Career Academies Prevent a Rendezvous with Crime

Many elementary school educators work with poor performing students and see trouble in the future of these kids. The same kids go to middle school where they’re supposed to be prepared to succeed in high school. Again in middle school, educators see poor performing students whose future is dim. The reality is half the population of students in school is below average intelligence and they don’t do well in school. They particularly do not test well. This should come as no surprise—it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This reality of poor performing students should be obvious. However, we have technology and political leaders who proclaim that 80 percent of all students should go to college. Hell, we can’t get 80 percent of the students through high school. There are school boards who require all students to take college preparatory classes. It is time for common sense to prevail in the leadership of education in America. There is no predestination that says poor performing students or students living in poverty must have lives of unemployment, poverty, gangs, crime, prostitution, or end up in prison. The intervention that is supposed to protect these children is education. The educators who see the students failing in school have no solution for them. The truth is that education, as it is presently organized, is not the great intervener that can change student’s lives. Most educators recognize the failure of education to alter these children’s lives, but they have no other solution.

We have all read about the grandmother who made a difference and the kid graduated from college. We certainly hear about great athletes where a parent or grandparent or coach made the difference in getting them to college. We must not be fooled by these anecdotal stories. The stories are not quality research. It doesn’t take a genius to see a million high school kids dropping out every year is a failure of the American education system. Even worse are the gimmick programs educators have put in place to camouflage the real dropout problem. High school’s use the GED program, special high school diploma programs, online courses, and counting D grades as passing to disguise the real graduation rate. These educational gimmicks are not education. They are in actuality public relations lies to hide the truth.

These educational gimmicks do not act as an intervention or cause improvement in the trajectory of high school student’s lives. The poor performing students that educators have identified are unfortunately destined to become part of the 2.5 million people in prison and 4.5 million people on parole and probation in America. The dropout group is well represented in prison by 70 percent of the inmates. And the recidivism rate after they leave prison is also 70 percent.

We must face the truth that for the supermajority of high school students in America, college is not an option. Their only option is using the high school experience to prepare for employment. And, interestingly, the kids know it. Career academies have substantive research demonstrating the high level of engagement of students in their career theme. The most significant research demonstrates a high graduation rate from high school career academies. The students stay in high school because they see the connection of career academies and the development of technical skills that will enable them to actually get a job. The bottomline is that the career academy does act as an intervention in young people’s lives. And they continue to intervene in their future lives as well. Career academy students develop pride in the technical skills that they have learned. Career academy students are taught that technology will always continue to evolve. Career academy students understand that over time they must brush up their skills with additional training. This additional training may be offered by their employer, the military, or they may have to seek it at a night course in adult education or community college. The point is career academies have given their graduates an understanding that occupational skill development is a lifetime venture.

We must recognize that today’s high schools are not providing the necessary intervention to change the awful crime ridden trajectory of too many of their students. America’s leaders must learn this cold reality and alter their leadership to dogmatically support career academy high school reform as the best and only real educational intervention available. Millions of American kids don’t have to have a predestined rendezvous with crime and punishment.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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