College and Career Ready
In Nashville's career academies, students gain readiness for both worlds through authentic experiences
BY CHANEY W. MOSLEY
|The Academy of Entertainment Communication at Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School in Nashville, Tenn., prepares students for the audio/visual industry.
The phrase “career academy” has different
meanings across the country. For my purposes, career academy references a small
learning community, or school within a school, providing college preparation
through the lens of a career theme while partnering with local employers and
institutions of higher education.
This model of
career academy occurs in a regular, comprehensive high school setting where
students take general education and career and technical education classes
under the same roof while having access to extracurricular activities such as
athletics or band. This is not a program, nor is it an alternative option for
struggling students. This is a turnaround initiative.
In an academy,
groups of students experience some of the same teachers for consecutive years
and take classes with peers who share the same career interests. Teachers
assigned to an academy include those from both general and technical content
areas who provide interdisciplinary, project-based instruction.
In an academy, all students complete coursework
required for high school graduation and college entrance that are linked with a
career focus and taught in tandem with CTE courses. Local businesses serve on
an advisory board and help provide authentic experiences for students. The
focus is on relationships, rigor and relevance — leading to college and career
In 2006, Metro Nashville Public Schools began the
transition to career academies. In 2010, we went to wall-to-wall academies in
our 12 comprehensive high schools where every student is a member of a career
academy. Throughout the district today, we have 41 academies preparing students
for college and career.
Transitioning to the academy model called for a
radical change in the way we do business. It also meant combating two common
misunderstandings among parents.
But My Child Is Going to College
In the beginning, parents criticized the academy model
as vocational training rather than preparation for postsecondary education and
careers. Historically, vocational programs at the secondary school level have
been stigmatized for tracking students into low-skill, low-wage jobs. While
that may have been the case in the past, recent federal initiatives and popular
news outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today
and The Washington Post, have recognized the value
CTE brings to college and career readiness. Still, we had to address the
concerns of apprehensive parents.
Each program in our
academies is aligned with a postsecondary education opportunity. Further,
students in every academy have access to rigorous general education classes and
advanced academic coursework. Most of our high schools offer more than 25
courses that lead to college credit. We created one-page plans of study to
illustrate the college preparation in each academy, but the academy model lends
itself to another marketing tool — business partners.
the high-skill and high-wage industries in Nashville regularly work with
students in the academies and reiterate the importance of postsecondary
education. They also talk to parents at open house events or other community
gatherings and share the value of the college and career preparation students
get in high school. These efforts have paid off, as the community has united
around the high school reform.
You're Forcing Students to Choose Their Career
No, we are not. The truth is, youth begin developing a tentative
career goal between ages 14 and 18. This is a time for students to figure out
what they enjoy and do not enjoy. In fact, most adults do not confirm a career
choice until their early to mid-30s. Career academies allow students to
experience potential career interests through authentic learning and work-based
experiences such as industry-specific field trips, job shadowing and
internships. These experiences are extremely valuable to college and career
According to the National Center for Education
Statistics, about 80 percent of college students change their major at least
once, with the average student changing majors three times! People change their
minds with time and experience, so the earlier students are able to explore
career interests, the better prepared they are to make college decisions, and
the less likely they are to change their college major.
Our emphasis on student choice makes the academy model
attractive to students, and the Nashville workforce likes it too.
Business Is Booming
Support for the
career academy model was driven by local industries with the desire to prepare
their future workforce. Early on, strategic planning occurred with Nashville
businesses and community members who identified the potential of the career academy
model as a method to produce a highly educated and highly skilled future
We have more than 300 successful business partnerships
with our academies, but these relationships have been nurtured over time.
Skeptical business leaders must be brought on board, and we do this through a
transparent business engagement model.
A business partnership is different from a business
sponsorship. A sponsorship occurs when a business supports a school for
promotional advantages by donating money. Often, schools approach local
businesses for this purpose — to request money for different initiatives
(developing a weight room for an athletic team, sending students on a trip or
purchasing a new computer lab, for example). These are usually one-time asks
that can cause burnout from businesses.
Partnerships are distinctive in that a business shares
commitment in meeting the goals and working toward the vision of the school.
This is the model of business engagement we have adopted. When approaching
businesses, we ask for the time and talent of their employees, not for their
money. The result is a long-term, sustained relationship where businesses are
engaged inside the school and alongside faculty, working tirelessly to ensure
Over time, some partners may identify a specific need,
such as updating equipment so that students learn by using technology that is
relevant in the current workforce and meet that need on their own accord.
Further, these partners become tireless advocates for the work that we do and
are instrumental in helping overcome challenges.
A career academy can exist in different forms. Some
schools might elect a “pocket” academy while others may go “wall-to-wall” as we
have here in Nashville. Regardless, introducing the model also will lead to
some inevitable obstacles in two key areas — teaching and school structure.
interdisciplinary nature of career academies requires a highly effective and
collaborative team of educators from both general education and CTE content
areas. These teachers must be willing to provide authentic learning experiences
for students that are relevant to the career theme of the academy. We ensure
each interdisciplinary team of teachers has a 90-minute common planning time
each week that occurs during the school day. In addition to planning lessons
around the academy theme, they also use this time to review student data and
plan intervention strategies.
Providing for common planning is part of redesigning
the school structure that is necessary for successful implementation. While
creating the school’s master schedule, administrators must intentionally design
schedules that allow students to move fluidly from one year to the next while
taking classes with peers in the same academy often from the same teacher. If
the classes are located within close proximity, the academy structure is
Often, we are asked how we know if our academies are
succeeding. Since our start in 2006, our discipline referrals have decreased by
13 percent, average daily attendance has increased to more than 93 percent, and
our graduation rate has increased by more than 20 percent. We are encouraged by
these results and we know they come from the collective efforts of many people.
Of the 16,000 students in our high schools, more than
70 percent are classified as living in an economically disadvantaged household.
Further, 15 percent speak English as their second language. We have found the
career academy model to be effective at meeting the needs of diverse students.
We all know there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to education, but in
Nashville, the career academy model is helping us ensure that our graduates are
both college and career ready.
Chaney Mosley is director of the
Academies of Nashville with Metro Nashville Public Schools in Nashville, Tenn.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @chaneymosley
Readers can learn more about
career academies in Nashville and elsewhere:
Academies of Nashville blog, http://myacademyblog.com/
report for Academies of Nashville, http://bit.ly/academies_of_Nashville
Effects of Career Academies on Metropolitan Nashville Public High Schools: A
Quantitative Study,” a doctoral dissertation completed at Lipscomb University,
National Career Academy Coalition, http://www.ncacinc.com