About The National Standards of Practice

About The National Standards of Practice

About the National Standards of Practice (NSOP)

High school career academies date back to 1969 and have been a growing presence in the country for the last quarter century, especially in the states that have provided grants for them (i.e., CA, FL, AR) and the many cities and districts that have embraced the approach. There are an estimated 7,000 career academies in operation, enrolling about one million students. Extensive research (MDRC experimental study; Johns Hopkins, UC Berkeley quasi-experimental studies) has shown that their impact has been felt from an academic, economic, workforce development, and social perspective. Career academies are designed to prepare students for both college and careers. They are schools within schools that link students with peers, teachers, and community partners in a structured environment that fosters academic success. Often, the strongest career academies have a Career & Technical (CTE) program as their core.

The career academy concept has four key elements central to development and implementation:

  • A small learning community (SLC)
  • A college-prep sequential curriculum with a career theme
  • An advisory board that forges partnerships with employers, higher education institutions, and the  broader community
  • A sequenced, comprehensive work-based learning component

Teams of teachers (grades 9–12 or 10–12) work across several academic and technical subjects, grouping students in cohorts for these classes that follow a program of study. The advisory board helps to identify a sequential set of experiential components that show students the applications of academic subjects to the career and college field and deliver work-based learning experiences (e.g., shadowing, community service, mentoring, internships, and apprenticeships). The career theme can be any of the 16 in the national Career Clusters® taxonomy or variations on these (e.g., “green,” health sciences, media arts).

While career academies have grown quickly, for the most part they have spread in a grass roots fashion. Thus, there are many interpretations of what a career academy is and what a high quality career academy should look like, as well as many instances where the term “career academy” is used to describe other high school configurations, such as military schools or CTE high schools.                                                                        

To address these concerns, a broad group of organizations supportive of career academies came together to develop a set of standards. Across the board, all the organizations endorsed the ten developed standards as ingredients that were important for the development, implementation and sustainability of high quality career academies. Everyone agreed that for the model to work and to have long-term benefit for students, high quality was imperative.                                                                                                                                                       

The National Standards of Practice (NSOP) for career academies were first introduced in 2004 at a press conference held in Washington, DC. It is important to note that endorsing the Standards from the podium were key persons from both the Department of Education and from the Department of Labor. This fostered early on, the understanding that career academies not only impacted academic achievement, but also supported economic and workforce development.  In 2013, the NSOP were refined and endorsed by a group that included the initial developers and other relevant individuals. The group of original and additional organizations now includes:

  • Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), Alexandria, VA
  • The Center for Secondary School Redesign (CSSR), West Warwick, RI
  • The College and Career Academy Support Network (CCASN), UC Berkeley, CA
  • ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career, Berkeley, CA
  • The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), High Schools That Work (HSTW), Atlanta, GA
  • The National Academy Foundation (NAF), New York City, NY
  • The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium  (NASDCTEc), Washington, DC
  • The National Career Academy Coalition (NCAC), Nashville, TN
  • The Ford Next Generation Learning (FordNGL), Ford Motor Company Foundation, Dearborn, MI
  • The Talent Development High Schools, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

 Download Complete Standards of Practice