firefighters-696167_960_720

Firefighting is a noble and selfless profession. And there’s a shortage of firefighters across the country. It’s also a physically dangerous and psychologically taxing profession. CareerCast, an online portal for job seekers, ranked firefighting the most stressful job of 2015. And firefighters have among the highest rates of injuries and illnesses, according to government data.

So, taken all together, this raises some questions about equity and opportunity when career academies at high schools with higher concentrations of disadvantaged youth of color are preparing their students for firefighting, while career academies serving mainly white students—sometimes in the same school district—are preparing students for engineering and STEM careers.

Can such trends lead to “tracking” and perpetuate age-old inequalities for youth of color? Is this deserving of more scrutiny? My latest piece explores this issue.

[James] Kemple, now the executive director at the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, said his study suggests that career academies can be an “equalizing force,” noting that most of his data was drawn from schools and districts with high concentrations of black and Latino students, and students from low-income families and communities. For the desired effects, he said, three important elements must work in tandem: strong personalized-learning environments, a commitment to helping students complete high school, and opportunities to participate in meaningful work-related learning experiences. The biggest threat is inflating any one component at the expense of another. “An over-emphasis on job-specific skills training could lead to tracking,” Kemple said, referring to the educational practice of dividing students based on perceived abilities. “From this perspective, [firefighting] should provide the same opportunities for integrated learning, career-development skills, and advancement to college as business and finance.”

Louie F. Rodriguez, an associate professor in the college of education at California State University San Bernardino, said he has seen this trend before when you take a traditional school environment and examine the program offerings by race, language, and class. Rodriguez, who co-authored Small Schools and Urban Youthsaid there is “a lot of research to suggest that tracking students by race … perpetuates inequality at the school level.” While considering some of the examples cited, Rodriguez said it is vital to scrutinize the degree to which all career academies offer all students the same opportunity to learn. “If some academies offer more academically rigorous and more selective courses, and there are clear disparities in enrollment patterns by race, language, and class, then there is obviously a need to be concerned,” he said.

Read more.