Why do Freshman Academies sometimes fail?
The answer – which will sound confusing at first – is because they are academies. Huh? Let me explain.
First of all let me refer you to 2 previous posts:
1. The Pros and Cons of the Academy Approach
2. The Pros and Cons of the Departmentalized Approach
Those posts discuss the ups and downs of two different approaches to Freshman Transition Program:
The Academy Approach
– where freshmen are segregated into a separate hall, wing, floor, or building
The Departmentalized Approach
– where freshmen are not segregated but instead a team of teachers, whose classrooms are located within their departments, shares a group of freshmen
It’s probably going to sound to some people as though I am saying that Freshman Academies are not good ideas. That is not what I am saying. If it sounds that way, please re-read The Pros and Cons of the Academy Approach
to see that I point out quite a few positives to this approach.
However, in my dealings with schools and educators from around the country I have found that many people assume that the only way to have a successful Freshman Transition Program is to use the Academy Approach. I think it is important that a school not jump on a bandwagon, but instead research thoroughly all its options.
Schools starting a Freshman Transition Program – or any program for that matter – need to start off thinking long-term. What will be sustainable? What will still be working and functioning 15 years from now? Here is a fact to keep in mind: The less a program intrudes upon those in the school who are not a part of the program, the better the chance that the program will last.
The opposite is also true: The more a program intrudes upon those in the school who are not a part of the program, the better the chance that the program will NOT last.
So when Freshman Academies do not work it is often because of their inherent weakness – they tend to have too great of an impact on too many people in a school. For some reason it is common for teachers in a school to resent a program of which they are not a part. When a program of which they are not a part impacts their daily routine, they resent it even more. This seems to be especially true of Freshman Transition Programs, with some other teachers in the school afraid that 9th grade teachers will be “babying” freshmen and passing the 9th grade problem on to the 10th grade.
Department chairs often resent the Academy Approach as they feel it pulls Academy teachers away from the rest of the department.
Elective area teachers sometimes complain that the Academy alters the way they traditionally interact with freshmen.
In order to make room for the Academy, it is not uncommon to displace non-Academy teachers.
Some teachers who would be good Academy teachers do not like the isolation from the rest of the building.
The Academy Approach typically necessitates including all freshmen thus becoming more intrusive on the lives of students and families who may not need the support of the Academy. (For more on this see the following post
A separate Academy has a greater impact on the school’s overall master schedule. A master schedule can only have so many priorities. More than likely the Academy will cause certain individuals to lose the priority status in the schedule that they previously held.
It takes a high level of administrative support and effort to keep an academy going since a true school within a school is being created. Most schools see a fairly high turnover rate for administrators. What will happen when the current administration is gone? Will the new administrators place the same level of priority on the Academy?
So am I saying that Academies can’t work? No, what I am doing is answering my initial question:
Why do Freshman Academies sometimes fail? The answer is because they are Academies and inherently leave a large footprint on a school. In some schools the Academy Approach works very well based on the school’s resources, schedule, personnel, and culture. But in other settings the very nature of an Academy causes it to not last long-term. If a program can’t last long-term then it has failed. Too many fads come and go in education. Our schools need programs and ideas that can have a lasting impact over a long period of time.
This is where the Departmentalized Approach might be favorable to some schools. While it is not a perfect approach - (again, re-read my blog on its pros and cons
) – it does leave a smaller footprint on a school. It takes less administrative effort to keep it going. It doesn’t compete with as many other priorities in a school. From a master schedule perspective it really only requires that students are placed on teams and that teachers on the same team have a free period together. It is easier to apply to only the freshmen who most need it.
Let me repeat – I AM NOT SAYING THAT FRESHMAN ACADEMIES CANNOT WORK
. I just want to encourage educational leaders out there to look at multiple options. Sometimes school boards demand that a school “do something” about the 9th grade problem. Schools look around and find that a neighboring school – maybe even several schools – has an Academy. Starting an Academy will allow the school to definitely say they are “doing something”. And while the Academy might work wonderfully, I feel it incumbent upon me to share some other ideas as well.
I hope this post is helpful to someone out there. Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas to add to this.