Definitions | NEP


Expect Excellence
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Career academies, career pathways, small learning communities, and small schools


A career academy is a school-within-a-school where a cohort of students has the same teachers. Those teachers work as a team to integrate core content with CTE classes and provide instruction within the context of a broad career area.

Critical components of a career academy
- Students are cohort scheduled
- Students share the same team of teachers
- Academic and CTE teachers integrate instruction
- A career field is used as a context for learning


High School Academies and Career Academies are synonymous (Thompson, 2014). High School Academies began in Philadelphia in 1969. In the 1990s, the term “career academies” became a more common usage.


A career cluster is a sequencing of courses to promote exploration of a variety of career areas. Students tend to be cohort scheduled in CTE classes, but may or may not be cohort scheduled in academic classes. There is often collaboration and integration between CTE teachers within the pathway, but integration between academic and CTE teachers is infrequent. Many career clusters offer some level of certification in a career field.

Critical components of a career cluster
- Students are grouped, or "clustered" into a combination of CTE classes aimed at a particular job market
- Certification is sometimes offered
- Multiple career fields are explored
- CTE teachers within a given pathway often integrate


A small learning community (SLC) is an umbrella term to describe a "school-with-a-school." SLCs tend to have a limited number of students assigned to a team of teachers to deepen the relationship between teachers and students. This prevents students in a large school from "falling through the cracks." Career academies, career pathways or clusters, International Baccalaureate programs (IB), and grade level academies are all forms of small learning communities.

Critical components of an SLC
- Teachers focus on a particular group of students that is often a subset of the entire school enrollment
- SLCs take many forms
- While integration and cohort scheduling may or may not be a goal, deeper student-teacher relationships are


A small school is like a career academy (if a career field is the context) or an SLC (if there is no career context), except the academy is the entire school. Enrollment in a small school is limited, often between 300 and 500 students. It has its own system of governance with a complete set of administrators. There may be multiple "schools" on a campus.

Critical components of a small school
- Has its own set of administrators and system of governance
- Student enrollment is limited
- Often has teachers that hold dual certification so they can teach in more than one content area
- May have multiple schools that share a campus