Career Academies as Instruments of School Reform and Change: Secondary Educational Reform Has Been Placed on the Forefront of Educational Agendas as Educators, Administrators, the Business Community and Politicians Seek to Rectify Alarming Dropout Rates and a Perceived Lack of Academic and Vocational Competence

By Blomenkamp, Joel | Techniques, November-December 2009 | Go to article overview

Career Academies as Instruments of School Reform and Change: Secondary Educational Reform Has Been Placed on the Forefront of Educational Agendas as Educators, Administrators, the Business Community and Politicians Seek to Rectify Alarming Dropout Rates and a Perceived Lack of Academic and Vocational Competence


Blomenkamp, Joel, Techniques


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

AS MICHAEL STEELE WALKED IN THE ROOM with his long jet-black hair, the judges quickly shuffled their scoring sheets preparing themselves for the next presentation. Without warning or hesitation, he burst out with an electrifying rendition of Iron Man by Black Sabbath. As his colorful electric guitar shimmered from the fluorescent classroom lights, the judges stood silent and stunned by what they had just heard and seen. Was this an audition? No! Steele's performance was part of his senior portfolio which served as a capstone of his experience in a career academy.

Steele's presentation was not based on his musical talent, but on the skills and abilities that he acquired as a student at Weber Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology, a career academy located in Stockton, California. Designed by Steele, the guitar he played served as his project. An animated Web page using a synthesis of computer applications like Flash, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe InDesign was used as the medium for communicating his educational skills and his mastery of technology.

Though his guitar performance may have been electrifying, his past school experiences were anything but. Frustrated by his lack of educational progress and motivation at a traditional high school, Steele's exasperated parents decided to try the career academy approach. When Steele was exposed to learning in a career academy setting, he finally understood the relevance of his education and it began to result in an improvement in his performance: a phenomenal increase in his GPA and attendance rate.

The Industrial Age School System

In recent years, secondary school reform has been placed on the forefront of educational agendas as educators, administrators, the business community and politicians seek to rectify alarming dropout rates and a perceived lack of academic and vocational competence. These reform initiatives sought to incorporate strategies into a high school system that has been criticized as being archaic, antiquated and unable to meet the needs of students.

Peter Senge et al. (2000), in his classic work A Fifth Discipline Resource: Schools That Learn, unabashedly described the American school system as a trapped institution caught in "extraordinary crosscurrents of change." For Senge, American schools resemble and reflect an industrial-age heritage that closely resembles an assembly line. This heritage has produced a system trapped by age-old business practices. Currently, schools are caught in a perpetual state of performing to standards or as educational researchers Marzano and Kendall observe: "Awash in a sea of standards," with too many standards to implement effectively (Marzano and Kendall, 1998).

There is a lack of innovation about learning and school environments. This view of education is not only espoused by Senge, but by other educational researchers who view contemporary American high schools as static institutions that are disengaging and archaic. According to career academy researchers Maxwell and Rubin (2000), these high schools "were designed in and for another age. In fact, the structure of today's high school was set in the latter part of the 19th century, when high school graduation was not a prerequisite for admission to college and the economy was moving rapidly from an agricultural to an industrial base."

As Senge et al. pointed out, five basic assumptions exist in industrial-age learning. These assumptions about learning include:

* Children are deficient and schools need to fix them.

* Learning takes place in the head, not in the body as a whole.

* Everyone learns, or should learn, in the same way.

* Learning takes place in the classroom, not in the world.

* There are smart kids and there are dumb kids.

Researches note that innovation can occur in today's educational system, but that this change must address the assumptions mentioned above.

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Career Academies as Instruments of School Reform and Change: Secondary Educational Reform Has Been Placed on the Forefront of Educational Agendas as Educators, Administrators, the Business Community and Politicians Seek to Rectify Alarming Dropout Rates and a Perceived Lack of Academic and Vocational Competence
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