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Let's Talk About the Other C: Career Readiness

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This post is by Adriana Martinez, a Senior Program Associate with the Innovation Lab Network at the Council of Chief State School Officers. You can follow her on Twitter at @Adri_imc

Maybe, like me, you see various memes on your Facebook and Twitter feeds claiming that what we learn in schools is irrelevant to "real life" and doesn't prepare you for work. We can roll our eyes, but we can't deny that often school doesn't connect to the realities of the workforce, and, consequently, our country has a skills gap. Too many students graduate without the skills they need to build successful careers that afford them a quality of life. In my opinion, too many young people get funneled into low-skill, low-paying jobs, or worse, remain unemployed, while our industries continue to create high-skill, high-wage jobs that they can't fill. The skills gap requires our education system to make learning more relevant and to help students develop the skills they need to meet the expectations of workforce demands.

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When I see those Facebook memes, I feel a sense of contradiction. The disgruntled inner teenager in me says, "Yeah, so true." The deeper learning advocate in me says, "Not in all schools!" Deeper learning strives to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to be prepared for these high skill careers and become contributors to our economy. That means that students need to solve complex problems, be effective collaborators, and learn how to learn. As the deeper learning movement grows, we see more classrooms bringing that relevant learning and connecting it to what kids will need to know and be able to do in the workforce. Many schools, including Big Picture Learning Schools, integrate internships into their educational programs, while others, such as New Hampshire's Concord Regional Technical Center or Iowa BIG are merging competency-based education and career readiness programs. Still, these examples are not permeating all aspects of the system and reaching all kids.

In order for these opportunities to reach all kids, state and national leaders have recognized they must provide leadership to elevate the other C of "college-and-career readiness" in public education: career readiness. In 2014, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) launched a Career Readiness Initiative to work with states to improve career readiness programs and close the skills gaps that currently exist in our country. Now states are working to advance many of the recommendations put forward by CCSSO's publication, Opportunities and Options: Making Career Preparation Work for Students, which include:

-          Enlisting the employer community as a lead partner in defining the pathways and skills most essential in today's economy;

-          Setting a higher bar for the quality of career preparation programs, enabling all students to earn a meaningful postsecondary degree or credential; and

-          Making career readiness matter to schools and students by prioritizing it in accountability systems

As part of this work, CCSSO forged a partnership with JPMorgan Chase to launch the New Skills for Youth Initiative (NSFY). In the first phase of the NSFY, 24 states and Washington, D.C., received grants to conduct diagnostic assessments of their career preparation systems and an action plan for implementation. In January, CCSSO announced grants for ten states who will participate in the second phase of the NSFY, where they'll implement their action plans to bolster career-focused education aligned to states' labor demands.

From our position at the Innovation Lab Network, we acknowledge the critical intersection between the Career Readiness Initiative and numerous states' pursuit of deeper learning outcomes. As a next step, CCSSO is going to work with states to understand how to bridge competency-based education and career readiness to advance deeper learning. We know of numerous local and innovative examples in schools across the country. Now, it's time to bring these innovations to scale and spread the learning of our state and district leaders. 

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