not "STEM" training and are a hollow application of the STEM principles. The second is that the STEM professional pool is the extreme shallow end. Educators with no hard science training (professional training) are ill equipped to provide such training to students or even be able to define the bounds of what is appropriate training.

Really interesting insights. Two questions:

(1) Have you looked at the Career Academies curricula to see if they align with your first recommendation? This is one of the big questions in my mind - can you really just retrain existing liberal arts teachers to do this kind of teaching? That's what Career Academies do (pay National Association of Foundations to train your teachers).

(2) Many resist moving high schools in direction of vo-tech because they say it's "giving up" on students who could possibly go to college and they are afraid vo-tech high schools will have lower graduation rates and secondary education rates. That's why the champions of Career Academies don't see the fact that CAs don't lift graduation rates as a problem - they tout the fact that CAs don't REDUCE graduation rates. What do you say to those skeptics?

by Ken Archer on Sep 6, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

Hospitality is already being addressed at Roosevelt under the Marriott School, so why is the need to duplicate?

Doesn't the "E" in ACE for Phelps stand for Engineering? So, what did they do before the grant opportunities came along use the "E" for excuses?

I know that for some reason we are so oblige to "kiss" the Charter School hindpotts but to offer Friendship two opportunities and I guess Thurgood Marshall wasn't worthy.

Ooops!!! I forgot everyone was invited to apply and those who didn't are just up the river literally on the East side of it.

by BooBoo the Fool on Sep 6, 2013 3:40 pm • linkreport

Last time I checked we are in dire need of EMTs and Elevator reparimen for Metro....so help me out here? That's a vocation I do believe.

by BooBoo the Fool on Sep 6, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

Hospitality isn't necessarily a low income job. Sure if you are a hotel desk clerk it is but presumably with training and some actual motivation people would be able to grow out of that role pretty quickly. Restaurant staff also do well enough maybe 50k or 60k for a manager sounds low to us but thats well above the per capita median income ($43) for the region for people and that inclues people with advanced degrees. I think it's a pretty solid list especially for people that might not have the financial means to pay for college. A HS diploma itself means very little these days.

by BTA on Sep 6, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

What about things like auto mechanics? Why can we not have career academies that centralize opportunity instead of making it all about ward patronage. Where I grew up in Denver, I had friends in AP Calculus taking auto mechanics at a program called the Career Education Center, because of the way it was set up, it was not an either or and it helped a wide range of kids. Given the metro system in DC it seems like this should be a viable system in DC.

Here is the Denver example:

The Fred N. Thomas Career Education Center Middle College of Denver is an urban magnet high school located in northwest Denver near I-25 and Speer Boulevard in Denver, Colo., and has been providing students with real-life learning experiences in dozens of career-oriented courses since 1976. The full-time Middle College program began in the fall of 2003 with students attending from the entire Denver metro area. To apply, students must submit an CEC MCD application_2013_2014 by the early part of December prior to the next school. The curriculum is college preparatory, focusing on career and technology education.

http://www.dosomethingreal.com/about/general-information

by DC Parent on Sep 7, 2013 8:55 am • linkreport

Another model is a centralized career/technical/vocational high school like the Greater Lowell Technical HS in Massachusetts (http://www.gltech.org/). It has 2000 students drawn from 4 different towns and offers 23 different technical programs that kids can choose from once they get there. I know someone who is an administrator there and was just singing its praises to me (and she doesn't spew praise lightly!).

Although it sounds like the old kind of vocational school, which some may find reminiscent of tracking, apparently a number of students from the school do go on to college. Actually, I thought Kaya Henderson had wanted to turn the now-closed Spingarn HS into a centralized career and tech education school -- I don't know whether that idea is still alive, but it might make more sense than the Career Academies.

by Natalie on Sep 7, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

Yes, we need serious vocational programs, as well as shop classes for all.

Question: Considering how ineffective the DC public schools are at teaching reading, why should we expect that these Career Academies will provide more effective instruction in engineering?

The article notes: "Career Academies simply retrain an existing teacher to integrate occupational skills into academic curriculum."
Jerry: This is likely to produce teachers with superficial knowledge of the occupational skills. This is a way to insure superficial instruction by the teachers and superficial learning of the occupational skills by the students.

The article also notes: "The Career Academy approach teaches basic education courses in the context of occupational training."
Jerry: Parachuting basic education material into occupational training courses is pretending to teach basic education. There will be no coherence in the basic education. There will be superficial learning of basic education.

The big problem (in many high schools) is students reading on a Grade 6 level. Such students need serious and effective instruction in reading. Not sporadic instruction in reading, when it fits in with the occupational training. This will also result in students struggling simultaneously with both the reading and the occupational training.

by Jerome Dancis on Oct 1, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

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