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States Push Forward to Strengthen Career Readiness

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In recent years, "college- and career-readiness" has become the clarion call of middle and high school. You've heard the chant many times, no doubt: It's no longer enough to leave high school with just a diploma. Students must have some kind of postsecondary education in order to nab good-paying jobs.

With that higher bar in mind, the dominant definition of college readiness has coalesced around this question: Is a student prepared to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses?K-12_Dealmaking.gif

But the definition of career readiness remains stubbornly murky. Many agree that a central core of academic skills and knowledge are a common requirement for most any career that pays well.

But beyond that, the dialogue about career readiness devolves into more questions. Ready for what kinds of jobs? The 16 career clusters laid out by the national group that represents career-and-tech-ed directors certainly suggests that many pathways demand job-specific skill sets.

As the field thinks more about career readiness, it's interesting to see what states are doing to figure out how their K-12 systems can mesh better with their postsecondary career-tech-ed programs to make sure students are work-ready. A new report from the Education Commission of the States explores what 13 states have been doing about this in the last few years.

California has taken a competitive-grant approach, offering programs that award money for the creation of career pathways that reflect the needs of regional workforces or form partnerships between labor and industry. Kentucky has a relatively new fund that awards grants to develop programs of study for middle and high school students in high-demand fields.

Louisiana has taken a regional approach, soliciting proposals for CTE programs from teams composed of school districts, technical and community colleges, business and industry leaders, and workforce development experts. Illinois, by contrast, created a new entity, the Higher Education Commission on the Future of the Workforce, to conduct a sweeping study of its career-oriented education opportunities and make recommendations on how to improve them.

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