Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget has cast a darker shadow over the future of hundreds of model high school programs that help prepare students for college and careers.
About half of the nearly 500 California Partnership Academies, essentially “schools within schools” on high school campuses, were already threatened by a loss of funding they rely on due to legislation that will expire this June.
But in his January budget, funding for the academies are among 42 so-called “categorical programs” that Brown is recommending be phased out, threatening $21 million that the remaining academies have relied on.
As part of a drive by Brown to give local school districts more flexibility, school districts could choose to spend the funds on the academies, were his plan approved by the Legislature. But past experience indicates that districts might well use their new-found flexibility to spend some or all “categorical” funds, such as those designated for the high school academies, on other purposes.
Serving some 48,000 students in 36 counties, the academies, which typically focus on occupational themes such as health, media, business, and technology, provide students an opportunity to form small learning communities and take classes and participate in other activities directly related to their college or career interests.
At least half of the 150 to 200 students who participate in a typical high school academy must be from low-income backgrounds and be “at risk” in some way based on factors such as low test scores and poor attendance. A key aspect of the program is that students take classes together and develop a family-like esprit de corps.
Although only serving a small percentage of the state’s 6.2 million students, they are regarded as a model for how to develop courses that prepare students for both college and career and give students direct experience in the world of professional work.
“They are a ray of hope for the state,” said David Stern, professor emeritus of education at UC Berkeley and principal investigator for the Career Academy Support Network.
For some students, participation can be a life-changing experience, said Sara Dozier, coordinator of MedTech Academy at San Diego High School. The program, she said, creates “a sense of community where at-risk students feel like a part of an extended [family] and see a world outside their neighborhood.”
The program enrolls approximately 30 students per grade. Students take courses with health themes that are integrated into the core curriculum, such as “Medical Math,” “Human Body Systems,” “Biomedical Innovation,” and “Medical Contemporary Voices.” In addition, students are offered internships, lined up with mentors, and take field trips to businesses and institutions in the health field.
Without funding from the state, among other things there will be no funds to support those field trips, which Dozier says is a key part of the program’s success. “The opportunities our students have to visit universities, businesses, and community organizations open their eyes to the possibilities that await them,” she said.
Unlike many school programs, 184 California Partnership Academies have been assured of state funding as a result of legislation (Senate Bill 70), which funds internships, field trips, and a teacher coordinator to run the program.
State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, is leading the effort to continue funding after SB 70 expires in June. “The academies provide kids with real opportunities for learning for career and college,” said Rebecca Baumann, Hancock’s education consultant. “They are serving the students we need to focus on most, students who are at risk and who are looking for something to engage them in school.”
SB 70, along with another piece of legislation, Assembly Bill 519, together ensured more than $30 million annually for the program. The funds then had to be matched by local employers and school districts. But both pieces of legislation are due to “sunset” in June.
Connie Moore-Kelly, coordinator of the Business and Interactive Technology Academy at Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, said funding from SB 70 has allowed her class to go on field trips that are a core part of the educational experience. For example, her class was able to attend Finance Park, a nationwide program funded by Junior Achievement that educates students about personal finance.
Classroom teachers spend several weeks preparing students to visit Finance Park by teaching students about taxes, personal budgeting, investing, and using credit. Then students attend Finance Park where they participate in a day-long simulation in which they must maintain a family budget, evaluate stock holdings, and calculate how much money they can spend in an average month.
Because of funding from SB 70, Moore was also able to offer Adobe and Microsoft certification courses. Moore says these courses make her students far more marketable in an extremely tight labor market for younger workers, even the most highly qualified.
Research conducted by UC Berkeley’s Stern and fellow researchers Charles Dayton and Candace Hamilton Hester found the California Partnership Academies had the following positive outcomes:
• 57% of graduates fulfill courses required for admission to UC or CSU, compared with 36% of all graduates;
• 95% of academy seniors in fall 2009 graduated in spring 2010, compared with 85% statewide;
• African American and Hispanic seniors graduated at significantly higher rates than non-participants;
• 88% of academy graduates plan to attend college.
Stern said the goal should not be just to protect existing academies, but to expand the model across the state. A reasonable target, he said, would be to enroll about one-third of all high school students in academies or other college-and-career pathways. “We are talking about a population that is always in jeopardy in terms of finding jobs or getting into higher education or both, so enabling this population to achieve such high passing rates in A-G classes (needed for admission to both UC and CSU) is an achievement,” he said. “Other research has found positive performance eight years after high school argues strongly for continuing these programs.”
For Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, support for California Partnership Academies “is a high priority,” said Susanna Cooper, his principal education consultant. Steinberg authored SB X1 1, a “clean technology” bill that would give some $8 million to academies that focus on clean and renewable energy. But because of funding uncertainties, it is not yet clear how many schools will be able to be helped by this bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Brown last April.
Stern said some programs might be able to survive without state support, in cases where there is a “fortuitous combination of a strong program, an advisory committee, a strong principal and a superintendent who really knows what is going on.” But he fears that if the funding were to dry up, “most of them will disappear.”
That, he said, would represent a significant setback for the state.
Learn More About California Partnership Academies:
Research Report: The California Partnership Academies 2009-2010
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