PREDICTION: Vocational-education academies will energize the American workforce.
"I love career tech, love it," Arnold
Schwarzenegger declared in his
2007 State of the State address. The
California governor, who proposed
allocating $52 million of the state's
2007-08 budget to expand career and technical
course offerings, may be among the
more ardent supporters of hands-on, job-themed
learning, but he is far from alone in
Compared to the vocational programs of
years past, which largely focused on equipping
low-performing students with blue-collar
skills, today's career and technical education
aims at a larger goal. By combining traditional
academics with career preparation, many such
programs have managed to accommodate
both college-bound achievers and would-be
In the year ahead, career academies in particular
will be seen as key to energizing the
American workforce. These small learning
communities, which filter academic and technical
coursework through the lens of a career
theme and operate in partnership with local
employers, now number about 2,500 nationwide
and are spreading rapidly.
Proponents say academies help students see
the relevance of academic work, focus thinking
about their careers, and develop broadly
applicable skills such as teamwork and imaginative
problem solving. "Those skills come to
life in career academies in ways that are more
difficult in traditional academic settings," says
J.D. Hoye, president of the National Academy
Foundation, a nonprofit organization that
supports a network of academies.
Research suggests there's an even more
tangible benefit. A 2004 study coauthored by
James J. Kemple, director of K-12 policy for
MDRC, a research organization, found that
young men who attended career academies
earned 18 percent more than their counterparts
four years after high school graduation.
(The study found no impact on young
women's earnings, possibly because they
were more likely to attend postsecondary
programs or care for children.) Kemple and
collaborator Judith Scott-Clayton also found
that attending a career academy boosted the
employment rate of students who were at risk
of dropping out and did not discourage other
students from going on to college.
"It's a new day for career and tech education,"
Hoye says. "If we're moving toward 100
percent high school graduation, the question
is, 'Graduation to what?' If college is not the
natural next step, one would hope that you're
preparing them for something."
Denise Kersten Wills is a freelance writer in Washington, DC.
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