2022 Nashville Chamber Education Report

Committee Recommendation:

Assessing & Addressing Student Needs

Guiding Question:

As work-based learning continues to grow and scale, how do we ensure that it is available and supportive to all students?

Recommendation #3:

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

Overview & Rationale:

In its first two years of implementation, MNPS has been able to fill over 120 positions. This is an impressive start to work-based learning across the district and we encourage thoughtful expansion as MNPS recruits additional employers and students to participate. Early in the committee’s conversations, we sought to understand work-based learning, the successes experienced in its first year of implementation, and the barriers faced during that year. To further that conversation, we spoke with Jennifer Bell, the director of the Academies of Nashville at the time, and Deborah Crosby, the work-based learning coordinator who piloted the program in its first year. In their presentation, they revealed three challenges:


To participate in work-based learning, students are responsible for their own transportation, but public transportation is often time-consuming and less convenient in certain areas of Nashville. In addition, ride-share services are not reliable as drivers sometimes turn down rides to certain neighborhoods, communities, or to riders under 18.

Paying Undocumented Students:

Funding for work-based learning comes from one of two sources: directly from employers or from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA provides funds through a federal grant that requires students to have a Social Security Number, and thus, undocumented students are ineligible to receive payment.

Eligibility Requirements:

Certain student populations are excluded from work-based learning based on eligibility requirements. Of the requirements, three stood out:

  • Students must maintain a “C” average,
  • Students must maintain an average attendance rate of 90%, and
  • Students must maintain positive behavior including, but not limited to, no 300-400-level offenses and no more than two 200-level offenses during the current school year.

Limited transportation, employment, and payment options for undocumented youth, and eligibility requirements that unintentionally preclude some populations such as

To capture how Nashville’s offerings compare to other cities across the country, we heard from Heather Justice, director at Education Strategy Group (ESG), a national organization that supports the New Skills Ready grant implementation across six cities. Justice shared examples of ways in which eligibility requirements can be a barrier to work-based learning and suggestions for expanding access.

Additionally, committee member Judge Sheila Calloway acknowledged that many of the young people she interacts with at Davidson County’s Juvenile Court suffer from drops in attendance, grades, or have behavioral offences which immediately restrict them from participating in work-based learning. She emphasized the need to provide all young people with potentially life-changing opportunities such as work-based learning.

These conversations sparked two interests among the committee. First, how can we ensure work-based learning is available to all students who are interested in participating? Second, how can we ensure every student is known and supported through their experience?

Opportunities for innovation:

In its current structure, students spend part of their work-based learning experience taking a course that focuses on professional skill development while completing final paperwork for their job placement. The teacher of record who oversees the completion of the required modules often has the closest relationship with the students and supports them as issues arise. Developing and implementing a work-based learning assessment that captures each student’s personal circumstances would be beneficial. This assessment should go beyond student interests and career options, focusing on supports that students would need to access and be successful within work-based learning.

Another consideration would be to create a case management system where staff regularly check in with students to support their development and overcome any barriers or issues that have arisen. Establishing and expanding these case management relationships with clear procedures, helpful guides and resources, and ongoing training would be instrumental to students successfully participating in work-based learning. With the proper guidance and support from MNPS, employers would also be prepared to support students through on-the-job career exposure, cross-training, job shadowing and other mechanisms to support a broad experience outside of hourly employment during the school day.

In addition to identifying student needs, MNPS could increase work-based learning participation by identifying local employers with high concentrations of MNPS students already working for them. While not every employer is an ideal work-based learning provider due to the need for alignment with the student’s career pathway at school, partnering with these employers for work-based learning could create opportunities for students to earn academic credits while continuing to work in their current jobs. It is worth noting that these employers, while currently employing students, may need additional support to accommodate the needs of a work-based learning program.

Recommendation #1:

Revisit Policies to Expand

Recommendation #2:

Centralizing Key Functions

Recommendation 4:

Refined Value Proposition

The Education Report 2022 Commendations

Of course, our committee doesn’t work alone on this project. Without the help of our community and network, the 2022 Education Report would’ve never come together. If you’ve finished reading over our recommendations, please take a minute to appreciate our thanks for those who made this whole thing possible.