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The cradle of career academies: The origin and development of Philadelphia academies from 1968-1972

Mark A Thompson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of this study was to understand the idea, reason, development, and implementation of the first career academy in the late 1960's and early 1970's in inner city Philadelphia high schools. Charles Bowser, Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia, was the innovative thinker who realized that rising crime and poverty rates among young black men in the city was an issue that needed to be addressed. Bowser believed a career academy model was the solution. He had three goals: increase attendance, increase graduation rates, and increase employment rates. With no template to follow or design to emulate, he sought out other innovative thinkers to implement the first career academy at Edison High School in Philadelphia. The first career academy team was a diverse cross-section of educators and community business leaders. With a team in place, the first career academy began in 1968 and accepted 25 boys who were considered the lowest academically, the most likely to drop out, and who were considered destined to "fail." With the implementation of an initiative that had no precedence, the key stakeholders gathered qualitative and quantitative data throughout the process, remaining aligned to Bowser's three goals as the barometer for success. Five themes emerged that guided evaluation of the success of career academies: Faculty Ownership, Planning and Design, Career and Community, Professional Development, and Academic Vigor. These themes served as a cornerstone for evaluation of effectiveness of schools that later relied on the career academy model. The results established that early educators and business partners possessed ownership of the initiative and maintained tenacity to overcome obstacles along the way. At the end of the first year of implementation of the career academy in Philadelphia, the 25 students were thriving, coming to school, participating, and learning a trade. Attendance rate was 95%. Due to the success of the career academy model at Edison High School, academies flourished in Philadelphia, in the United States, and are being established overseas.

Subject Area

Instructional Design|Educational leadership|Education Policy|School administration|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Thompson, Mark A, "The cradle of career academies: The origin and development of Philadelphia academies from 1968-1972" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3667168.