College and Career Readiness? Do We Need to Clear the Path?
In recent months tremendous amounts of discourse have surrounded the topic of college and career readiness for students graduating from secondary schools around the United States and the world. A recent eSchool News report noted that the Metlife report, titled The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher: Preparing Students for College and Careers shows a disagreement in constituency groups on readiness factors, readiness priorities and the challenge of remediation upon acceptance into colleges and universities (para.1). The 27th annual series is commissioned by Metlife and conducted by the company Harris Interactive (para. 28).
Not argued among the experts and the participants in the Metlife survey is the fact that education and career readiness is a priority. Instead, the argument is whether post-secondary education is a necessity among America's youth. What does need to be addressed are the skills needed to be successful in post-secondary education and in careers, and how to restructure kindergarten through twelve curriculum to address this perceived skill deficiency.
College success is a clear expectation
Clearly students today have high expectation of going to college. According to the Metlife study, only 57% of students in 1988 said it was likely that they would go to college while today that expectation has risen to 75% (p. 2). Today's middle school students appear to be even more goal oriented. 76% of middle school students who participated in the national survey want and are expected to pursue a bachelor's degree or higher (p.9). The report also notes that there is clearly no disagreement among any of the constituency groups about the need for higher education, noting that....
"both students and Fortune 1000 executives believe that there will be few or no career opportunities for today's middle school and high school students who do not complete some education beyond high school" (p.4).
The division of opinion begins with the classroom teachers. All teachers will openly admit that the goal for each and every student is to graduate ready for careers and post-secondary education. Yet, on average, teachers report that 63% of their students will need remediation in order to be successful in post-secondary education.
The skill set for college and career success
When analyzing the skills necessary for college and career readiness a common theme emerges. Cassel notes in that Fortune 500 companies see a set of thirteen common job skills. The first five consist of teamwork skills, problem solving skills, interpersonal skills, oral communications skills and listening skills. Near the bottom of the list of thirteen skills are reading, writing, organization skills, and computation (p.222).
The current high school diploma requirements are rooted in long standing curriculum. Even in 1918, the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education created a report, which looked at this issue. The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education at that time set a list of clear criteria in which to measure high school curriculum. They proposed a set of main objectives including: "(1)health; (2)command of fundamental processes (reading, writing, arithmetical computations and the elements of oral and written expression", which at the time were in priority order as organized by the president of Harvard as well as professors and teachers (Wiggins, 2011, p.29).
The Metlife study notes that in "American society overall, there is a growing sense of urgency to prepare more students for careers in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) fields and as global citizens who understand the related challenges for society, security and the economy" (p. 11). According to Davis and Shih, the kindergarten through twelve mathematics curriculum alone has changed significantly, and thus the students themselves are developing a new set of skills that challenge the colleges and universities to add more statistics courses, more calculus classes and add coursework that is rooted in "applications and other representations, besides symbolic ones" (p.344). Davis and Shih also note that the levels and content of mathematics taken at the high school level is an important predictor of academic success for students later in their education (p.343).
Currently, the curriculum at the high school level clearly defines what is the United States high school diploma. According to Grant Wiggins, the high school curriculum does "great harm" to "the arts, the technical arts and trades, and the social sciences". There has been a decline in vocational programs across the United States, and we are now seeing a decline in visual and performing arts as well (p.31).
It clearly appears that restructuring the secondary curriculum is an important first step to building the foundation for student's success in post secondary education. With so many teachers reporting that their students will need remediation to be successful in colleges and universities, the need for an examination of the curriculum and the standards appears to be a logical next step. Clarity is needed around what is college and career readiness. The Metlife study defines college ready as "prepared for additional 'study'" while "career ready [students] are ready to join the work force" (p.14). What a workforce in the future looks like remains to be seen, but it is clear the demands of our graduates will change over time. Instead, I agree with Wiggins when he states that the curriculum be designed backwards from what is considered "the vital human capacities needed for successful adulthood regardless of school or job" (p.33)
Interestingly, the divide in opinion as to the college and career readiness skill set is quite interesting. High school curriculum has been determined through a political process and the individuals who determined the curriculum may have a vested interest in the outcome (Wiggins, p. 30). Clearly the disconnect between kindergarten through high school education leaders and the business world is evident and the Metlife study illuminates this point. Looking at the spectrum of important skills and knowledge for college and career readiness, problem solving, critical thinking, oral and written communications are all important. Also important to all study participants are the ability to work independently and work in teams. Where the study participants differ in their views rests in the curricular topics themselves. Only 31% of the Fortune 1000 executives believe that higher-level science is absolutely essential or very important. Only 8% of these same individuals believe that higher-level mathematics is absolutely essential or very important.
The evolution of the idea of a basic skill set for college and career readiness needs to be pushed. A common set of core curriculum standards needs to be adopted, but the adoption needs to be done boldly with an eye on the reality of a changing world.
Cassel, R. N. (1998). Career readiness for the communications age based on fortune 500 job-skill needs. Journal of Instructional Psychology.
Davis, J. D., & Shih, J. C. (2007). Secondary options and post-secondary expectations: Standards-based mathematics programs and student achievement on college mathematics placement exams. School Science and Mathematics, 107 (8), 336-346.
eSchool Media. (2011, March 8). Stakeholders differ on college and career readiness. eSchool News . Bethesda, Maryland: http://www.eschoolnews.com/2011/03/08/stakeholders-differ-on-college-and-career-readiness/
Wiggins, G. (2011). A Diploma Worth Having. Educational Leadership , 68 (6), 28-33.