National Academy Foundation – Let Practice Drive Policies!

This article is authored and posted by the National Academy Foundation (NAF).

The National Academy Foundation (NAF) is a leader in the movement to prepare young people for college and career success. For 30 years, NAF has refined a proven educational model which includes industry-focused curricula, work-based learning experiences, and business partner expertise from themes: Finance, Hospitality & Tourism, Information Technology, Engineering, and Health Sciences. Employees of more than 2,500 companies volunteer in classrooms, act as mentors, engage NAF students in paid internships and serve on local Advisory Boards.


We live in a time in which the catchphrase “college and career readiness” is readily invoked by industry, political, and educational leaders, followed by a lament about our inability to prepare enough students to meet that standard. The need for curriculum, instruction, and high school design to be aligned and organized to prepare students for emerging careers is obvious. So why are such alignment and coordination not common practice?  What drives high school design and curriculum choices are typically traditional academic structures that inhibit connections to workplace preparation, as well as connections among the disciplines themselves.  We need to make the shift to assuring that academic and career preparation do not compete but enhance one another.

In order to bring relevant curriculum to high schools that is valued by post-secondary institutions and by industry, we must:

1.      Allow for common planning time. Too often courses are taught in isolation. The systems challenge tied is in part to how the school day is designed, with its rigidly constructed periods separating subjects from each other and overly prescribed use of time. We need to prioritize common planning time for teachers and cohorting students to help to address this design challenge. Integration cannot be adequately addressed after schedules have been created. Common planning time allows teachers to address both content and instructional approaches so that students can see the relationships among disciplines, workplace skills, and future career choices.

2.      Train teachers in teaching industry skills. Teachers are typically trained in academic instructional methods but not to teach industry skills.  A robust connection between teachers and the workplace can transform instructional practice to more fully integrate the essential knowledge, skills, and abilities desired of our students into the course content. One powerful, underutilized approach is the teacher industry externship. While many teachers come from industry to the classroom, many more have come directly to the classroom. Externships offer teachers insight into how content knowledge is applied in the workplace. They create relationships between the schools and employers that can result in work-based learning experiences for students.

3.      Keep course content up to date. With industries changing so rapidly, curriculum must keep up.  Industry partners can play an important role in ensuring that curriculum is relevant to what is happening in the business world right now.

4.      Create policies that support true college and career readiness. If you believe that you get what you measure, then make certain that college and career readiness is more than a mantra. It must have indicators that student performance is measured against and that are aligned with the content provided.  Guidance will come from state and federal agencies, but the specifics must be clearly defined locally in order for instructional practice to result in the desired student proficiencies.  Likewise, more sophisticated and balanced assessments are needed, and they must move beyond just test taking.  Now, more than ever before, it is time to measure what students know and can do in projects that replicate the world they will enter as they complete their formal education. An equal level of attention should be paid to performance and the ability to apply knowledge as has been spent in recent years on testing the retention of facts and knowledge acquired.

5.      Build and maintain relationships. Teachers and students need authentic connections to industry professionals to reinforce the skills that are expected by employers and to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate those skills in both the workplace and school.  Building capacity at the local level to offer work-based learning experiences is a challenge. It is best accomplished in partnership with local organizations and by a formal advisory structure made up of community leaders who can make it a priority. To formally connect this life-changing experience to a perceived value by institutions of higher education and the community at large it needs to be validated by an assessment and be credit-bearing.  Without these, it will continue to be seen as an extra and not as an essential. It is particularly important for schools in low income communities to build these relationships because students in poverty are more likely to lack these connections through family and friends.

The largest challenge to bringing industry-valued and -validated curriculum to schools is our mind-set about the purpose of education.  For the success of our country, our citizens, and our students it is time to acknowledge that the high school years are a critical time to introduce young people to and inspire them to pursue emerging careers.

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