Wednesday, September 11, 2013

College and Career Readiness Should Be Accessible to All Students

Last week the District announced an exciting new initiative to reinvigorate career and technical education in the city. The nearly $3 million dollar investment comes at a critical time for the District as young people are struggling to gain a toehold in the local economy without the advanced skills and training that programs of study like CTE pathways can offer. Further, CTE coursework that is well aligned to labor market demands, taught by high quality teachers, and well integrated into a school is a proven strategy for curtailing dropout rates, improving school climate and increasing post-secondary success.

As part of this new initiative, the city is partnering with the National Academy Foundation (NAF) a national leader in the career education field. In partnership with NAF, eight of the District’s schools (McKinley Tech will have two academies for a total of nine) will engage in a year of intensive planning to build “career academies” in specific program areas (schools applied for IT, engineering, hospitality or health sciences).

This partnership is especially exciting given the outcomes and evidence base that NAF career academies have achieved nation-wide. According to NAF:
  • 52% of NAF graduates earn bachelor’s degrees in four years (compared with 32% nationally).
  • Of those who go on to post-secondary education, more than 50% are the first in their families to go to college.
  • 90% of students report that the academies helped them to develop career plans.
  • 85% of 5 and 10 year alumni are working in a professional field.
  • Career-academy graduates sustained $16,704 more in total earnings over the 8 years following high school than non-academy group members who were also studied—11% more per year.
  • Young men from career-academies experienced increased earnings (due to a combination of increased wages, hours worked and employment stability) over 8 years totaling $30,000 – 17% more per year than non-academy group members studied .
These types of outcomes are essential in moving the needle on youth unemployment and post-secondary attainment here in DC and it is our hope that DC’s career academies will be wildly successful at achieving similar or even better outcomes. One consideration that should stay at the forefront of people’s minds as the District roles out these academies though, is that only eight schools received planning grants to implement these programs. Further, career academies are supposed to adhere to very strict standards of practice (to ensure fidelity to the evidenced model) that include small “school within a school” models which drastically limit participation in academic programming. So while the $3 million dollar investment is a good one, there are still thousands more high school students that need better career preparation services and programming that adds real-life applicability to high school.

The city needs to remember the students who will miss out on the opportunity to be enrolled in one of the career academies because of which high school they attend, or because of enrollment caps at a school they do attend as it plans and executes a more comprehensive system of career preparation in the District’s schools. On that note, DCAYA has a few ideas to expand on the current system of career education in the District:
  1. Foster more meaningful collaboration between the Department of Employment Services Office of Youth Programs (they run programs like SYEP, the High School Internship Program and the Pathways for Young Adults Partnership with the Community College) and schools so that students can be placed at sites the align with their career interests while in high school or early on in their post-secondary endeavors. This is especially important for students who are enrolled in CTE courses, but may not be in a career academy.
  2. Ensure existing career preparation programming at high schools (traditional CTE coursework) is high quality and to the extent possible is leading to at least some of the same outcomes that career academies are. This means ensuring there are ample facilities and high-quality staff teaching these programs in all high schools.
  3. Begin career exploration and career preparation early on in a student’s academic life. The CTE Task Force and the Raise DC College and Credential Completion Network are working on implementing more career exposure and more informed counseling services so that students know what their options are by the time they get to high school. This is exactly the kind of thing the city needs to be doing more and we need to ensure these efforts are implemented in all schools, not just a few.
The city is right to start small and get its house in order before working to expand the NAF model to other high schools, however reform efforts for CTE need to be equitable in the long run. This requires a vision for the creation of a comprehensive system of career preparation at all schools and not just a few.

Anne Abbott is the Policy Analyst for Youth Workforce Development and Educational Pathways. Abbott is currently working on a report on Disconnect Youth in Washington D.C.. You can follow her on Twitter our write her an email at

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