By Tom Vander Ark and Sarah Cargill
This July the National Academy Foundation (NAF), a network of more than 460 academies across the U.S. serving more than 60,000 students, launched a student certification assessment system to drive real college and career readiness. Recently, NAF partnered with ConnectEDU to track college and career readiness by providing real-time reports on engagement and academic progress.
ConnectEDU, which includes college and career planning tools, comprehensive data warehouse capabilities, student level data aggregation, and customized, real-time progress reporting, will help NAF reach a goal of graduating 100,000 college- and career-ready students by 2020. ConnectEDU made it possible for NAF to dive directly into providing services and tracking data, rather than reinventing the wheel from the ground up.
NAF’s assessment and certification systems, which drive project-based learning (PBL) in alignment with NAF curriculum, is designed to position NAF academies to apply federal funding to their academies through the Perkins Act, which supports career and technical education. These assessments evaluate students’ mastery of career-themed content and completion of professional-grade work.
NAF works with academies that agree to implement models as designed with fidelity for qualitative assessment of program outcomes. “It’s a comprehensive approach to how they think of high schools,” said JD Hoye of NAF. “By holding fidelity and raising awareness at district levels, the program moves wall-to-wall. This method is difficult, but absolutely more effective.”
Founding chair Sanford Weill, the former CEO of Citigroup, remains board chair and a driving force behind NAF’s growth and expanding impact. Weill is godfather of the career academy movement and an early leader in network-based new school development (a critical precursor to charter management organizations).
NAF academies, which operate in 162 school districts in 39 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, include:
- 208 Academies of Finance
- 74 Academies of Hospitality & Tourism
- 105 Academies of Information Technology
- 62 Academies of Engineering, and
- 15 Academies of Health Sciences.
“We’ve also had an uptick in teachers interacting more formally in professional development,” said Hoye, “and more thoughtfully connected to Common Core State Standards.” Current professional development options include regional instructional support, academy assessments, distance learning webcasts, and an annual conference that rotates around the country. She hopes to see increased commonality in language and math programs as a fundamental strategy for engagement and standards.
NAF has tracked 30,000 network students in 90 academies and nearly half a million non-NAF peers at Miami-Dade, NYC, Broward, San Francisco, Porterville, Rochester, Waco, and Pinellas for the last three years. By tracking demographic data, credit earning trajectory, and school type NAF has been able to to determine the cost and impact of their academies.
“Preliminary findings show that, compared to non-NAF students, NAF students performed better in the areas of engagement and academic progress, and meeting the required benchmarks to graduate high school college and career ready,” said Hoye.
NAF is evaluating the cost per student per year of the membership program and its implementation — professional development, technology, etc. — to determine the concrete value for schools and districts. Data from Hartford Connecticut and Miami-Dade show that NAF costs about $500 per student per year.
Weill and fellow board members want to graduate 100,000 college and career ready students by 2020. To boost impact, the network has trimmed schools not committed to full implementation but has grown enrollment. Hoye sees growth in IT and health sciences offerings.
The combination of NAF’s robust certification and assessment programs, it’s commitment to tracking readiness, and the growing interest in career preparation positions NAF to achieve the board’s ambitious goals by 2020.
This blog first appeared on EdWeek.