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More jobs, better pay: Indianapolis Public Schools to redo career paths

A student wearing a hair net and two wearing chefs hats serve people in line at a buffet table.
Indianapolis Public Schools officials are weighing a plan to revamp college and career programs so that students are better prepared after high school.
Lori Higgins/Chalkbeat

To better prepare graduates for college and well-paying jobs, Indianapolis Public Schools will revamp its high school career and college curriculum and drop programs that don’t lead directly to jobs.

A consultant has recommended enhancing programs in health sciences, technology, education, and other areas with brighter career prospects.

For example, the recommendations suggested modifying the pathways for cosmetology and culinary arts. For both areas, listed as low-wage fields, the consultant suggested adding an entrepreneurial focus to teach students how to become their own boss.

The district wants all career programs to offer students a way to earn college credits, work experience, and certifications before graduating.

Administrators are weighing course changes recommended by MGT, a private consultant contracted to review the district’s 42 career and college preparation sequences, known as pathways. Every student must select one three-year pathway that begins sophomore year.

MGT reported that many pathways do not provide credentials to prepare students for college or careers, like certifications and Advanced Placement courses. Some career pathways do not offer work experience or exit exams to ensure successful completion.

In addition, the district has had difficulty in hiring teachers both certified in their job field and trained as teachers.

The district plans to phase out, consolidate, or suspend more than one-quarter of the pathways over the next two school years. Courses will be designed to prepare students for good entry-level jobs and for higher education, said Jennifer O’Shea, the district’s postsecondary readiness officer.

“We’re really trying to prepare our students for both so that they have options,” O’Shea said. “They can choose to take that entry-level certification, work for a short period of time, and then pursue higher education, or go straight into higher education with an industry focus, with some dual credits under their belt, so they are on an accelerated path.”

George Washington High School may offer an affiliation with Business Professionals of America, a national student organization that offers competitions to help develop leadership and skills in areas such as finance and business administration.

That possibility excites sophomore Jada Taylor, who attends George Washington’s business administration program. She aspires to become the “boss lady” of a bakery and wants to learn what it’s like to be a business owner.

“With this new opportunity, it’s going to be a way to challenge me and put myself out there to see how I’m really going to do under pressure,” Taylor said.

MGT recommended dropping some specialties like health informatics and physical therapy at Crispus Attucks High School, which don’t offer either college credit or industry-recognized certification.

The consultant also suggested eliminating specialties like dental careers and pharmacy at Arsenal Tech that offer little or no work experience.

Instead, for example, Tech and Attucks might offer a new medical assistant specialty with an externship through IU Health. The schools could also overhaul the nursing pathway to add dual credits through Ivy Tech and offer health care certifications beyond a certified nursing assistant license.

The district also plans to enhance its seven college-preparation curriculums. Those include International Baccalaureate classes at Shortridge High and recommendations to create an “early college” program at Arsenal Tech.

The district plans to create a universal pathway program at every school for transfer students and those behind in credits or otherwise unable to complete a three-year specialty pathway.

Students currently in programs slated for elimination will be allowed to complete their course sequences, O’Shea told school board members last week. But new students would not be allowed to sign up for those pathways.

“We will never put the students in a position where we’re going to get rid of a pathway or program and they’re not in a position to be able to graduate or complete a pathway,” she said.

MGT’s review found IPS had not gathered data on the success of students in most pathways. The district will now look at students’ progress and employment up to five years after leaving high school, O’Shea said.

Only 41.8% of IPS students finish district schools with the college or career credentials they need to be successful, according to state data. Graduation rates in 2020 plummeted at two high schools by more than 10 percentage points from the previous year.

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