Accelerating Success for All Youth through Career Academies: The Road to Equity

Ilene KantrovIlene Kantrov leads secondary education initiatives targeted at building a highly skilled and educated workforce. For over a decade, she has directed innovative programs—including Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies, Ford Next Generation Learning (NGL)Law and Justice, and Digital Media Arts—that use project- and inquiry-based approaches to develop academic and 21st-century knowledge and skills.

In this post, first published on the Ford NGL website, Ilene provides a summary of findings from her recent report on equity challenges that career academies in the Ford NGL network have encountered, and describes 10 effective strategies that the academies are using to address inequities.

When you walk into a career academy in one of the more than 30 Ford Next Generation Learning (Ford NGL) communities nationwide, you meet youth who are passionate about learning. Every day, they learn and apply rigorous academic content to carry out projects and solve problems that connect directly to their lives and their communities. Their teachers are equally passionate about their role in guiding students, and they, too, are engaged in powerful learning experiences. Local employers are passionate about sharing their expertise with students and teachers, as they provide work-based learning opportunities and invaluable insight into the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in the workforce. What you see and hear around you—young people who are excited about and prepared for their futures—is inspiring, and it is light years away from “learning as usual.”

As I have seen over the course of EDC’s work with Ford Motor Company Fund during the past 17 years, Ford NGL’s role in transforming students’ lives is clear. Using a community-driven approach to transformation that aligns classroom, school, and community-level tactics, Ford NGL is featured in Change the Equation’s STEMworks! database of STEM programs that “maximize ROI for funders and make a real impact on students.” Many career academies in Ford NGL communities are seeing improved outcomes such as increases in high school graduation rates, fewer absences and disciplinary actions, better performance on AP and ACT exams and state tests, and increases in the percentage of students who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

How can you make a community-driven high school transformation strategy like Ford NGL even more powerful? You can ensure that all young people have the opportunity to experience Ford NGL and engage in learning that makes them excited about and prepared for their futures. The leaders and educators of Ford NGL communities nationwide are deeply dedicated to doing this, building on core features of career academies that contribute to their great potential for improving the likelihood that all students enrolled will succeed. These features include teachers working in teams and forging strong relationships with students and one another, integrating curriculum around career themes, and providing work-based learning experiences through partnerships with employers.

To help ensure that communities take full advantage of the potential of career academies, my colleagues at Ford Motor Company Fund asked me to identify challenges that Ford NGL communities are facing as they work to close opportunity gaps and achieve educational equity and justice as one of their long-term outcomes.

In my report published by Ford NGL, “Achieving Educational Equity and Justice in Career Academies: Challenges and Promising Strategies,” I provide findings from my interviews with 12 leaders in 7 Ford NGL communities, as well as the results of a related literature review. I summarize key equity issues that the districts have encountered and recommend actions and approaches that communities can take to address these challenges.  

Key Equity Issues
My interviews with Ford NGL community leaders and my review of the literature surfaced two key equity issues with which communities are grappling.

  1. Access: Ensuring that all students have equitable opportunities to enroll in career academies and to pursue career pathways of their choice that lead to high-skill, high-wage jobs.
  • Key Factor: Family outreach and engagement
  • Key Factor: Overrepresentation and underrepresentation of different demographic groups in programs
  1. School Culture: Ensuring that the academy is a welcoming and supportive place for students of all demographic groups and their families, and that educators are culturally proficient and able to help students capitalize on their diverse strengths.

Promising Strategies for Improving Equity
From my review of the literature, which included an analysis of case studies of career academies, and my conversations with Ford NGL leaders, I identified 10 promising strategies for career academies to consider. These strategies include:

  1. Adopt more effective outreach and recruitment strategies that take into account students’ and families’ cultural and linguistic characteristics
  2. Engage with families by reaching out to them, rather than by expecting them to come to the schools
  3. Make deliberate efforts to assure that academy students reflect the demographic profile of the school district
  4. Avoid imposing academy entrance requirements and use a lottery approach if there are more applicants than places available
  5. Maintain a commitment to implementing the features of quality career academies that support better outcomes, including making sure that all students complete challenging work-based learning experiences
  6. Starting in middle school, encourage both male and female students to pursue career tracks that lead to high-wage jobs, even though they may not be traditional for their genders
  7. Build teachers’ cultural proficiency and capacity to interact with sensitivity to students from a wide variety of backgrounds
  8. Track progress in achieving the National Standards of Practice for career academies ( and regularly assess students’ and families’ experiences in career academies
  9. Work to recruit and retain staff who are racially and ethnically similar to the student population. Collaborate with teacher preparation programs and be creative in devising strategies for diversifying the educator workforce.
  10. Collect relevant data on the success of career academy students by demographic group. Draw upon this data to continually assess and redesign district and school policies and practices to achieve equitable educational outcomes for all students.

I invite you to read the report’s full findings and recommendations and contact me with your questions and comments (  


Monday, April 24, 2017 - 8:30am