The California Partnership Academies
In recent years, we have repeatedly been forced to confront a troubling picture of declining knowledge and skills among the young people of the U.S., particularly those who do not attend college. These youths, who come increasingly from the poor and minority populations, were christened the "forgotten half" in the 1988 report released by the William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship. The commission characterized the forgotten half as "the young people who build our homes, drive our buses, repair our automobiles, fix our televisions, maintain and serve our offices, schools, and hospitals, and keep the production lines of our mills and factories moving. To a great extent, they determine how well the American family, economy, and democracy function." In most U.S. schools these are the students who are placed in general or remedial tracks or enrolled in vocational courses. The public is increasingly critical of the education they receive. They are not taught good communication, thinking, numerical, technical, or workplace skills and are leaving school unprepared to meet the demands of the marketplace.
The National Center on Education and the Economy recently analyzed these problems in a report titled America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages. The report argues convincingly that we must develop the higher-level skills of our high school students and reform our businesses to make use of these skills, or we will continue to lose ground to our international competitors. In particular, we must try to reclaim our high school youths who are currently dropping out or graduating with limited skills and no plans for further education, or we will all be condemned to a lower standard of living.
Many factors are cited as contributing to the poor performance of our non-college-bound students. Some fall into the category of societal changes, including the growing proportion of our young people who are from minority or immigrant populations or both and who too often do not value education or even speak English; a breakdown of the social institutions that have traditionally supported young people and their families; and the changing nature of the labor market, with declines in manufacturing jobs and those requiring unskilled workers and increases in jobs requiring training beyond high school.
Other observers fault the present education system, citing such problems as grouping students by "ability," thereby reinforcing and exacerbating social and class stereotyping; the increasing size and impersonality of high schools, which result in student alienation; teachers' low academic and career expectations for non-college-bound students; uninspiring curricula that lack academic rigor and fail to provide the skills young people need after high school; narrow vocational training for jobs with little future; and lack of contact between high schools and the business communities they serve. Although this is by no means a complete list of the problems facing these students, it touches most of the major themes.
A program to address these concerns has been developing in California for the past 10 years and has been adopted by more than 50 high schools throughout the state. Known as the California Partnership Academies, it existed in embryonic form before many of these problems be came acute, and it has evolved into an approach that meets a surprising number of today's challenges. The academies have met with consistent enthusiasm among the high schools and districts that have implemented them, and they have received strong support at the state level. Careful evaluations of the program support this enthusiasm. A description of the program model and a summary of these evaluations are here in this article.
This article was originally published in the Phi Delta Kappen by Phi Delta Kappa International and Journal Storage (JSTOR).