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The new, the newly reborn, and the growing: a growing school population and deteriorating facilities are among the problems faced by our nation's educational system, but career and technical education should be among the solutions.

Where are we going to put them all? Enrollment in public and private elementary and secondary schools reached a record 54 million in fall 2001, and between 2001 and 2013, a further increase of five percent is expected, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). While not as explosive as the baby boomer growth, the projected enrollment shows a steady trend upward.

Within different states and different school districts, there are a variety of solutions that have been implemented or considered in response to the rising enrollments--from new construction to additions to renovating existing buildings, some of which had a past life as something other than a school. Furthermore, many of the nation's schools are in need of renovation that has more to do with their condition than their student numbers.

When the federal government last assessed the condition of our nation's schools, it estimated that $127 billion was needed to bring the facilities to good condition, according to NCES. Other organizations estimate much higher figures, such as Rebuild America's Schools, which says that it will take $322 billion in new spending to bring school buildings up to modern standards.

There is a reason the math is a little fuzzy. As the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) notes, the federal government has not assessed the condition of America's schools since 1999 when the U.S. Department of Education issued its report, Condition of America's Public School Facilities: 1999.

As ASCE explains on the schools section of its Web site, "While most states collect and report information on school facilities, some maintain information only on conditions; fewer, still, collect information on an ongoing basis. This leaves, at best, a hard-to-find and fragmented picture."

What NCES does say, however, is that about a quarter of the schools in 1999 reported that at least one type of onsite building was in less than adequate condition, and about half reported that at least one building feature was in less than adequate condition. Even back in 1999, about 10 percent of the public schools were reporting that they had enrollments that were more than 25 percent greater than the capacity of their permanent buildings.

Building and Growing

Finding solutions to both the overcrowding and the crumbling condition of our schools has fueled a bit of a construction boom, first among colleges and now in the nation's school districts. The "31st Annual Official Education Construction Report" from American School & University magazine notes that total spending on new, addition and retrofit construction by the nation's school districts and higher education institutions reached an all-time high in 2003.

In 2004, says the report, education institutions spent $41.3 billion on construction, which is down from the $48.1 spent in 2003; however, while college spending was down in 2004, school districts "actually posted record totals, putting in place $29.1 billion worth of construction ($28.6 billion in 2003)."

How was the money spent? According to American School & University, K-12 institutions allocated 55 percent of their dollars to additions and modernization, while colleges put 61 percent toward new construction. Elementary schools were the type of facility most often constructed by K-12 institutions in 2004 (36 percent), followed by high schools (23 percent) and middle schools (17 percent). The category "Other" made up 22 percent, and "Vocational" got a mere two percent.

Perhaps career and technical education can take a larger piece of the pie in the coming years, positioning itself as it has in some school districts as a way to help alleviate overcrowding and boost the economy of the area by ensuring a better prepared workforce. And according to the American School & University report, that pie will still be served up, since the prediction is that "education construction will continue to be strong, with more than $135 billion projected to be spent through 2007."

As we noted in our March 2003 article on "Building 21st Century Schools," most of today's career tech schools were built back in the 1970s as "vocational-technical" schools, and the needs have changed since then--sometimes requiring fewer large spaces but more wiring and technology. The cost for the high-tech equipment required for many career and technical programs can present a major construction roadblock, and that's why the two Ohio schools featured in that article partnered with the business community to accomplish the construction and renovations.

At Eastland Career Center, TRIAD Architects Project Designer/Manager Joey Ottman says the change was about creating a "21st century learning environment" that allowed the students to feel immersed in the future of industry and business. Steed Hammond Paul, the architectural firm for South-Western Career Academy instituted a process known as "Schoolhouse of Quality" to engage the business community in the planning of new career and technical schools.

The Romeo Engineering & Technology Center, profiled this month as an example of a new career and technical school, involved business, industry and the community in its planning process. The school was actually built as part of the solution to booming enrollments and includes a long-term plan for continued growth.

The Career Academy Solution

Bigger is not always better, however, and as the move to smaller learning communities is promoted by, among others, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, career and technical education once again has a role to play. Career academies are being created not only as separate schools, such as the Clyde C. Miller Career Academy, the "newly reborn" school in this month's issue, but also as schools-within-schools.

Career academies began more than 30 years ago in Philadelphia, when the Academy of Applied Electrical Science was initiated at Edison High School in 1968 in collaboration with Philadelphia Electric Company and Bell of Pennsylvania. A year later, the Philadelphia Business Academy began.

From Philadelphia, the model spread to California, where the success of the initial two programs prompted the California legislature to establish "partnership academies" throughout the state. Career academies have now spread throughout the country.

"Today career academies are considered one of the most common forms of small learning communities and one of the most effective high school reform models," says Sandy Mittelsteadt, ACTE education liaison and co-author of the Career Academy Toolkit. "Addressing the dual social challenges of motivating students to stay in school and preparing those same students for a successful postsecondary experience, career academies have seen considerable success in many locations and have inspired a series of rigorous evaluations that have confirmed their effectiveness in a number of regards."

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 24 percent of high schools today have career academies.

"Career academies are based on a fairly complex model, with a number of features that seem necessary for them to work effectively," says Mittelsteadt. "They are built around a career theme and integrate career and technical education with academic education."

Career academies introduce all aspects of an industry to better prepare students for postsecondary learning and a wide spectrum of career options. Common components of career academies include a curriculum integrated with a career-related focus, voluntary student and teacher enrollment, team teaching, college-preparation materials, and partnerships with employers, communities and higher education.

Growing Options

In many areas of the country, two-year technical schools and community colleges have experienced tremendous growth. The American Association of Community Colleges says that an increasing number of students who plan to seek bachelor's degrees are starting at community colleges because they are much less expensive than four-year institutions.

Workforce training and flexibility add to the appeal of two-year colleges, and the image of such schools is also improving. An October 14, 2004, "NPR Morning Edition" story notes, "Community college classrooms that were once full of mature, part-time students are brimming with younger students. As enrollment numbers rise, the stigma attached to community colleges appears to fade."

As the population continues to grow, technology continues to evolve, and the needs of the workplace continue to change, career and technical education can grow and evolve along with them. It is, after all, what career and technical education has done for nearly 100 years.

Explore More

For more information about the organizations cited in this month's theme stories, here are some of the places to turn,

The National Center for Education Statistics www.nces.ed.gov

The American Association of Community Colleges www.aacc.nche.edu

American School & University www.asumag.com

The American Society of Civil Engineers www.asce.org

TRIAD Architects, Inc. www.triadarchitects.com

Steed Hammond Paul www.shp.com

Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc. www.fhai.com

For more information about career academies, please contact Sandy Mittelsteadt at smittelsteadt@acteonline.org.

Susan Reese is a Techniques contributing editor. She can be reached at susan@printmanagementinc.com.
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Author:Reese, Susan
Publication:Techniques
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:1443
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