The Role of Public Charter Schools in Career Preparation


Julie Strawn
Principal Associate, Social and Economic Policy
 

Justin Baer
Principal Associate, Social & Economic Policy
Far too few students have access to high-quality, career-focused high school education that can put them on a path to postsecondary credentials connected to high-demand, high-wage jobs. Charter schools could change that, write Abt Associates’ Justin Baer and Julie Strawn in Flypaper, a blog of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Career pathway approaches hold promise for sustaining that momentum beyond high school, providing clear roadmaps to advancing in the workforce and articulating the education, training, and work experience steps to get there. They write that public charter high schools can expand such opportunities, especially if they adopt two promising models. Those are:
  1. Career academies, which use a combination of small learning communities (“schools within schools”), integrated academic and technical curricula focused on a career theme, and work-based learning opportunities.
  2. Early college high schools that enable students to work toward a high school diploma and a postsecondary credential at the same time, at no or low cost to the student.

They write that the U.S. Department of Education should support a “fact-finding” study that will investigate: (1) the features of career preparation models that are most strongly linked to postsecondary employment and earnings; (2) the extent to which public charter schools have adopted these models; and (3) the opportunities and constraints for expanding career preparation models in public charter schools given the schools’ diversity and flexibility.

They recommend following this with a comprehensive demonstration program in which the most promising career preparation models are implemented across a range of public charter schools. Researchers could then evaluate the program using a random assignment study to yield valuable information about how charter schools implement career preparation models and the models’ impacts on high school graduation, students’ future employment and earnings, and their attainment of postsecondary credentials tied to in-demand jobs. “The results would inform broader implementation of career preparation models, both in public charter schools and in traditional public schools,” they conclude.

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