2022 Nashville Chamber Education Report

Introduction To:
Work-Based Learning at Metro NAshville Public Schools

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic took the world of education by storm as it forced schools to close their physical doors, and employment and student learning moved to remote settings.

The pandemic unleashed unforeseen consequences that we continue to recover from today. Despite those challenges, our families and our youth tried their best to make ends meet. The combination of economic challenges and newly flexible schedules led some full-time students to enter the workforce to help support their families while being enrolled remotely in MNPS.  During this challenging time, MNPS recognized the reality that some students were choosing to work rather than attend school. As a result, MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Adrienne Battle looked to work-based learning as an innovative approach to address the needs of students by blending education and work experience while providing the support and guidance to help students be successful.

Work-Based Learning is not a new concept in education.

Its history can be traced back to the establishment of vocational training programs in 1917. Over time, work-based learning has evolved to encompass many approaches to career exposure and preparation. Some may be familiar with work-based learning through cooperative education programs that were once popular in secondary and postsecondary institutions across the country. The exceptional education community has also continued to use work-based learning to directly equip students with disabilities with the necessary skills and experiences to prepare them for a career and postsecondary education. It is important to note that work-based learning is not solely “learning while in a work situation” but goes much deeper. It includes strategies like exposure to different careers, job shadowing, internships, cooperative education, service-based learning, and more. While MNPS has embraced many of those strategies and integrated them into the K-12 curriculum, they only recently piloted paid work-based learning as a capstone experience for seniors.

In 2016, the Tennessee Department of Education published a Work-Based Learning Implementation Guide.

In 2017, the Tennessee Department of Education released a Work-Based Learning Policy Guide.

In 2017, neighboring counties such as Rutherford County, launched WBL programs.

With the state’s guidance and local models as resources, MNPS set out to establish its own work-based learning program in 2021. Fortunately, MNPS already had a structure well positioned to support this shift through the Academies of Nashville, where its 12 zoned high schools incorporate career-focused small learning communities in partnership with employers and aligned with each school’s career pathways.

Further, in 2020 the district received two substantial investments that would enable them to strategically pursue and implement work-based learning:

In March 2020, MNPS was awarded $276 million through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) which was designated to help the district address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of that amount, MNPS allocated $175,000 to launch and expand work-based learning opportunities.

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In October 2020, JPMorgan Chase announced a five-year, $7 million investment into the Nashville community, New Skills Ready (NSR). Focused on systems change, the NSR Collaborative convened key community stakeholders to move forward its priorities including building and scaling real-world work experiences for Nashville students. With the Collaborative’s focus on four high schools with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students and students of color (John Overton, Maplewood, Pearl-Cohn, and Whites Creek High Schools), the district had a foundation to launch a work-based learning pilot.

Read More.

Key Milestones for Work-Based Learning in MNPS:

2021 - 2022

  • Hired a work-based learning coordinator
  • Trained career and technical education (CTE) teachers to serve as teachers of record for work-based learning students
  • Launched work-based learning at New Skills Ready high schools
  • Created an employer recruitment and onboarding process
  • Coordinated with Academy coaches and college and career readiness coaches to recruit employers and students
  • Incorporated work-based learning into the broader Academy continuum
  • Two work-based learning students hired by Enterprise Solutions begin apprenticeship program

2022 - 2023

  • Expanded work-based learning to all MNPS high schools
  • Promoted work-based learning to Support Hub to oversee expansion
Note: The Academy model emphasizes learning of and about work in grades pre-K-8th grades and learning for work in high school. Freshmen are exposed to careers during an annual career exploration fair and freshmen seminar, sophomores participate in field trips and college trips, juniors participate in job shadows, and seniors complete capstones or career practicums.


Company Funded – 48.53%
WIOA Funded – 51.47%


Students worked over 5,000 hours & received upwards of $70,000 in wages in Year 1

0 %
Graduation Rate
in year 1


Trade School – 13%
2 Year College – 31%
4 Year College – 40%
Work – 7%
Undecided – 9%

Pre-K - Elementary

Industry & Career Awareness
Guest Speakers
Career Days
Career Mentoring
Workplace Tours
Educator Externships

Middle School

Industry & Career Exploration
Industry-Led Projects
Informational Interviews
Job Shadowing
Educator Externships

High School

Career Preparation
Mock Interviews
Workplace Challenges
Work Experience Co-op
Educator Externships


Career Training
Work Study
Work Experience
Educator Externships
While recognizing the achievements of work-based learning in its first full year, the district faces many key decisions for future years. First, with growing interest from students and businesses, the district must be conscious of how to effectively and responsibly grow and scale the program. In addition, with work-based learning systems and structures being mostly funded by time-limited grants, identifying resources for sustainability is critical.

The Education Report Committee spent four months learning about and discussing the district’s efforts, employer participation, and the student experience. It is the committee’s belief that to grow and scale work-based learning, the district must meaningfully address challenges related to coordination and communication as well as student access to work-based learning opportunities. This report addresses these two key challenges.

The Committee's Recommendations:


Revisit Policies to Expand

Revisit policies to expand work-based learning opportunities to all students who are interested.


Centralizing Key Functions

Create a centralized mechanism to better support coordination and communication between students, employers, and schools.


Assessing & Addressing Student Needs

Create a mechanism to identify what supports students need to be successful in work-based learning and identify how to allocate those resources equitably.


Refined Value Proposition

Refine and communicate the work-based learning for students, employers, and parents/guardians to align expectations and showcase the opportunities of work-based learning.