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The 'Career' Part of College and Career Readiness

What does the "career" part of college and career readiness mean? Good question, and it's not one that's gotten as much attention as the "college" part.

Some of the leading thinkers on career readiness gathered this week for a webinar on the topic that produced some good food for thought. Gathered by the Alliance for Excellent Education, an organization here in Washington that focuses on high school improvement, the group included Robert Schwartz, a Harvard education school professor who co-authored a recent report that sparked tons of debate when it questioned the college-for-all rhetoric that often dominates debate.

It also featured Gene Bottoms of the Southern Regional Education Board, which has been expanding the definition of career and tech ed in 1,200 schools in 30 Southern states for many years, and Gary Hoachlander of ConnectEd, which has been doing its own version of that work in California. David Conley, a University of Oregon professor who has pushed to broaden our ideas about what skills students need for college and work, rounded out the panel.

One of the intriguing things that emerges during this discussion is the merging of career and technical education with college prep. This flies in the face of the old notions we have had about vocational or career and technical education. But that's exactly the point: The more places I go in this work, the more I hear that these are dated concepts that need to be trashed, frankly, while we are all brought sharply up to date on our thinking.

As you listen to this webinar, keep an ear out for this convergence. Take for example what Hoachlander said when Alliance President Bob Wise asked him who the key partners are in the work to provide students with meaningful, applied learning. He said career and tech ed in 2011 is about "preparing students for college and career," which is "a major shift in the way we talk and think about this." Doing that requires joining together with higher education and the workplace to build curriculum, he said.

Bottoms drove that point home with some compelling numbers: Almost 80 percent of the career-oriented students in SREB's network plan to go on to some form of further study, he said, "so you have to think about a double purpose"—both college and work. As a result, he said, curricula for his network schools are created by professors from two- and four-year colleges, private industry, and K-12 "all at the table." His students' pathways, he said, are "increasingly linked" to community and four-year colleges. Fully 60 percent of the students in the SREB network schools enroll in four-year college.

So much for one more quaint notion: That it's either college or career.

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