Will high school career academies unfairly track certain students as ‘unfit for college’?
July 12, 2016
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As a parent of African American children, I push my children to be their best regardless of what society expects from them. In doing so I have encountered resistance from schools and counselors, which I have had to challenge at times.

Here’s one example: This past spring my daughter was selecting classes for her upcoming Junior year, and she wanted to take Honors English. A teacher talked about recommending her but did not and I received an email that she would not be put in the class. After talking with both the counselor and teacher I was warned about how difficult the course was and was told that my daughter and I should reconsider. My daughter took her final exam in English and scored 103 percent (including extra credit). The teacher emailed me and recommended my daughter for the class. If I would have just said okay, then she would have been enrolled in regular 11th grade English believing she could not do the work in Honors English.

Another example: My twins changed schools in 8th grade and Spanish was only offered to 9th grade students, so I inquired about them taking it in 8th grade since they had previously taken Spanish, and I thought it would be beneficial for them to continue it and knock out a high school course. I was warned that it was high school level class and if they didn’t do well it would be on their transcript. They assumed it would be too challenging for my twins because they were coming from a public charter school. Needless to say, they did fine in the course.

What got me thinking about all of this was a newsletter I read recently in Chalkbeat Indiana about a proposal by the Indianapolis Public Schools to place career academies into local public high schools. These high schools would be themed and offer classes such as construction and information technology, partnering with local businesses and technical schools to create employment opportunities right out of high school.

I worry about the message being sent to the children in our communities with career centers. The goal for children entering high school should be not only to graduate from high school, but to be prepared to be successful in college. We know that college graduates earn more money and have more job stability than those with just a high school diploma.

I know everyone is not cut out for college, and some will enter the workforce as construction workers. But I also worry about children being steered away from college preparatory classes and not being pushed to their full potential—labeled as a better candidate for a career academy program in 9th or 10th grade for any number of reasons such as poverty, mediocre grades or the statistics of poor and minority students completing college. Children change so much from one year to the next, and a child struggling to get by in 9th grade could be an honor student by 12th grade.

As a parent, I believe resources would be better spent on closing achievement gaps instead of going through the process of labeling children unfit for college. Programs such as a low-cost SAT prep course offered by Indianapolis’s Center for Leadership Development were created because African Americans consistently score lower than other racial groups on Math and Critical Reading.

We have so many children in the urban community who are college material but are just not receiving the quality education they need to be prepared for college.

I know, because I experienced this firsthand.

When I enrolled in community college with dreams of being a nurse my counselor told me to consider picking a different profession because I struggled in math. I chose not to follow her advice, because from the time I was a very little child my parents told me I could do anything I put my mind to —we weren’t allowed to say the word “can’t.” Not only was I accepted to the nursing program, I graduated and currently work as a nurse manager.

If we lead children to believe college is not for them because of where they live or the color of their skin, we are doing a disservice to them and our community as whole. There are plenty of ways to provide career exploration, but the goal for all children entering high school should be to prepare them to be successful in post secondary education.


Cheryl Kirk is a mother and activist living in Indianapolis, Indiana. This post was republished with permission from Indy/Ed.

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