The Academies of Nashville is a high school reform model that is improving graduation rates, school attendance and performance on the state’s algebra exam. One of the key elements of the academy model is to create a class schedule that allows teachers of traditional subjects (math, English, science, social studies) to work and plan together with teachers who teach in a career or technical area (CTE). Unfortunately, state law made this very difficult, since all career and technical education class sizes have to be fewer than 25 students, while general high school classes have a maximum class size of 35.
The lower class size for CTE dates back to a time when these courses often involved heavy machinery and equipment. It was, understandably, a safety issue. But most CTE classes in the 21st century don’t look like your vintage shop class. There’s no reason why CTE courses such as marketing, accounting, and banking & finance can’t have the same class size as all the other high school courses. So, in 2008, as Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) first began reorganizing high schools into academies, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce began working with the Tennessee Department of Education to search for a legislative solution to the CTE class size issue. Bruce Opie, the legislative liaison at the time, deserves our sincere thanks for helping to guide the discussions.
Through the leadership of the bill sponsors, Rep. Brenda Gilmore and Sen. Joe Haynes, legislation ultimately passed that year in the form of a two-year pilot for MNPS. The Tennessee Department of Education determined which CTE courses were eligible for the class size flexibility, and courses that involved machinery and equipment stayed at the 25-student limit. The legislation also called for a state study of the pilot, which was never conducted, so in 2010 we worked with the bill sponsors and department to extend the pilot another two years. From the beginning, the legislation was limited to Davidson County because some CTE directors in other parts of the state believed the intent of statewide class size flexibility was to somehow harm or undermine their programs. A similar statewide provision was stripped out of the original Race To the Top legislation in 2010 for the same reasons. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In 2012, the pilot has fulfilled its intended purpose. Principals are clearly using the class size flexibility strategically to help create a master schedule that allows general education and CTE teachers to plan together. Last school year, 78 out of 286 eligible CTE classes in MNPS were using the class size flexibility, a 27% usage rate. The Department of Education did issue its report on the pilot before the current legislative session, calling for the pilot to be extended and studied further. We’d like to thank the Tennessee General Assembly for passing HB2415/SB2883 this session and Governor Haslam for signing the bill into law this week. The Academies of Nashville in MNPS represents the cutting edge of CTE innovation; the question for future General Assemblies will be, what about the rest of the state?
Teacher Deborah Crosby talks about her business CTE class during the Academy VIP tour at Glencliff High School on March 14.
Tom Aaron from Deloitte and Jessica Pierucki from Altria take turns announcing the 2012 nominees for the Academies of Nashville Awards, as the Chamber’s Marc Hill looks on.