High school career academies in Nebraska are no new development. Last year, we wrote about Gering Public Schools and their adoption of the academy model. Although career academies were originally designed for students at risk of dropping out in order to give them marketable skills and increase their chance of graduation, today’s academies are slightly different.
Academy models in high school have been proven to have some of the same effects (higher graduation rates, more consistent attendance), but in today’s society, academies are essentially designed to prepare students for college, the workforce, or the military by providing them with useful educational tools.
Just this week, the Fremont Tribune reported that the Plattsmouth Board of Education listened to a proposal to introduce a “wall-to-wall” academy system at Plattsmouth High School. In the system, each student would participate in one of three academies in which traditional core subjects (math, reading, social studies) would be embedded with career and technical programs. Thus, a science academy would teach science and technology, but would also include engineering, aeronautics, and mathematics classes that fall outside the traditional scope of a core program.
The really exciting thing about Plattsmouth’s proposal is that it’s for a wall-to-wall system, meaning that every single student in the school would attend an academy. In the academy model, wall-to-wall programs are being increasingly adopted, but are still rare—most schools give students the chance to choose whether or not they want to attend an academy.
In 2010, the Nashville School District was one of the first to transition to wall-to-wall academies, which meant that 16,000 students in the district had to join an academy in tenth grade. “What got the Chamber so excited in the academy model is really the scale and boldness, saying 16,000 students and 1,000 teachers need to create this model,” said Marc Hill, chief policy officer for the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. “The academy model requires businesses to be involved to be successful. That was a compelling reason for the Chamber to go all-in as a partner.”
Not only did the new system work, it was even praised by President Obama. “You’ve made huge strides in helping young people learn the skills they need for a new economy,” he told an audience at McGavock High School. “Skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, math.” Graduation rates rose from 57.8% to 74.6%, discipline problems declined, and suspension rates decreased by 30%.
After Nashville’s example, schools across the country began following in their footsteps. Programs with wall-to-wall classrooms for specific academies, like the Sioux City Community School District, have begun to increase their offerings for students who want a more targeted educational experience.
At Plattsmouth, high school freshmen would take a class to help them identify their career interests. They would enter one of the three academies at the beginning of their sophomore year, and must stay in that academy for at least one school year. If they find that the academy isn’t a good fit, they can switch to another one without any credit penalties.
There are certainly additional steps that need to be taken, and the wall-to-wall model has not been approved yet. We’ll be curious to see whether or not the district moves in the direction of a vocation-centric education, and if so, whether or not other schools in Nebraska will follow. From the perspective of manufacturers hoping for a trained, skilled, workforce, wall-to-wall academies seem to be a tremendously successful way to make high school useful for a variety of students.