Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

Talent Development High School with Career Academies

What Is It?

The Talent Development High School with Career Academies is a comprehensive multi-phased reform model for large high schools that have serious problems of student attendance, discipline, achievement scores, and dropout rates. The model is specific in the required school organization and curriculum changes, in contrast to other high school reform recommendations that emphasize general principles to be achieved or the reform process to be followed. Nevertheless, there is ample room for local adaptations and contributions in the Talent Development High School Model to fit local conditions and to earn local ownership. The first phase of Talent Development High School reforms involves changes in school organization and management to establish a safe and serious climate for learning and to motivate regular attendance by students and staff. The second phase, includes improvements in curriculum and classroom instruction to better engage students in their own learning and to produce greater growth in student achievement of higher-order learning goals.

Why Did It Get Started?

At the invitation of the Maryland State Department of Education, Patterson High School in Baltimore one of two high schools to be named eligible for reconstitution (state takeover) and the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk (CRESPAR) at Johns Hopkins University began to work together to design and evaluate reforms to turn the school around. After a planning year in 1994-95, the first-phase Talent Development High School Model with Career Academies was implemented in 1995-96 at Patterson High School. A year later, the model began implementation at a high school site in Washington, DC under the auspices of CRESPAR at Howard University. Currently, several other schools in five big city districts across the nation are implementing the model.

How Does It Work?

Specific elements of the program are described below.

Ninth Grade Success Academy

A separate transitional program is provided for students in their first year of high school that places them with small interdisciplinary teams of 4 or 5 teachers who share the same 150 to 180 students and a block schedule with common planning time. This unit has its own part of the building with its own clearly labeled entrance, including the computer and science labs needed for ninth grade courses. A separate management team (the Academy Principal and Academy Instructional Leader) is in charge of the Ninth Grade Success Academy.

Major responsibility for finding solutions to individual student attendance, discipline, and learning problems rests with the teacher teams, where each has a Team Leader and uses regular data to set goals and monitor trends in student behavior. Good student attendance becomes a priority to set the foundation for serious student work to earn promotion on time to the next grade. Numerous activities are structured throughout the first term to prepare students to make a wise choice of program for their final three high school years, through extensive self-awareness opportunities concerning career goals and interests, and the provision of detailed information on high school choices and college alternatives. Students then select a Career Academy for the next 3 years.

Career Academies for the Upper Grades

Self-contained Career Academies are formed to enroll 250 to 350 students in grades 10, 11, and 12. The Career Academies are developed by the school faculty based on instructional strengths, labor market opportunities, and a mix of Academies to cover the major broad career clusters and student personalities. Each Career Academy offers the same common core of demanding academic courses with an appropriate blend of career applications to match the particular Academy theme, so college entrance as well as entry to work is possible from every Career Academy. Each has its own separate part of the building with a unique entrance; its own faculty for both basic academic courses and Career-focused electives; and its own management team of Academy Principal and Academy Instructional Leader (drawn from previous school-wide Vice Principals and Department Chairs) with major authority for student discipline, instruction, and curriculum. Guidance counselors are also assigned to each Career Academy.

Depending upon their size, schools can have from two to six or more Career Academies. For example, Patterson has Career Academies in Arts and Humanities, Business and Finance, Environmental Sciences, Sports Studies and Health Wellness, and Transportation and Manufacturing Technology. Each Career Academy develops two or three pathways that provide instruction and internships for more specific sets of occupations within the Academy theme.

Core Curriculum in a Four-Period Day

A basic set of college preparatory academic courses is required for all students across the 4 years of high school, which are scheduled along with electives in a 4-period day for two 18-week terms per school year. The curriculum in the ninth grade features double time in mathematics and English for students who have weak prior preparations, and multiple assessment methods to recognize improvements as well as achievements in learning. Staff development is extensive for teachers on the use of the 90-minute class period, incorporation of technology into instruction, familiarity with a variety of learning activities to engage students in higher-order competencies, and development of departmental exams to establish uniform coverage and external evaluations in common courses. Summer school, Saturday school, and After-hours Credit school are offered so that students can recover from course failures and missed credits can be earned.

Twilight School

An alternative after-hours program is conducted in the building for students who have serious attendance or discipline problems or who are coming to the school from prison or suspension from another school. Instruction is offered in small classes in the basic subjects, and extensive services are provided by guidance and support staff. The goal is for students to earn their way back to regular day school after a 4- or 5-week period by developing coping skills to be successful there.

What Are The Costs?

Planning year and implementation year costs will vary widely, due to school configurations and availability of staff development and planning time. Redesign of entrances and space for the Academies must be covered, as well as career interest inventories for students, and teacher time to plan Academies and receive workshops in teaming and extended-period instruction. Additional management team leaders for each Academy may need to be added to staff if redistribution of Vice Principals and Department Chairs is insufficient. Technical assistance materials and support can be provided by district sources, but may also involve added costs.

A general estimate can be made of 1 to 2 percent of total school budget as additional annual costs to plan and implement the management and school organization phases of the Talent Development High School Model. The costs of the second phase involving redesigned curriculum and instruction will depend upon a school's current availability of technology and annual budget for new books, instructional materials, and staff development, but is likely to be on the order of 3 to 5 percent of the total budget in additional costs.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

A school with initial interest in the model can view videos from Patterson High School and inspect a prospectus that describes essential components of the model and expected commitments of new Talent Development High School sites. This can be followed by an Application Process in which the school engages in some serious initial planning to outline its local Talent Development High School design. If the plan is acceptable, arrangements can be made for liaison personnel at the school, technical assistance, and support networks, and a schedule for further planning and implementation is established.

What Is The Evidence That It Is Successful?

The Talent Development High School with Career Academies has significant positive effects on school climate, student attendance and promotion-graduation rates when these outcomes are compared to previous years at Patterson, as well as to other non-selective high schools in Baltimore. After implementation, teacher ratings about the seriousness of tardiness, student fights, vandalism, absenteeism, student apathy, drug use, physical and verbal abuse of teachers, student lack of career focus or lack of knowledge about college, and class cutting all decreased dramatically at Patterson, but not at a comparison school. Teacher attitudes about student misbehavior and school discipline became dramatically more positive at Patterson, but not at the comparison school. Most teachers believe that their school climate is somewhat better or much better at Patterson.

Student perceptions of climate are also much better, compared to student perceptions in the comparison school. Significant improvements in student attendance occurred at Patterson, far exceeding any improvements in attendance occurring at the comparison school. The promotion rate at Patterson at the end of the 1995-96 school year exceeded the promotion rate of the comparison school. Patterson made its greatest strides in increasing the numbers of ninth graders who earned promotion to the tenth grade.

Where Can I See It?

Patterson High School is in Baltimore, Maryland.

Whom Do I Contact?

James M. McPartland, Co-director,
Talent Development High School Program,
Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk
Johns Hopkins University
3505 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218
Telephone: 410-516-8800; Fax: 410-516-8890
E-mail:; Website:

The Research Base

Research has defined a framework of four basic motivational components that all students need in their schools: relevance of schoolwork, a caring and supportive human environment, opportunities for academic success, and help with personal problems. Research on students placed at risk finds that schools often fail to address the special circumstances of the student's economic, family, community, and minority status. Recent studies have examined and expanded upon the four motivational sources and described how high schools can address each through changes in school organization, curriculum, and instructional practice. Extensive research on the framework and the development of processes and practices that support it are the basis for the Talent Development High School Model and its components.

[Success For All] [Table of Contents] [Talent Development Middle School]