Philadelphia Academies, Inc

It was 1968. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Our cities were ablaze. Our nation was in crisis. Youth found no relevance or reassurance that what they were doing in school could change their future. The dropout rate in some high schools was 50%. The nation was asking how it could address the educational needs of students; how to steer them away from the negative forces of urban unrest and how to give them hope for a future where they could be contributing productive citizens.

One answer came from a handful of business and community leaders in Philadelphia. Charles Bowser, Executive Director of the Urban Coalition and Deputy Mayor, brought together the CEO’s of the Philadelphia Electric Company and Bell of Pennsylvania to work on ideas that could save their city from the worst of the racial unrest that was so devastating to cities like Chicago and Detroit. In seeking ways to help, they focused on the future—the children. They formulated a plan to bring business into the schools in a model that would engage both the student and the business partner in meaningful ways. What they didn’t realize at the time was that they were creating one of the most successful education reform efforts in the country.

In 1969, the first Academy opened at Edison High School with thirty 10th grade students. Called the Academy of Applied Electrical Science, the program was set up as an independent not-for-profit corporation with its own Board of Directors. Over the years, more Academies opened as independent entities. In 1988 the individual Academy programs relinquished their status as separate, tax-exempt, non-profit organizations and merged into the Philadelphia Academies, Inc.

California came first to study the model, then New York, then Florida. Soon the career academy model was everywhere. Today with some 3,000 academies in operation nationwide, they have evolved into one of the nation’s most widely adopted reform initiatives to address the major problems associated with large comprehensive high schools, particularly those in urban districts where more than half of the students do not graduate on schedule.

The career academy model has been researched, studied and scrutinized and recently named as one of only three evidence-based, in-school models that work. And it all started in Philadelphia –not by a think tank of educators but by a handful of community leaders who loved their city and knew they could make a difference by helping its children.

The mission of Philadelphia Academies, Inc. (PAI) is to expand life and economic options for Philadelphia public school students through career-focused programming that prepares young people for employment and post-secondary education.

PAI serves as an intermediary, bringing the financial and human resources of the business community into Philadelphia public schools, providing work and life readiness skills, making connections to internship experiences, and offering scholarships that provide a path toward a productive life.

The National Standards of Practice for Career Academies (NSOP)

Developed by an informal consortium of career academy organizations including the Philadelphia Academies, Inc., the Career Academy National Standards of Practice are framed around ten key elements of successful implementation, drawn from many years ofresearch and experience from all parts of the country.

Our professional development supports have been created to support the implementation of the career academy model and ensure that students are prepared for success in college and careers. Our professional development supports to teachers and administrators.

21st Century Skills Building
This course integrates and develops 21st century skills as well as provides teachers a framework for the type of instructional practices that will prepare young people for the 21st century economy. The course employs project-based instruction and is anchored by authentic learning principles, connecting learning to relevant and relatable questions that integrate industry as well as academic content areas across the school curriculum. The primary goal of the course is student engagement and development of 21st century skills. Each of the four modules developed for this program interweaves the objectives of the Framework for 21st Century Learning into four student-directed, nine-week projects.

Interdisciplinary Curriculum – Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies
Ford PAS was developed by Ford Motor Company in partnership with Education Development Center. Ford PAS works with cities and regions to help build community support for relevance in the classroom, provide intense professional development to educators on inquiry- and project-based curriculum, and support the development of career academy networks. Philadelphia Academies, Inc. is the designated provider of Ford PAS training for the Northeast section of the United States. This Interdisciplinary curriculum provides students with content knowledge and skills necessary for future success in areas such as business, economics, engineering, and technology. The inquiry- and project-based program offers a series of modules that links learning in traditional academic subjects with the challenges students will face in post-secondary education and with the expectations of the workplace they will face as adults.

Strategic Planning and Pathway Mapping
This “Backwards Mapping” seminar is a visioning and outcomes-based planning process designed to provide an overview of the basics of “outcomes” mapping. Participants will select outcomes or competencies for students in grades 9 through 12 that would successfully prepare them for college and careers and ground school change/improvement plans; and create a basic pathway map or set of action steps that create the intended outcomes. This process is a “group thinking” and planning exercise that challenges school assumptions and helps school leadership and teaching teams to reach agreement on reasonable outcomes and action steps.

Educator in the Workplace Seminars
The goal of Educator in the Workplace Seminars (EIW) is to connect classroom learning with relevant business practices to better prepare students for college and careers in the 21st century. Through a professional development seminar and a “turn-around” follow-up support program, PAI’s EIW will help teachers to better understand the needs of the workplace and to adjust their curriculum so that it is in tune with employers’ needs. Teachers participate in: 1) a multi-day professional development seminar that will orient them to the 21st Century workplace demands; 2) industry site visits; and 3) professional development to create a lesson plan based upon the 21st century workforce demands. Teachers also receive post seminar support through a “turn around” program that offers connections with participating employers to discuss how classroom activities, curriculum and materials could be further adjusted to reflect 21st century workplace demands.

Career Academy 101 and the National Standards of Practice (NSOP)
This workshop provides guidelines and materials to assist individuals in planning career academies based on the National Standards of Practice. With the help of nationally recognized facilitators on career academies, school teams will be able to understand the elements of a high quality sustainable career academy, identify roles, responsibilities of individuals who make up successful career academies including: Principal, Assistant Principal, Lead Teacher and Teaching Team; and develop an action plan that builds a strong foundation for the career academy. The NSOP is used as a foundation for discussion and for the start of a rubric for career academy development.

1. Consistently, 85 to 90% of Philadelphia Academies, Inc. graduates surveyed report that they are productively engaged (i.e., working, in the military, or in post-secondary education) 6 and 18 months after graduation from high school.
2. For the class of 2012, the Academies, Inc. graduation rate by cohort (in same school for four years) was 84%, whereas the non-Academies, Inc. cohort graduation rate was 61%.

Learn more about Philadelphia Academies, Inc by visiting them online at

Click here to subscribe to Philly Involved’s monthly newsletter.