Impact of Career Academies on Students Learning


Maxwell and Rubin studies suggest that the ability of career academies to increase knowledge and skills in high schools is not uniform across environments (Maxwell, 2000). They argue that, since improved skills is the key to better high school graduation rates and greater articulation to postsecondary education, situations under which career academies build knowledge and skills need to be examined. It is only with this information that successful programs can be designed and implemented. We must also identify situations in which career academies are not successful so that impediments to effective implementation can be determined. In this paper, three key factors that could underlie different impacts that career academies have on student learning are explored, and they include: student’s initial academic success; school environment; and amount of academy course work.

Students’ Academic Achievement

Maxwell and Rubin suggest three explanations of inter-academy differences that may underlie ability to enhance students’ knowledge and skills in high school. They note that students vary in the level of academic knowledge and skills that they bring to each academy. Therefore, these variances are important determinants of the learning students hold when they graduate from high school. They also examine student’s entry level of achievement in Mathematics and English, both reading and language to determine the impact of career academies on students’ learning. This was to determine if academies are more effective for students with certain levels of academic preparation than for students at other levels. If this is the case, career academies should be limited to those from whom they have shown to work well. If not, it should be modified to address the differences in students’ knowledge and skills.

School Environments

School environments in which career academies operate differ substantially, and this variance may impact students’ capacity to learn. Although career academies are, by design and necessity, schools within a school, they still depend upon the larger institution for determining policies and program guidelines and are linked to its culture and environment. Furthermore, schools considerably differ in their resources, social and physical environments, and student body characteristics. In analyzing studies by Maxwell and Rubin, we find that the initial achievement of students differ among schools, with variations related to socioeconomic status. For instance, the school with highest socioeconomic status (HS6) contains a disproportionate percentage of the districts student’s with the top scores at program entrance, while schools with students from lowest socioeconomic status areas (HS3 and HS1) have a disproportionate percentage of lower-achieving learners (Maxwell, 2000).

Amount of academic Work

The career academy experience reflects the intensity of the program. Maxwell and Rubin deduce that academies provide programs with varying degrees of completeness (Maxwell, 2000). Even though the overall district-wide model guides the program, resources and operation of the academies substantially varied. While the databases do not allow us to measure program components with a high degree of precision, we can approximate the amount of academic work for learners with their number of academic courses. Pursuing courses is only one part of an academy’s curriculum, and curriculum is only part of academy experience, but arguably, it is an important component. If we determine that learner outcomes are related to the degree of exposure to the program, minimum thresholds of students’ participation may be necessary for the academic program to be effective (Maxwell, 2000).


In sum, Initial students’ academic success, school environment and amount of academic work may be interrelated in a number of ways One, academic success that learners bring to school may determine the type of environment that envelops. Some schools have an overall strong college preparatory program, which is often correlated with higher socioeconomic status of students’ families and academic performance of joining students. Two, both school environment and level of student preparation may affect the type of career academy program that develops. If school managements are not specifically interested in career-related programs because of career-bound nature of most of their students, academies in their school may not focus on careers (Maxwell, 2000).

Reference List

Maxwell. N., & Rubin, B. (2000). High School Career Academies. Michigan: W.E Upjohn Institute.

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