Students in the biotechnology program at Minuteman High School in Lexington, Massachusetts dissect dogfish. The school is called Minuteman because it’s located just down the street from where the Minutemen fought the first battles of the Revolutionary War. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

A 21st-century vocational high school

For years, vocational education was seen as a lesser form of schooling, tracking some kids into programs that ended up limiting their future opportunities. Today, in the nation's best vocational programs, things are different.
At Glencliff High School in Nashville, career academy students are invited to be tour guides based on their leadership and public speaking skills. (Photo: Laurie Stern)

Career academies: A new twist on vocational ed

Across the country, thousands of high schools are transforming into career academies. The idea is that students will be more engaged if they see how academics are connected to the world of work. And they’ll be more likely to get the postsecondary schooling they need to support themselves in today’s economy.
A student at a vocational high school in Massachusetts learns to weld. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

The troubled history of vocational education

Vocational education was once used to track low-income students off to work while wealthier kids went to college. But advocates for today's career and technical education say things have changed, and graduates of vocational programs may have the advantage over graduates of traditional high schools.
Amber Ortiz-Diaz sometimes talks to her son Jaiden about what she’s learning in her classes at Heritage University in Washington State. She's among the rising number of "nontraditional" American college students. (Photo: Samara Freemark)

Four-year institutions brace for population shifts

Colleges and universities are accepting many more students of color, many more students from working class and poor families, and many more people who are sometimes referred to as "nontraditional" students.
Heritage University is surrounded by orchards and cropland in eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley. Many students are the first in their family to go to college. (Photo: Samara Freemark)

Heritage University: Bringing elite education to the most disadvantaged

Since 1982 Heritage University, in Eastern Washington's Yakima Valley, has made it its mission to educate some of the poorest, most isolated students in the country.
Valeria Guerrero and geology professor Philip Goodell in the Franklin Mountains near El Paso. Valeria says no one in her family thought she would finish college, but she graduated in 2014 and now is in the master's program at UTEP. (Photo: Laurie Stern)

University of Texas at El Paso: Opportunity U.

University of Texas at El Paso President Diana Natalicio has a problem with the "nontraditional student." She doesn't like the term. "It suggests that you're not something, rather than that you are something new," she says.
Amherst senior Roshard Bryant talks to a group of visiting high-schoolers at the school’s Community Engagement Center. Bryant grew up in the Bronx and struggled to find his place at a college that has long served more privileged students. (Photo: Suzanne Pekow)

Amherst College: An elite school reaches out

Routinely ranked among the top private schools, Amherst is leading the way among elite colleges in serving a much more diverse group of students.
Teacher Linnea Wolters. She was resistant to the Common Core at first. 
(Photo: Emily Hanford)

Teachers embrace the Common Core

Teachers in Reno, Nevada, were skeptical of the Common Core at first. But they have embraced the new standards as a way to bring better education to students who are struggling in school -- and to kids who are ahead.
Bright green shoelaces are worn to protest Common Core testing. (Photo: Ben Shapiro)

A teacher loses faith in the Common Core

New York teacher Kevin Glynn was once a big fan of the Common Core, but he says the standardized testing that's come along with it is reducing students to test scores and narrowing what gets taught in schools.
A teacher in Kentucky works with a student on Common Core math. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

Are you smarter than a Common Core student? Try a Common Core test

New Common Core tests are supposed to measure students' ability to think critically, analyze information, and cite evidence as well as test their conceptual understanding of mathematics and their ability to apply math to the real world. See how you'd do on a Common Core test.