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Eight States Explore Flexible Career-Education Pathways

Guest blog by Sarah D. Sparks of Inside School Research.

Eight states in Jobs For the Future's Pathways to Prosperity network are working to find better ways for students to succeed academically while also being trained for high-need career fields like health care, computer science, and advanced manufacturing.

In a report on the network released today, Jobs For the Future argues that state and district education leaders and businesspeople should build and expand career pathways' initiatives that span grades 9 through postsecondary training.

"There no longer needs to be a false choice between high standards and going back to the old vocational training. High standards need to be integrated into vocational training," said Darrell Steinberg, president pro tempore, California State Senate, who helped pass $500 million over the past two years to support career pathways programs. "We want high schools to team up with businesses and bring curriculum to life, where math is taught through the prism of construction, biology through the optic of medicine."

The report notes that science, technology, engineering, and math skills are important in many blue-collar jobs that are often overlooked in surveys of STEM fields, and argues that schools and businesses need to communicate better about courses needed for careers that require less than a four-year degree.

"More and more it's what you take that determines what you make," said Anthony P. Carnevale, the director and a research professor at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, during a briefing on the report.

For example, IBM is working with districts to expand high-tech curricula and internships in most of the Pathways network states, including New York, Illinois, and Missouri. Maura Banta, the director of citizenship initiatives in education at IBM, and chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said she thinks career pathways will provide a way for schools to structure curricula to align with common standards.

"We think this transition ... is very in line with the common core," she said: "deeper knowledge, being able to have an academic vocabulary, application of the content, focus."

Among the initiatives:

  • California's Central Valley has launched five early-college high schools focused on agriculture, plant science, and other farm-related courses. They have partnered with local community colleges and companies that provide dual credit courses and paid internships for students.
  • Carroll County, Ga. has 12 For Life, a work-study high school geared to at-risk students, which provides an engineering curriculum and training at Southwire, a local manufacturer.
  • In western Massachusetts, the local chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association partnered with local high school and technical college educators to create a manufacturing curriculum beginning with high school freshman and continuing through college.

With many programs only a year or two old, the Pathways network has not collected data yet on how many students are completing career pathways' programs in high school and postsecondary education, nor data on where they end up in the labor market.

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