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Eclucation Through Theme-Basecl Learning Communities Creating schools with occupational themes is a promising new school reform strategy for making the curriculum more relevant and personally meaningful to students. This approach is also likely to enhance motivation by offering students choices among several themes. In schools that have tried this approach, the theme often has a broad occupational focus for example, health occupations rather than nursing; industrial production rather than welding; agriculture rather than farm- ing that is elastic enough to encompass a variety of types of learning, including standard academic subjects. This strategy is different from that of traditional vocational education, which has been designed to prepare indi- viduals for specific entry-level jobs. Although an occupational focus pro- vides distinct benefits, a theme does not need to be occupational. Some schools focus on international trade and others examine urban issues or the environment. Current common themes for magnet schools include technol- ogy, the arts, science, health, agriculture, or (in the case of Aviation High School in New York, for example) a range of related occupations. The theme-based approach has various roots and appears under differ- ent names. Some have labeled the thematic approach to high school educa- tion as the "new" or "emerging" vocational education, to distinguish it from traditional vocational education; others refer to school-to-work or school-to-career programs, invoking the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 (now ended).) Some proponents describe thematic programs as iThe School-to-Work Opportunities Act added work-based learning to earlier efforts to integrate academic and vocational education and to incorporate "tech prep," but many people have adopted the school-to-work label for programs with an occupational focus even though they lack any work-based learning. 168
EDUCATION THROUGH THEME-BASED LEARNING COMMUNITIES 169 "college and career" programs, stressing the dual outcomes possible,2 and others have labeled them forms of "education through occupations," recall- ing John Dewey's argument that "education through occupations conse- quently combines within itself more of the factors conducive to learning than any other method."3 We will use these terms interchangeably, despite differences in emphasis. This type of reform provides substantial opportunities to integrate aca- demic content with occupational applications. Integration strategies in- clude teaching the conceptual prerequisites for occupational activities in academic classes, examining occupational applications in math or science classes, analyzing a particular phenomenon from the perspectives of several disciplines, and creating projects that span several classes. One intent is to replace the current high school curriculum made up of independent, dis- connected courses with a more coherent program that allows students to see how subjects are related. The extent of integration varies among schools and depends substantially on teacher planning time. Successful examples occur in schools that have eliminated conventional divisions between aca- demic and vocational instructors. Thematic programs usually stress preparation for college, or for work after high school, or for a combination of college enrollment and employ- ment. These programs are different from traditional, terminal vocational education programs designed previously for students not bound for college. The emphasis on "college anal careers" conveys a range of options that is broader than is typically found in traditional vocational education or "gen- eral education" tracks or an academic track, with its single-minded pursuit of "college for all."4 Sometimes the route to college is structured through "tech prep" or "2 + 2" programs that integrate a high school program with nearby community college classes. These efforts involve a view of high school as part of a longer K-16 continuum. This approach to high school education sometimes incorporates forms of learning outside of school, including projects in the community or the work world, job shadowing and internships, and cooperative education that integrates substantial amounts of work-based learning into the curricu- lum. Once a school has been reorganized to include occupational "majors" or schools within schools, the links to work-based opportunities are easier 2see especially Stern (1999) and Urquiola et al. (1997). 3see Dewey (1916, p. 309), especially Chapter 23, on ``Vocational Aspects of Education., The historical background of the practices examined in this chapter is reviewed in Grubb 1 995b). 40n the power and limitations of "college for all," see soesel and Fredland (1999) and Rosenbaum (2001).
170 ENGAGING SCHOOLS to make. The most thorough approaches to "education through occupa- tions" require a substantial change in the ways communities and employers work with schools; both students and the community can benefit. The thematic approach to educating students usually develops within small schools, or schools within schools, capitalizing on the advantages of the closer relationships among teachers and students.5 The three most common organizational forms are career academies, high schools with ma- jors, and high schools with themes. Career academies are schools within schools with 200 to 250 students and a group of teachers who teach core subjects such as English, math, science, or history, as well as the occupational or intellectual area that gives an academy its focus (see Institute for Research and Reform in Education, 20021. Students stay with each other and with these teachers for 2, 3, or 4 years, and instructors integrate their courses in various ways. Academies usually establish close connections with employers, who may provide re- sources and opportunities, such as representatives who visit the school, summer jobs, internships, or employment after high school. Academies were the earliest examples of thematic high schools. No- table examples are the Electrical Academy developed in Philadelphia in 1969, the network of Partnership Academies funded by the state of Califor- nia, and finance and tourism academies supported by American Express. Networks have been formed to strengthen and extend the academy model.6 The occupational focuses of existing academies include traditional voca- tional subjects electricity, automotive occupations, and health occupa- tions as well as more modern occupations, including electronics, comput- ers, communications or journalism, and engineering. As schools within schools, career academies have the advantage of requiring the cooperation of fewer numbers of teachers. Thus the scale of the reform is considerably smaller than most of the reforms described in this volume, in which entire faculties of large high schools must all work together in new ways. High schools with majors, or clusters, require every student to choose a focus, usually during 10th grade, from a roster of choices. The extent to which the major dominates a student's curriculum varies. In some cases students take the majority of their courses within a cluster; in others, a two- 5This aspect of ``education through occupations, which began at least with the first career academies in 1969, considerably predates the recent interest in small schools, often dated to Meier (1995). 6Regarding academies, see Stern, Raby, and Dayton (1992) and Stern, Dayton, and Raby (2001). Current networks include the career Academies Support Network at the university of California at Berkeley' the National Academy Foundation at http /Iwww.naf.orgl and a network of 38 Junior ROTC academies sponsored by the u.s. Departments of Defense and Education.
EDUCATION THROUGH THEME-BASED LEARNING COMMUNITIES 171 period block of time (e.g., the afternoon) is spent within a major, while other courses are conventionally taught. The ideal, as in academies, is to encourage the integration of curriculum across subjects and to provide links to employers and the outside world. A number of districts have developed individual high schools with majors or clusters; for example, Oakland, California, has been transforming all of its high schools into cluster schools. A number of the New American High Schools have followed this model, and the Talent Development High School at Johns Hopkins University also includes majors or clusters, with a ninth-grade "Success Academy" to pre- pare students for the choice of majors.7 Some high schools adopt a theme or focus for all students. Examples include schools emphasizing the arts or the performing arts; health-related high schools; an agriculture high school in south Chicago; magnet schools emphasizing areas such as computers, business, and communications; High Tech High in San Diego, with an emphasis on technology and project-based learning in all classes; and Aviation High and the High School of the Performing Arts in New York. Invariably, these are relatively small high schools with 400 to 800 students. The extent to which the focus permeates the curriculum varies: Some infuse a focus into virtually every class; others are more like conventional high schools, with some afternoon classes in the area of focus.8 The reforms described in this chapter reshape the high school as a whole, and require rethinking its purpose, structure, and relation to the outside world. Perhaps most importantly, the reforms serve as an alterna- tive to the traditional monolithic high school, dominated by the academic courses of the college prep curriculum. The traditional high school has provided relatively little choice to students, except for a limited array of electives, and it does not link school to the world of work or the community in the way that schools with a theme or focus do. The challenge is to see whether theme-based high schools enhance motivation and engagement, or any of its correlates, including persistence, graduation, or measures of learning. We review three kinds of evidence: (1) analysis of whether its practices are consistent with what is known about motivation and engagement in general; (2) the perceptions of teachers and students who have been engaged in these reforms; and, most importantly, 7Regarding high schools with clusters, see Grubb (1995a); regarding the Talent Develop- ment High School, see Legters (1999) and McPartland, salfanz' Joan, and Legters (1998). 8 Considerately less has been written about such high schools, but see Katz, Jackson, Reeves, and Benson (1995). However, many magnet schools have a theme or focus.
72 ENGAGING SCHOOLS (3) evidence related to outcomes. Unfortunately, outcome evidence is still scant because few reforms have been in place long enough to be evaluated. Overall, the different kinds of evidence suggest that various forms of "education through occupations," if carefully implemented in accordance with the basic precepts about motivation and engagement described in Chapter 2, have many potential benefits and few negative effects. Because these reforms are relatively new, their real benefits may not have developed yet. However, their success depends critically on the details of implementa- tion, which we examine in Chapter 9. PRACTICES ENHANCING MOTIVATION AND ENGAGEMENT One way to evaluate the potential effects of programs with occupa- tional themes is to examine their consistency (or inconsistency) with what is known from existing research about motivation and engagement. An analy- sis of the motivational qualities of programs also serves as a guide for creating programs that engage students in learning. We concentrate on six such conditions, recognizing that, although some programs may meet these conditions, others may not. Although this summary represents an idealized version of schools with occupational themes, it does reflect the goals of most programs. First, programs motivating students allow for close adult-student rela- tionships. The research summarized in Chapters 2 and 4 supports the value of social contexts for learning that are accepting and supportive and that facilitate personal connections.9 The recent "movement" for small schools, described in Chapter 5, builds on these findings. Most programs with occu- pational themes follow this precept in creating smaller learning communi- ties within the high school, academies, and clusters or majors where students remain with other students and with a few teachers over 2 to 4 years. In addition, most themed high schools are relatively small. Several related practices should further enhance the motivational value of these approaches. Thematic programs usually develop work teams and projects involving students collectively including the cooperative forms of learning that have always been part of vocational education (Achtenhagen and Grubb, 2001), and sometimes mimicking the social nature of work (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 19981. In addition, programs with occu- pational themes that include work placements give students opportunities 9See Ames (1992) and Stipek (2002). See also the February 2002 issue of Principal Leader- ship for testimonials about the value of small schools, small learning communities, and career academies.
EDUCATION THROUGH THEME-BASED LEARNING COMMUNITIES 173 to make connections to fellow workers and supervisors. The national school-to-work evaluation found that students value these one-to-one con- nections (Hershey, Silverberg, Hamison, Hudis, and Jackson, 1998~. An- other review concluded that practices such as small class sizes and weekly seminars helped build relationships among teachers, students, and worksite personnel, creating a "family-like atmosphere" (Pedraza, Pauly, and Kopp, 1997; Stern et al., 1992~. Not all work settings have "family-like" environ- ments or educative and supportive cultures; thus, work settings must be carefully chosen and monitored. Kemple and Snipes (2000) found that interpersonal supports are needed to maximize the positive effects of career academies. Programs that did not structure opportunities to build relation- ships with adults and to provide career awareness actually disengaged stu- dents from school. Hamilton and Hamilton (1997) and the Institute for Research and Reform in Education (2002) recommend using a private case management or advocate approach that offers each student personal assis- tance and academic support. Second, engagement increases in environments where students have some autonomy in selecting tasks and methods, and in which they can construct meaning, engage in sense-making on their own, and play an active role in learning, rather than the passive role typical of teacher-cen- tered classrooms (Ames, 1992; National Research Council, 1999; Ryan and LaGuardia, 1999; Stipek, 2002~. Students are usually offered a choice- either in which thematic school they attend or in which theme they partici- pate among an array offered in their school. Research on motivation sug- gests that having an opportunity to choose promotes feelings of self-determination and thus engagement. "New voc" programs typically foster autonomy and active roles in several other ways. They are more likely to use projects and other forms of direct investigation, both in occupational classes and in activities that in- volve several classes. Usually, students have some choice about their projects, and some, particularly senior projects or "capstone" projects, can occupy considerable amounts of time (Tsuzuki, 19951. According to moti- vation research, challenging projects that require sustained effort promote feelings of competence and pride, which motivate further efforts (Stipek, 2002~. In addition, proponents of vocational education have always pro- moted the benefits of "hands-on" learning, which usually refers to some features of adept instruction in the workshops the process of showing and lOThe pedagogy of vocational education is in many ways more complex than that of academic instruction, though it has received little attention in the English-language literature. These results are drawn from Grubb and colleagues (1999, Chap. 3) and from the review of the German and English literature in Achtenhagen and Grubb (2001).
74 ENGAGING SCHOOLS doing, with the student practicing what the instructor has shown; the devel- opment of visual, manual, and interpersonal skills; the development of teamwork, communications, and problem-solving skills; opportunities for one-on-one instruction, as teachers circulate to help individuals or groups of students in the workshop or lab; and opportunities for feedback from errors, as some projects that fail to work "right" provide their own correctives. Students are often engaged in workshops in an experimental mode under the guidance of the instructor, a process close to the cognitive apprenticeship mode! described by Collins, Brown, and Newman (19891. In addition, the work-based component of some programs with occu- pational themes provides other settings in which students can exercise au- tonomy and engage in active learning. In case studies of three career-related programs, Stasz and Kaganoff (1998) noted that students in school settings rely on the teacher for information, while in work settings the same stu- dents often determine on their own how to obtain information they need to solve problems. Third, motivation and engagement are enhanced in well-structured edu- cational environments with clear, meaningful purposes. Programs follow- ing the logic of "education through occupations," by using a broadly occu- pational theme, can be both well structured and clear in their purposes because they are linked both to future employment opportunities and to subsequent educational enrollment. In addition, high schools with clusters and theme high schools often dispense with the electives and extracurricu- lar activities of the "shopping mall high school" (Powell et al., 1985) be- cause no time is left over after fulfilling academic, occupational, and work- related requirements. Thus these reforms can improve the coherence of the comprehensive high school, where courses are typically unrelated to one another and where the curriculum is not clearly related to future goals aside from college entrance. Fourth, motivation is enhanced in settings with a challenging curricu- lum, high expectations, and a strong emphasis on achievement. Theme- based programs often replace the watered-down offerings in the general track. For example, the Talent Development High School mode! and the Southern Regional Education Board reforms replace the general track with more demanding integrated programs. Carefully structured workshops also are designed to enhance learning and are integrated with classroom instruc- tion involving applications. This approach improves on traditional voca- tional education's tendency to simplify content and to become largely avocational boys working on cars, girls styling hair, and students devel- oping pictures in darkrooms. Work-based placements provide another setting that supports learning, especially if these work opportunities are integrated with school-based learn-
EDUCATION THROUGH THEME-BASED LEARNING COMMUNITIES 175 ing through "connecting activities." The students in Ryken's (2001) acad- emies learned different but complementary competencies in school and work settings: Work tended to teach the procedures in biotechnology pro- duction, while school components taught the theories underlying these pro- cedures. Many forms of nonschoo! learning can emerge from work settings, including the ability to work on a team. Fifth, motivation and engagement are enhanced when students have multiple paths to competence. Research summarized in Chapter 2 indicates that students are most engaged when they fee! competent. This requires diverse opportunities to develop and demonstrate mastery. "Education through occupations" can provide multiple avenues for success, including artistic success, success in making and repairing devices, and success in developing competencies related to employment as well as formal schooling. Programs with occupational themes often include individualized work- place activities that allow students to master additional kinds of skills. The national evaluation of school-to-work programs (Hershey et al., 1998) found that students valued internships and job shadowing more than other career development activities (such as career education courses). Similarly, evaluations of career academies found that jobs related to the academy theme motivated students to succeed both on the job and in school because they knew they might be dropped from the program if their schoolwork lagged (Stern et al., 20011. The students in Ryken's (2001) biotechnology program stressed the value of internships in providing opportunities to develop new lab skills critical to entering the biotechnology workforce. The value of work placements as an avenue to mastery recalls a savage criticism of the high school by Goodman (1956) in Growing Up Absurd. He asserted that the problem youth faced was that they did not have anything serious to do nothing approaching adults' activities that define adult status. High school for many students is an infantilizing activity in which they are told what to do at every step, even while they are exploring newly found freedoms in other arenas. The construction of a long adoles- cence, when youth might explore the identities available to them, also has disconnected them from adult life and real experience, a frequent complaint about high school.12 Carefully constructed work experiences provide op- 1lSee also the well-designed cooperative programs in the Cincinnati area devised with complementary school- and work-based components, described in Villeneuve and Grubb (1996). 12See also Stern (1989) and the various commission reports of the 1970s that complained about the isolation of high school students from the worlds of adults: Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education (1980), National Commission on Youth (1980), National Panel on High School and Adolescent Education (1976), Panel on Youth of the President's Science Advisory Committee (1974), and Timpane, Abramowitz, Bobrow, and Pascal (1976).
176 ENGAGING SCHOOLS portun~t~es tor youth to do meaningful work, rather than the menial work of "youth jobs." Without abandoning adolescence as an experimental and transitional period, occupational themed high schools can provide opportu- nities for youth to do something real and adult-like, consistent with the importance of multiple paths to competence. Finally, helping students develop education and career pathways can enhance their understanding of school and their motivation to participate fully. Students are unlikely to be highly engaged in schoolwork if they do not understand its relevance to their future goals (Schneider and Stevenson, 19991. Programs with occupational themes can help students envision vari- ous future careers, develop direct information about careers, and under- stand related educational requirements. Both Crain et al. (1999) and Pedraza et al. (1997) reported that school-to-work programs provided a clear work- related identity for participants. Similarly, Ryken (2001) found that bio- technology students began to understand the structure of the biotechnology industry with some sophistication, with different levels of understanding developed in high school, in work placements, and in the college compo- nent. Their varied experiences helped them envision a career in science and the steps required to create a science career. High schools offering majors and career academies use a variety of strategies to connect students' educational programs to professional goals. For example, in one school offering six majors, students in 9th and 10th grades first complete a 9-week "exploratory" in each of six majors, then choose two for a second and more intensive "exploratory," and then choose a major from those two providing two choice nodes with serious (but still reversible) consequences. In addition, students in programs with occupa- tional themes usually have a choice of work placements and an opportunity to match their interests to placements. If carefully implemented, programs with occupational themes may be a substitute for weak high school guidance and counseling programs. As we proposed in Chapter 6, such active approaches are preferable to conven- tional guidance counselor practices, including passive activities sometimes derided as "test 'em and tell 'em" or advising "college for all." Programs with occupational themes can improve student motivation and engagement, but the advantages we have described are not automatic. Theme-based high schools need to be carefully structured to include well- integrated opportunities to develop a wide range of competencies. In schools where notions of "old" vocational education dominate, or in urban high schools with outdated equipment and poor prospects for meaningful work placements, implementation may be more difficult. Work-based learning is especially fragile. Although carefully structured opportunities can motivate students and have more positive effects than most of the work students find
EDUCATION THROUGH THEME-BASED LEARNING COMMUNITIES 177 on their own,l3 poor work placements can do just the opposite.l4 The most engaging and educative work experiences also require the most careful planning and development. PERCEPTIONS OF STUDENTS AND TEACHERS A different kind of evidence about theme-based education comes from the comments of teachers, students, administrators, and other participants. Most of this kind of evidence available is fraught with potential bias; it is often unsystematic, and sometimes merely anecdotal. Advocates often record positive comments, but not negative ones. A few studies, however, have interviewed students and faculty systematically. In an analysis of two career academies, Ryken (2001) interviewed 22 students (as well as teachers and work supervisors), and profiled 10 stu- dents in greater depth. There was no comparison group; implicitly, students compared their academy experiences to those in other high schools. These students corroborated many elements related to engagement and motiva- tion: the diverse settings for learning and the importance of career and labor market knowledge embedded in these programs. They praised the support from their teachers both in school and in their work settings. They commented on the value of working one-on-one with supervisors and being able to ask many more questions that even small school settings allow. As part of Crain's analysis of career-oriented magnet schools (Crain et al., 1999), Heebner (1995) interviewed 70 students and 60 adults in four schools. There was no comparison group; implicitly, most students com- pared their experiences in magnet schools to their earlier experiences in nonmagnet schools. Students said they valued internships, after-school pro- grams, co-op placements, and other opportunities to learn and practice skills in real or simulated workplace environments. Developing useful skills enhanced their interest in college preparation classes that were relevant to workplace skills, suggesting that occupational content can reinforce moti- vation in academic programs. Finally, the career magnets stimulated active planning for the future, often for multiple job and career options. Students also related drawbacks, including inadequate academic preparation for high 13Students who find positions through their school programs compared to those who find "youth jobs" on their own have access to more diverse workplaces, receive more train- ing time, get more feedback about their performance, and see more links between school studies and their job requirements (Hershey et al., 1998). 14See the discussion in Villeneuve and Grubb (1996) on the differences in work placements between employers with a "grow your own" philosophy and those who view interns as a source of low-cost labor.
178 ENGAGING SCHOOLS school, a lack of role models among teachers and administrators from minority backgrounds, and overloaded teachers. In the early stages of a random assignment evaluation of 10 academies, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) researchers dis- tributed questionnaires to students and teachers in both the academy group and the control group, who were in the same high school but not in the academy. Academy students consistently ranked their schools and their teachers more highly than did nonacademy students, reporting more per- sonalized attention, more help with personal problems, higher expecta- tions, and more concern about their performance and their futures. Stu- dents also reported that their peers were more engaged: They paid attention; they tried to get good grades; they were more likely to think that doing well in school paid off; and they were less likely to be bored and to think that cutting class is cool. The ratings of collaboration among students were also higher for academy students compared to nonacademy students (Kemple, 1997, Tables 3.2 and 3.31. Similarly, academy teachers reported more col- laboration with their colleagues, more adequate resources, a greater influ- ence over instruction and administrative policies, more opportunities to learn, more colleagues who emphasized personalized attention to students, and generally higher levels of job satisfaction and efficacy (Kemple, 1997, Table 4.21. Overall, these results describe academies as communities of support and learning for both students and teachers. In an evaluation of the Talent Development High School replications in Philadelphia, researchers interviewed 185 students and 34 teachers and administrators at three replication sites. The students reported high levels of satisfaction, including improved relations with their teachers. Students praised the separation of ninth graders from older students, and over- whelmingly approved of the Freshman Seminar (where career planning, study skills, and work habits were developed). Furthermore, students val- ued the longer class periods of 90 minutes, described the schoo! as orderly, an] said their coursework was challenging rather than a repetition of what they ha] learned earlier. Teachers liked being part of a team. Their negative comments concentrate] on the difficulty in meeting with other teachers, an] the varying (an] sometimes inadequate) assistance from curriculum coaches.~5 In addition, the teachers in one school suffered from the instabil- ity of teams (Gol~wasser et al., 2001~. Stasz an] Kaganoff (1998) carried out one of the few studies of student i5See "Philadelphia's Talent Development High Schools: Second-Year Results," from the Philadelphia Education Fund, available online at http://www.philaedfund.org. More details about these interviews with students are available in Corbett and Wilson (2001); more details on teachers are available in the implementation study of Goldwasser, Yoshida, Christman, and Reumann-Moore (2001).
EDUCATION THROUGH THEME-BASED LEARNING COMMUNITIES 179 perceptions of work components. Overall, students were satisfied with work experiences, even though they clici not finci them very challenging. Work seemed to enhance social skills and positive attitudes toward work, but it clici not affect basic academic or problem-solving skills. Few students in either program used higher level reacting, writing, or math skills. The links between school and work were perceived to be weak, despite practices intencleci to facilitate cooperation. Finally, students reported some conflict with school, inclucling having less time to clo homework and thinking they might be more likely to quit as a result of the work component. Two obvious implications are that work placements need to be carefully selected and structured so that they are challenging and reinforce academic compe- tencies, and that they may compete with schooling if not well connected to the academic program (Greenberger and Steinberg, 19861. EVIDENCE FROM OUTCOME EVALUATIONS Although interview studies suggest that teachers and students are gen- erally positive, this kind of evidence is always suspect. Teachers and stu- clents may fee! positive about reforms without improvements in their per- formance, learning, persistence, or unclerstancling. Even if motivation is improved, students will not benefit if other conclitions are not met if, for example, the "new" vocationalism has not moved away from the low-level content of the "oici" vocational eclucation.l6 Most outcome evaluations have examined career academies rather than high schools with majors or occupational high schools, simply because academies have been around the longest.l7 Finclings generally favor academies over comparison schools, but caution is called for in interpreting the finclings because students were not ranclomly assigned to academies and there are complex selection proce- clures in some cases that influence the results in both positive and negative . . c .lrectlons. Some of the earliest evaluations were conclucteci for the California academies. Evaluators founci annual dropout rates of 2 to 4 percent in academies, compared to 10 to 11 percent among a comparison group matched by race, gentler, and achievement test scores (Stern et al., 1992, Chap. 51. Overall, 94 percent of academy students gracluateci, compared to 79 percent from the comparison group. A later evaluation of academy replications founci a 3-year cumulative dropout rate of 7.3 percent in acaci- 16High schools that have developed from traditional vocational programs tend to look more like vocational programs with more academic content, while those that have emerged from conventional academic high schools tend to look like academic schools with a little occupational content added. 17For another review of the effects of career academies, see Stern et al. (2001).
180 ENGAGING SCHOOLS emies and 14.6 percent in the comparison group for the first cohort, of 6.6 percent and 14.3 percent in a second cohort, and of 2.8 percent and 2.2 percent in a third. While they were enrolled, academy students showed better attendance, failed fewer courses, earned more credits, and obtained better grades than did the comparison students all indirect evidence of better motivation and engagement. The effects of the academies on employment were mixed. (In contrast, a nonexperimental evaluation of Philadelphia academies found that gradu- ates were more likely to be employed, and to have been employed longer, compared to a matched comparison group benefits that may be attrib- uted to careful selection of students.) The earliest California evaluations found higher rates of college attendance (62 percent versus 47 percent) for academy graduates, though subsequent evaluations found only that acad- emy graduates were more likely to enroll in 4-year rather than community colleges. Another evaluation of academies was conducted in a school district that has incorporated multiple academies into every high school (Maxwell and Rubin, 20001. These evaluations compared academy and nonacademy students, controlling for demographic variables that included gender, race, English proficiency, special education status, and lOth-grade achievement. In both uncontrolled and controlled results, academy students rated their program higher on several dimensions related to motivation and engage- ment, including supporting good study habits, maintaining positive atti- tudes toward schooling, being prepared for their current education, and being self-motivated. In addition, academy students were more likely to report that their program was related to their current job or future educa- tion, prepared them for their current or most recent job, helped them to meet work deadlines, and helped them see the relationship between school- ing and work. Academy students also had higher grade point averages (GPAs) and were more likely to attend 4-year (but not 2-year) colleges. All of these differences were significant in analyses that controlled for demo- graphic variables. Being in an academy did not significantly increase gradu- ation once GPA was considered, but the effect of academies on GPAs did increase graduation rates indirectly as was also true for both 2-year and 4-year college-going. Kyken's (2()()1 ) study of two high-quality biotechnology academies provides some results on persistence, although the lack of a control group limits the conclusions that can be drawn. In both schools, the graduation rate was 100 percent among academy students starting in the junior year. In contrast, the 12th-grade dropout rate among nonacademy students at one of the high schools was 12 percent for Latino and African-American stu- dents and 7 percent for Asian-American students. (At the other school it was O percent.) Students without summer internships were much less likely _ . . , . . ~ . . . .. . . . .
EDUCATION THROUGH THEME-BASED LEARNING COMMUNITIES 1 81 to persist from grade 11 to grade 12, indicating the potential power of work placements. In one school, 57.6 percent of students attended the commu- nity college component of the program, 21.2 percent planned to attend 4- year college, and 13.6 percent planned to enter another 2-year college. Comparable figures for the second school were 48.3 percent, 38.3 percent, and 6.7 percent. Although judging these figures is difficult, they clearly indicate that a majority of students persisted in the program to the commu- nity college, and more than half received a certificate within a year. Stu- dents cited the value of having a clear progression from high school to college to employment. Because it is impossible to control for all the possible differences among students that might account for differences between academy and non- academy students in nonexperimental evaluations, considerable attention has been paid to a random assignment evaluation conducted by the MDRC starting in 1993. The first set of outcome results was consistent with previ- ous studies suggesting the positive effects of academies, particularly for students at the greatest risk of dropping out who chose to attend the acad- emies. Dropout rates for this group were lower than those in the control group (21.3 percent versus 32.2 percent) and average attendance was higher (81.5 percent versus 76 percent). Academy students earned more credits overall and more credits in selected college preparation subjects, and they were more likely to earn 3 or more vocational credits (58.3 percent versus 37.7 percent), confirming that academy students took more academic and more vocational courses than nonacademy students. High-risk academy students were more future oriented in several ways. They were more likely to have researched college options, to have taken the SAT or ACT, and to have submitted college applications. Academy students, however, did not have better math and reading scores than nonacademy students. Based on these results, academies appear to enhance the motivation and engagement of high-risk students, improve completion rates, and enhance their planning for the future, although not the academic skills assessed by standardized achievement tests (Kemple and Snipes, 2000, especially Tables 3.1,3.2,3.3, 3.51. The results for students in the medium- and low-risk groups were more mixed. Although most comparisons favored academy students, few of these were statistically significant, and a few were in the "wrong" direction. Given the overall positive effects of academies on engagement, espe- cially for high-risk students who choose to attend academies, the most recent results in the series of MDRC reports have been disappointing. The high school completion rates for academy and nonacademy students were virtually the same (87.2 percent versus 86.7 percent, as were their enroll- i8A somewhat negative finding is that academy students were more likely to complete high school by receiving a GED (7 percent versus 5 percent, though this difference was not statisti-
182 ENGAGING SCHOOLS ment rates in postsecondary programs (54.8 percent versus 54.6 percent). Although high-risk academy students appeared to have higher graduation rates than high-risk nonacademy students (77 percent versus 73 percent), to be more likely to graduate on time (56 percent versus 50 percent), and to be more likely to enroll in postsecondary education (41 percent versus 37 percent), these differences were not statistically significant though small sample sizes (of 80 and 56, respectively) may be to blame. The high-risk group was also significantly more likely to complete a basic academic core (63.8 percent versus 48.2 percent), and all three risk groups were more likely to complete a basic academic core plus a career-oriented focus the emphasis of academies (Kemple and Snipes, 2000, Table ES.2, Figure 8, Table 3, Figure 91. Overall, the MDRC study suggests that academies can have positive effects on motivation and engagement. Furthermore, there are no obvious problems with occupationally oriented academies. The broad occupational focus does not decrease students' rates of taking academic courses, applying to college, or going to college. There is no evidence of substituting employ- ment for a college orientation, as has been true for traditional vocational education. The Talent Development High School mode! also has been assessed, both at its initial implementation site at Patterson High School in Baltimore and at its replication sites in two Philadelphia schools. Attendance at Patterson rose by 10 percentage points during the 2 years of implementa- tion, while it declined in other Baltimore high schools by 3.2 percentage points. During the same time frame, the proportion of students missing 20 or more days improved by 10 percentage points, the proportion passing the Maryland State Functional Exams increased by 28 percentage points, and the school's performance index a state-specified composite of climate, attendance, promotion, and academic achievement rose by 7 points, while the next best Baltimore school improved by only 3.2 points. Other high schools averaged a decline of 0.2 points. Student reports of safety, rules, state of the bathrooms, and the overall school were substantially better than other Baltimore schools (McPartiand et al., 19981. The Talent Devel- opment High School mode! was developed to bring a large, out-of-control high school back into control through the development of schools within schools; evidently this goal was largely met. cally significant). Although findings are mixed, some studies have found that the GED does not provide the same level of access to employment or postsecondary education as the con- ventional diploma (see Cameron and Heckman, 1993; Murnane, Willett and Boudett, 1995).
EDUCATION THROUGH THEME-BASED LEARNING COMMUNITIES 183 The evaluations of the Philadelphia replications compared their results to two matched high schools. In the Talent Development High Schools, the proportion of freshmen passing core academic courses increased from 24.1 percent to 55.8 percent, much greater than the improvement in control high schools, from 33.2 percent to 38.9 percent. The proportion promoted to 10th grade increased substantially, from 43.8 percent to 73 percent in one school, and from 41.5 percent to 75 percent in the other, compared to small decreases in control schools. The increases in math scores on the Stanford- 9 achievement tests were substantially higher than control schools (3.5 normal curve equivalents versus a 0.2 NCE decline), though reading scores worsened (although not by as much as in control high schools). In the second year, the school climate continued to improve, with substantial drops in arrests and suspensions and increases in attendance; the propor- tion passing the three core academic subjects was about 20 percentage points higher than at the control site. Though the study design can be faulted for being nonrandom, in every dimension of performance the Talent Development High Schools outperformed the control high schools.~9 An evaluation of magnet high schools with broadly occupational themes also generated interesting, if ambiguous, results. New York City established magnet high schools in which half of the students were admitted by lottery, while the remaining half were chosen by the school in a competitive pro- cess. The lottery thus created a random assignment opportunity. Evidence from four magnet schools one in health, one in business, one in business communications, and one in engineering indicated that completion rates were worse for those students in magnet schools: 25 percent of lottery winners graduated at the end of the fourth year, compared to 31 percent of lottery losers. The authors (Crain et al., 1999, Chap. 2) attributed this result to the fact that the career magnet schools were more academically demanding than the comprehensive schools, and the career magnet schools enforced standards by limiting the occupational program to only a fraction of students they admitted, thereby increasing dropouts. The real benefits of these magnet schools came in the long term. Interviews with both lottery winners and losers indicated that graduates of the career magnet earned more college credits and were more likely to have chosen a college major in their first or second year after high school graduation. The career magnet students were more likely to report that they had become "really good at something," and to have developed a career identity during their high school years, a result consistent with Heebner's (1995) findings that magnet 19For these results, see "The Talent Development High School: First-Year Results of the Ninth Grade Success Academy in Two Philadelphia High Schools 1999-2000" and "Philadelphia's Talent Development High Schools: Second-Year Results," both from the Phila- delphia Education Fund, available online at http://www.philaedfund.org.
184 ENGAGING SCHOOLS students engaged in "parallel career planning," developing both employ- ment and postsecondary education goals. Overall, the authors concluded that the success of career magnets depends on orienting students toward future college and career decisions. Finally, we note some intriguing statistical findings by Arum and Shavit (1995), based on the High School and Beyond data collected on sopho- mores in 1980 and followed through 1986. They focused on the effects of academic, vocational, and general tracks, but also included a "mixed" track with academic and vocational courses. Students in the vocational track were less likely to attend college, but those in the mixed track were just as likely as students in the academic track to enroll in postsecondary education.20 Furthermore, for those who were not still in school, students from the mixed track were more likely to be employed than those from the academic track. The mixed tracks were not necessarily the programs we have described as theme-based high schools because such programs barely existed in the early 1980s. However, these results indicate that a mix of academic and occupational courses does not necessarily reduce post- secondary enrollment, and can increase employment for those who do not go to college. CO NCLUSIO NS Compared to traditional high schools, the reforms associated with theme-based high schools are, in theory, more consistent with general con- ditions necessary for student motivation and engagement small size, envi- ronments where students can play a greater role in their own learning, clearly structured, coherent curricula, relevance to the outside world, and other criteria reviewed in Chapter 2. Of course, certain programs may not adhere to some of these precepts: The New York magnet schools, for ex- ample, are not always small learning communities, and some reforms may slight learning about careers and their connections to schooling. But, in theory, these reforms have promise for improving American high school student engagement. Both students and teachers report positive experiences in these settings more than in traditional high schools. Students value smaller learning com- 20These results recently have been replicated in part by Plank (2001, Figures 4A-4D) using National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS 88) data. He found that 87 percent of academic concentrators enrolled in postsecondary education, compared to 79 percent of dual (academic and vocational) concentrators, with much lower proportions for general students (69 percent) and vocational concentrators (56 percent) a higher differential between aca- demic and dual concentrators than Arum and Shavit found, but still implying that mixed programs lead to relatively high postsecondary enrollment.
EDUCATION THROUGH THEME-BASED LEARNING COMMUNITIES 185 munities and the variety of instructional settings; they appreciate informa- tion on careers and future options, and the possibility of "parallel career planning" has advantages over the previous dichotomy between college- bound and non college-bound students. In programs incorporating work- based learning, students report that they learn in different ways in different settings, although the quality of work placements is crucial. Some students find these integrated programs are not for them, especially if they are in an occupational area they do not enjoy. Some teachers report that they do not have enough time for collaboration. Overall, however, the level of satisfac- tion with these reforms seems high. The effects on motivation and engagement appear to be relatively strong and consistent. In most cases, attendance is improved, engagement with school seems to go up, and negative behavior seems to be reduced. The effects of the Talent Development mode! in establishing an orderly climate conducive to learning is especially remarkable. The detailed results in Ryken's (2001) study of a high-quality academy reveal the attachment and learning that can take place in programs with several different learning environments. These results, as well as those from the New York magnet schools, suggest the value of "education through occupations" in orienting students toward future opportunities in both employment and education. Even in the most rigorous random assignment study (the MDRC study), students report more personalized attention, more teacher support with schoolwork, and more engaged peers. The conclusions about outcomes, however, are more mixed. The quasi- experimental studies of academies typically report higher grades and higher rates of college-going. But there is little evidence of any positive influence on direct measures of learning. The recent findings of the MDRC random assignment study indicate academy students are not even more necessarily likely to complete high school or enroll in postsecondary education. The differences between academies and other schools on measures of engage- ment and motivation evidently do not necessarily lead to clearly improved academic achievement or the increases in educational attainment that would be expected if higher achievement levels were observed. The lack of effects on learning has important implications for practice. Even when the strategies described in this chapter increase motivation, they may not increase learning if a reform does not also pay attention to the quality of instruction. The reforms we have described focus more on what is taught than on how teaching was done, with the exception of more opportunities for learning in real-worId settings. Taken together, research on theme-based schools and research on instruction (Chapter 3, this volume) suggest that the implementation of a theme needs to be combined with efforts to improve the quality of teaching. Finally, consistent with MDRC findings (Kemple, 1997, 2001; Kemple
186 ENGAGING SCHOOLS and Snipes, 2000), any good idea can be undermined by mediocre imple- mentation, and some evaluation results have been affected by weaknesses in programs as implemented. Academies vary in the extent to which instruc- tors can construct integrated curricula and in their connections to employ- ers and postsecondary institutions. The New York magnet schools seem to include relatively little occupational coursework, and have not developed small learning communities within these large high schools. The Talent Development mode! has struggled with getting districts and unions to free up sufficient time for teacher preparation, and in some cases been plagued by instability of teachers and administrators. In addition, the availability and quality of work-based learning, and more generally of connections between school and the wider community, vary substantially. The good news is that the kinds of negative effects academically ori- ented critics might expect of schools with occupational themes have not been found. There is no evidence of lower grades, lower test scores, or lower rates of college-going. A judicious summary might be that there are no obvious problems in theme-based education in the contexts in which they have been studied and there is the potential for substantial improve- ments in school climate, motivation, and other outcomes. Because this approach to high school reform began seriously only about 20 years ago, it is too soon to know its true potential.