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The New Working Class


So you've got an education—but what about a job? Starting in 2006, high school freshmen in South Carolina will be required to select and take classes in a career major.

School officials believe the "career-preparation initiative" will better prepare students to participate in South Carolina's changing economy and serve as a model for other states facing similar challenges.

Should American high schools focus more on preparing students to compete in the global economy, pushing for career-oriented programs in technology and research? Or would vocational education limit young students' choices and ability to compete in the long run?


The big threat to freedom in America lies in "Jobism" The only thing of import is work external to the home. This is needed so that we can get the cash to service our 40 year mortages, our 8 year car loans, and 19% credit card debt. We must consume to be a good American. What we need to teach is some real values---we can live on less, we can save, work in the home is valuable, and we do not have to buy slave labor goods. Si Se Puede. I wonder who gets counseled to the low level jobs???

U.S. schools already segregate students into academic tracks (even if not rigid ones), and the research clearly indicates that who populates which track is highly correlated to social class and ethnicity (and of course gender within specific segments of tracks). Asking students to commit to "job tracks" will, I believe, only exacerbate those features. Middle class students will continue to populate higher education-bound courses, while working class students will be counseled or they'll "choose" working class job tracks. This is unjust and wrong.

I also question the linking of U.S. education with "fixing" the economy. We need to read a clear justification for why that is what schools should do. Others have articulated broad educational aims supported with reasons for adopting them. Consider Nel Noddings' arguments that schools should be places where students learn about and are given opportunities to care for themselves, each other and our world. Given the looming environmental crises and the continued war-making we accept as a nation, I am more convinced that schools should be addressing issues about how we as a nation and as individual citizens should be making our way together into the future. Over-simplifying educational programs of schools with job creation supports the current political and economic status quo, diverting our attention from the issues most important to us a a nation.

Finally, -- and this is a minor but important point -- if we were to accept the linking of schooling with the aim of economic growth, we need research to indicate that schools CAN even change the economy through its academic programs. The logics of such arguments appeal to common fears about the future, not about well-developed demonstrations that the two can even be logically linked.

It angers me that this is what we reduce education to - again, I argue that educational movements like the "Career-Preparation Initiative" are unjust and undemocratic.

I am not sure why we don't just go all the way with this and return to the pre-industrial age when boys would begin a career apprenticeship at the ripe age of 12 as girls would begin apprenticing household chores. Why bother educating children at all in a broad spectrum if we have already determined their future. Imagine the money we could save by eliminating a well rounded education program for most children (except, of course, those who show great promise or those who come from families of great wealth).

My son's high school provides a similar "career pathways" route and two of its three academic levels are for students who have "chosen" not to attend a four year college as freshmen. The problem? Students aren't prepared for the critical thinking required to be a successful contributor in today's society. Most read at the "Reader's Digest" level and will forever be dependent upon the ruling, educated class to determine their future. Sound familiar?

My 14-year-old son isn't much different from other boys his age. If given a career path test right now, it would show that he has an interest in music -- more specifically, a desire to become a lead guitarist for a metal band! If given the chance, he would gladly give up his honors classes to hang out in a music room moshing with fellow musicians and banging out the next hit of the 21st century. But, that is the beauty of youth. You may still explore, dream, and try, without giving up the future. I fear that career pathways ask our children to become adults without the apprenticeships of the days gone by, making decisions regarding their future without a clear path as to how they will support themselves and a family.

The previous comments - while, I'm sure, well intentioned - show a clear lack of understanding of what Career Pathways are all about, and, perhaps, reveal the underbelly of a school district that isn't too sure either. Having helped design two career pathway high schools in Michigan, I can tell you with absolute certainty that a well-designed, well-implemented Career Pathway program of studies significantly INCREASES the academic rigor and relevance of the high school curriculum, for the vast majority of the students it serves.

Of course, the key is well designed and well implemented.

In the two schools I specifically worked for, and many others that I have worked with, the number of 'high-academic', or 'college-prep' courses taken skyrocketed for all demographic groups, after implementing the Career Pathway model. As well, in most cases, students attended more days of school and had fewer discipline problems.

The Career Pathway model, along with comprehensive guidance and counseling, provides a backdrop for students to find relevancy and acquire a personal stake in their educational future. It requires students set and create goals based on both their interests AND their abilities, through data-driven research and analysis. Furthermore, when parents are a required to be involved in the process, it virtually eliminates the 'pro athlete / rock star' mindset that consumes 8th and 9th graders.

A Career Pathway is NOT a pre-apprenticeship program, nor is it a restriction on what a student can do with their futures. In fact, in vibrant Career Pathway High Schools, all students - regardless of their future plans - are required to take a rigorous academic program of at least 3 years of mathematics, 3 years of science, 4 years of English, 3 years of social studies and one year of a foreign language. Then they select a Career Pathway that includes meaningful and relevant elective courses; courses that relate directly to their future goals. Elective courses are restructured into highly contextualized classes where students do authentic work for real purposes. Electives that cannot be so-restructured are eliminated. (Along with the 'General Ed' track)

In vibrant Career Pathway high schools, students change their pathway and average of three times. This may sound familiar to parents who have sent their kids to college, only to have them change their major 3-4 times before dropping out (at the cost of several thousand dollars). The key principle is not that they complete a pathway, but that they complete a rigorous and relevant course of study, and develop skills in many areas that relate to their interests and abilities. Students 'find their way' in high school, where the stakes are much lower, and where the financial burden on families is virtually non-existent.

In vibrant Career Pathway high schools, a foundation principle is that ALL STUDENTS will NEED post-secondary education. Another is that the primary goal of secondary education is to prepare EACH student for his or her next level of learning. The focus changes from 'College Prep' to 'Skill-Prep', and 'Life-Prep'.

Like many educational 'reforms', the Career Pathway model has been largely misunderstood and poorly implemented. That doesn't mean that it isn't an excellent model for reform.


I suppose those comments are one way of looking at this, albeit a very negative way.

There weren’t a lot of details on what is really happening in SC with this program and perhaps grade 9 is a bit young but… In Ontario we have streaming in schools. If you pursue certain courses then you will not be able to apply directly to many University programs. You may not even be able to get into many College (community college) programs. Just fyi.

What I think is good about the career awareness programs is that it connects, hopefully, an education path to final outcomes. If you choose to do this, or drop this, etc… then you may not be able to get this job or type of job.

In Ontario we support coop education programs at the high school level. Students may “work” for 1 or 2 terms. They take minimal in-school courses during work terms but those courses support the work term and they spend most of their days at a work place. Typically these are not paid positions and students receive school credits. I have had many students in my office and have run these programs from the corporate side. The students have had a wide range of abilities and career aspirations.

In my experience, the job exposure has had a few major impacts on the students - a first real experience of what it is like to work, skill development, and career awareness. The last one I think is especially important. Many students discover that the type of work they are in, is not where they want to be and then focus more clearly on what they want out of life, job, career. I don’t think it made them any less of a kid, and they liked getting out of school. But I do think all of them walked away with a clearer understanding that there are many options for them in the world of work and they can set their path, if they chose, to get there. I believe they have a clearer understanding of what their choices in education mean to them in the end and that there are many career choices for them, most of which they were previously unaware.

In addition, in Ontario, students at the high school level must perform a mandatory 40 hours of volunteer community service over their 4 years at the secondary level. Again, this had not turned out to be a bad thing.

All I can say is, I wish I had more career exposure before University so that I didn’t waste a couple years there. But I went to a prep school in Philly and all it did was get me into University. These programs could add a lot of positive value to students’ views of the world if managed properly – I have seen it done.

I think we need to be very careful about market-based approaches to education such as this. Such approaches are driven by the business needs of corporations seeking a labor force that does not think critically, and does not question the hegemonic authority espoused and reproduced by corporate America. Competition instead of collaboration is championed.

Curriculum in such market-based schools is henceforth driven more by commercial interests than democratic principles and educational values. The performance outcomes of our students become more important than the actual social, emotional, and intellectual needs of our students. Instead of producing an empowered and civically-oriented populus, such schools reproduce the existing class divides of America, and reinforce working class stereotypes that are so pervasive amongst people possessing all the cultural capital.

This is indeed a treacherous road to go down.

I am torn about the career/work vs. good liberal arts background debate. I work with middle and high school students as well as college student teachers. I find many kids feel useless because they don't have life skills that put them in interesting relationships with adults. I have some middle school students builing bird houses, for instance, with some retired men who like to build things. The kids were engrossed in how to put in wood screws.

At the same time some of the high school kids I mentor feel they must work significant numbers of hours a week to support car insurance, clothes, and entertainment. Often those jobs are in fast food, not areas where they want to work for their careers. These young adults aren't taking the time to read broadly or follow up personal interests that would support their application and decisions about college.

I'm left feeling that adolescents and young adults want to play significant roles in their communities and learn real skills. AT the same time I want them to have rich cultural lives. Both aspects must take place within meaningful relationships with adults.

I see nothing wrong with a "well designed, well implemented" program that helps students to better understand and thus prepare for the world of work. What I would be afraid of, though, is that design and implementation are likely to be not only poorly designed and implemented but institutionally mandated to be poorly designed and implemented.

The ideology around work has risen to a fever pitch precisely because work-as-we-knew-it has been in crisis for several decades. The symptoms of this crisis have been downsizing, outsourcing, precarious employment and rising inequality. Equipping students to better "compete" in the "job market" accepts two of the core ideological myths as unquestionable truths.

Allow me digress for a moment to mention the education of economists. Most economists seem to accept the view that reducing the hours of work CANNOT be an effective way to create jobs (or "spread work"). They are taught this so-called knowledge in first year economics courses with quaint fables about a "lump-of-labor fallacy" (see http://www.dummies.com/WileyCDA/DummiesArticle/id-3075.html). Most of them are too impressionable to realize that the fallacy is bogus -- a one-sided "object lesson" that has calcified into a professional mythology. It is a badge of achievement and identity amongst mainstream economists that they "know" this "fact" that has no basis in the theory of their own discipline.

So what does that little story have to do with career preparation initiatives? Only this: it takes two sides to make a career, a supply side and a demand side. The professional ideology (or pathology) of economists insists that the demand side is guided by Adam Smith's invisible hand to ensure the best of all possible worlds. Therefore it is up to the labor supply -- the workers, the students -- to simply see to it that they "fit in" this best of all worlds as smoothly as possible.

Let's put the shoe on the other foot for a moment. What would be the public reaction if a career preparation initiative was built in part around ideas from, say, Andre Gorz, Pierre Boudreau, Paulo Virno, Ulrich Beck, Joel Bakan or John McMurtry? What if it talked about the need for universal basic income, work time reduction, collective bargaining, restraining corporate power, getting beyond "growth" economics? You know what the public reaction would be: "subversives in the classroom."

I think we need to consider what the bottom line is: preparing kids for life in the real world. School hasn't always done that. I believe that apprenticeship is not a dirty word, neither is mentorship. Our county ISD has many technology and career prep programs in place and what I'm seeing there is that kids are focused, interested, and learning. They are able to find better jobs to earn money while attending college. They already have a skill in place so aren't limited to flipping hamburgers at minimum wage. Two of my kids attended these programs and both are in college - - one is working as a teacher full-time and going to college part-time for his BS degree, the other is a full-time college student. Doing career prep does not preclude going on to college. And if a student isn't ready for college when he graduates high school, he can still have a marketable skill.

I don’t agree with those concerned that South Carolina is channeling high school students into job tracks based on economic status or in an attempt to “fix” the economy. That is not what its new Education & Economic Development Act does.

The EEDA creates a framework for organizing curricula around well established and highly regarded career cluster models. Contrary to “tracking,” this approach creates opportunities for students by helping them see how schoolwork connects to their interests in various careers and higher education. There is a great deal of flexibility for students to explore and change direction. Rather than being restrictive, this literally will open a world of potential careers to students who never before had such opportunities.

In fact, it is precisely the students who in the past have been “tracked” into non-college prep classes that stand to gain the most. In a world driven by technological innovation and global competition, it’s clear that all of us will need to continually acquire and hone higher levels of learning and skills throughout our entire working lives. If we want to get and keep better paying jobs, there is simply no alternative. Some of the best evidence of this can be seen how states like Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina are coupling more rigorous coursework with pathways that help students see where their hard work can take them.

Several other commenters articulate quiet well what career pathways are about. I applaud those contributions to the clarity of this discussion. Still, some may want to debate the efficacy of career clusters, and that’s fair. Informed discussion is always a good thing. But first, to better understand what South Carolina is trying to accomplish, I’d recommend checking out information on career clusters (www.careerclusters.org) and South Carolina’s Education and Economic Development Act (http://www.sc.gov).

I believe that organizing schools around career clusters will open minds and doors. It will give students the opportunity to see their potential and the ability to achieve it. And that truly is one of the primary purposes of public education.

I was involved in helping to write the SC Education and Economic Development Act. The Act does not focus on the traditional view of tracking students or forcing students to choose a career and technical major. The concept of career major or area of academic focus is for all students. Students will use their elective courses to develop an area of concentrated study by the 11th grade. The process involves interest assessment, career counseling and parental involvement. Students may choose various fields to create an academic focus (4 elective units) such as music, art, math, English, science, social sciences, or a technical area. Students may choose a blended course of study by combining art and music or math and science. Since the major focus of study is using the electve courses, a student can and may often change his or her mind, and the career major is not required for high school graduation. In the pilot school districts that have implemented the initiative, parents and students are in full support. Districts have found increased enrollment in the arts and in advanced courses.
Our career and technical programs have been redesigned to meet the required academic standards, and we are in process of recognizing some technical courses for honors credit. For example, we offer an engineering curriculum at the secondary level (Project Lead The Way) which provides students the opportunity to earn 9 hours of enginnering credit in engineering programs at the University of South Carolina.
The Act calls for all students to have a graduation plan that includes postsecondary education. The Act is not about "jobism or widget" making or about tracking. In fact, the Act eliminates all labels and all students are considered to be college prep since all students must complete the 24 units required for high school graduation including 4 college prep math courses.
Our society has not arrived at the point to recognize that all students are important regardless of their career choice. We cannot rectify that a great artist, a great philospher, a great musician, and a great plumber are needed in our society, and they all have something in common. They are great at what they do and all are needed for a socity to prosper.
In closing, I would differ with some of the other comments on the purpose and value of education. I think we would all agree that one purpose is to transmit our heritage and culture, and another would be that education has a direct impact on the economy by graduating students who can contribute to our heritage, culture and be a productive citizen fully prepared to be employed. I do not see these purposes in conflict. Bob

A good, well-rounded liberal arts program will help students develop the skills necessary to pursue a variety of careers, while also (more importantly, in my opinion) developing the skills needed for active and informed citizenship. Putting the focus on selecting and training for a specific career choice at such a tender age, takes time away from developing civic skills.

The harm of this approach is compounded by adding yet another mandate to an already oppressively rigid and authoritarian environment. We should be giving students more freedom to control the nature of their educational experience, not chipping away at the little choice they have.

The original justification for funding public education was that we all benefit when people of voting age are well prepared for their participation in civic affairs. As a taxpayer, I don’t mind supporting public education insofar as it develops good citizens.

While some benefits may flow to society as a whole from turning our children into worker bees, focused on developing marketable skills, I have considerably less enthusiasm as a taxpayer for funding the job training of other people’s children. If our schools are going to focus on job training, let the corporations that will profit from their labor pay for their education.

If we were to give students (and teachers) a more active role in developing the policies and procedures within our schools and give students more time to read, think, and write about issues of interest to them, they would develop the skills necessary to be good citizens and effective workers.

Sometimes I think the world would be a better place if the "educators" would be quiet for a year or so and just learn from life. No books, no theories, no "curriculum initiatives".

I have a friend, Eugene, who drives a backhoe. He makes good money, lives in a big house with a swimming pool, buys his mother a new car after her hip replacement. I've meet his friends in the trades who also make good money. Their social life revolves around alcohol, tobacco, talking about things they've bought and misogyny.

I have another friend, Marian, who is a musician. She is an itinerant teacher of dance classes in schools and writes dance instruction books. She lives in a basement apartment and is anxious about the constant marketing she has to do to keep her income flowing in. I've met her friends in music and they all struggle with finding gigs to pay the rent, often for houses they share with friends. An evening with Marian's friends revolves around good food, a little wine, sparkling conversation and, of course some music.

So when I read "a great artist, a great philospher (sic), a great musician, and a great plumber are needed in our society," I just wonder about all the people who may not be "great" musicians or "great" backhoe drivers but lead lives that seem somehow out of joint because of the way the tables are tilted.

Sandwichman has a good point. We've positioned citizenship and occupation as oppositional. I think training workers of any industry to be aware, active, and vocal (empowered, liberated even) could be very powerful. But I don't think that is what's going on in South Carolina.
Do we wish to view education as essentially liberating and democritizing? Or is it workforce development?

Fundementally, I don't understand how we can situate employment (especially potential employment, not guaranteed) as the outcome here. And even if we do, is there really a fear that students lack employability if they have general, transferable knowledge? Whereas today's freshman high school students may well pick a career track, learn everything there is to know about it for eight years and graduate to find that career obsolete.
Vocational education has been growing in higher ed, especially in community colleges, for many years. Interestingly, in those areas where we find high numbers of graduates from vocational programs we do not find lower unemployment. In fact, large numbers of these graduates are unable to find jobs in their respective fields. That's because we're not lacking an educated or trained work force, we're lacking jobs that pay a living wage.

I believe requiring the students to take a career course is a bit much. High school freshmen have a lot of responsibilities as it is. They are entering a school where they are pressured in many ways and have a significant amount of decision-making. These students consist of fourteen and fifteen year olds who have no idea what path they want to take in life.
As an educator I feel it is important to guide our students in their decision-making, rather than pressure them into choosing a career. By training these students in one career major, they will be less qualified to compete in the global economy in the future. The students will only be trained in one area, rather than a well-rounded education. It is important for students to receive an equal education.
I graduated from a school that had a technical center next door and it was an option for juniors and seniors to take courses there. I chose to take Human Services because I had the idea that I wanted to be a teacher and wanted to get a feel of what the profession consists of. Offering career oriented classes is a good idea, but should not be required.

If this program had been around in Michigan 10 years ago maybe I wouldn't have wasted 6 years and $70,000+ on four different majors in college only to discover that I would rather be on a jobsite swinging a hammer. I am not a child of working class parents, my mother is a college professor and my father is a doctor. If I had not taken that summer job with a construction company to spite my parents I might have ended up over-educated and miserable in some desk job.

If the end result is a career based on 4 or more years of college or a more technical career, then the question how would this affect the learning objectives? Maybe the real question is what is the purpose of education in today's knowledge economy? I am sure if this question is asked even within the same school, the multitude of answers would be suprising. So, then why as a society are we suprised with the multitude of outcomes?

Over 50 years ago, Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues identified how to increase the thinking capacity of learners as well as to how to work with the 3 prominent learning domains. Fifty years later we are still practicing Einstein's defintion of insanity - Doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for different results.

i say that no school is needed after 8th grade because we will NEVER NEVER NEVER use what we learn in high school in our every day lives. Who need to know that 3.14...=pi and nobody will ever speak proper english, so why the hell are you teaching it to us. and history, screw that. no one wants to know that some guy tried to do something great and wound up getting shot in the head. WE DON'T CARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A High School Student
from Long Island New York
Currently in class

Current research shows that student achievement improves when students see their courses as being relevent to their future. A program that links study to potential careers would be ideal for students as long as they have the flexibility to switch to a new area of study as their interests change.

Please give new ideas a chance. Our world is changing and so must our educataional system. For schools that do not have this options, please look into programs run by the 4-H and youth prgrams through your university extension system. Every state's land-grant university has an extension. They work hard to develop relevent programs in many areas for youth development.

I agree with Donna that student achievement does improve when students find relevance in their coursework. What is relevant is as varied as our students. Generally, I have seen when students have opportunities to take courses in the arts, music, and vocational/technical topics in addition to the academics, they stay in school through graduation, and do not waste so much time, particularly in their senior year, during which a number of students feel entitled to goof off. As long as all students are required to take a comprehensive curriculum that well could include career exploration in addition to a good in-the-trenches civics course, nobody is being tracked. We also preserve the "liberal arts" exposure to culture, history, science, language and mathematics, perhaps philosophy and ethics as well.

I have long advocated high schools should not be recruiting grounds for employers, whether it is the military, the corporation, or a member of the local chamber of commerce. However, the lack of planning for the future I see by high school graduates other than "going to college," I believe, wastes millions of dollars every year. Going to college is a cultural norm, but many college freshmen, even if academically gifted, are ill-prepared or mature enough to benefit that much. 75% of the people entering college do not complete, many washing out or giving up after the first year or two. Most of these first two years consists of haphazard study, undeclared majors, and more partying with heavy alcohol abuse than we would care to admit. So, what is wrong with a bit of exposure to a variety of career paths and some actual career planning? The outcome for the student should not necessarily be employment, but rather, perhaps, a realistic idea of what it will take to prepare for a productive career in one to several fields of interest.

Further, I would advocate we should not let anyone go to any postsecondary education right out of high school until he/she has completed two years of national service, which could be a choice of military or domestic service with respective training. This is a subject for another discussion, but considering we do not do a good job of preparing our youth to be viable, self-sufficient citizens with an egalitarian social sense within the present system, it is worth serious consideration. Now, a voting citizen, wouldn't that be an outcome?

Dr. Couch, (and everyone else participating in this thoughtful discussion)

I appreciate your response. There are aspects about the program that do seem quite beneficial and certainly not simply reducible to traditional academic tracking/streaming policies. What concerns me is actually that which you think we'd all agree:

"I think we would all agree that one purpose is to transmit our heritage and culture, and another would be that education has a direct impact on the economy by graduating students who can contribute to our heritage, culture and be a productive citizen fully prepared to be employed. I do not see these purposes in conflict."

While folks like E.D. Hirsch and Chester Finn have circulated the seeminly innocent arguments that schools should "transmit" "our" culture and heritage, many others have articulated problems with such views. Put simply: We cannot point to a unified "we" nor a unified "culture" within this pluralistic nation. I argue that the issues surrounding how to live with one another amidst diversity in all its many guises should be a focus of a democratic education, an education that should also include rich examinations of our economic system/policies. I worry that focusing on job identification and exploration will take precedence over more sophisticated analyses of how those jobs and "careers" fit into the complexities of our globalized economic picture. Put in another way: I'm concerned that our economic system itself is unjust, and that by "preparing" people to participate in it we jump to the conclusion that it should be sustained in its present formation. I would rather our young citizens spend time analzying the changing economic demographics of our nation and world. I worry that pushing them to decide upon any range of careers while in high school pushes them to accept the premises upon which the whole system rests, something that violates the principles of critical thinking and analysis I hope we're striving to teach.

Let me try again: Our current economic system is predicated upon the unjust distribution of resources. Despite our meritocratic ideology, those with wealth succeed because of their affluence, and those without resources make career "choices" that aren't choices at all. Unless our career-focused programs aslo deconstruct the systems in which they are embedded, all we're doing is helping students feel better about making "choices" in an unjust system.

Wow! If that really was a student a few comments ago, we all should stop pontificating and start listening.
Public schools don't like going back and asking their students whether a program was valuable. If the program in Michigan is successful, then it would be great to see exit data taken from students after graduation, 1 year and 5 years to see whether THEY thought it was valuable. Then, I'd like to see data from the teachers who are in the classroom (not the ones who are personally invested in the project) to see if they saw improvements in students directly related because the students were involved in career clusters (rather than a supplemental instruction program initiated because of NCLB...).
Critical to every initiative is effective implementation. I'd love for my son to have a better understanding of how the subjects he studies in school could connect to a job someday, but in a school where the class load/teacher is 140, there are four guidance counselors for 1600 students (and ONE career counselor), I don't think he will get that connection. Clearly that connection hasn't been made with Mrs. Time, either!
Bully to the student who reads EdWeek -- we should listen to high school students more rather than treating them like preschoolers who we talk about, even when they are sitting there eager to join the conversation.

To Anon:

Contact Paul Bergan, CTE director at Berrien County Intermediate School District, Berrien Springs, MI, for over a decade of data on the success of a regional Career Pathway network. This program encompassed more than 15 high schools - and it still goes on!

Their research shows statistically significant improvements in attendance, discipline, acdemic achievement, graduation rates, AP course-taking, AP scores, dual enrollment, college-prep cours-taking, student satisfaction and college attendance rates, among other things.

Schools that undertake this reform model, do it correctly, and have the leadership necessary to follow through and stay with it, have had tremendous success in making improvements for even the toughest schools.

But, like all reform initiatives, if leadership, buy-in and stick-to-it-tiveness are lacking, this reform can fail also. Don't blame the program for a failure of leadership - blame the leadership!

I have worked for the past five years on implementing career pathways in a large comprehensive, urban high school (in the form of Smaller Learning Communities). However, our pathways are not "recruiting grounds" for employers and they are not what many of us remember of vociationl education.

All of our students choose one of the pathways based on their interests during the spring of their 8th grade year. If they stay in the program and don't elect to enter a different pathway (we allow students to change between years), eventually in their junior and senior years they are able to participate in interships and mentoring programs where they are able to interact with adults in real-work settings.

Each of the pathways consists of one elective each year for all four years. In addition to this all students are automatically enrolled in a college-prep 4-year plan (based on Carnegie Units -- 4 years of English, 4 years of Social Studies, at least 3 years of Science and Math, at least one technology credit, one fine arts credit, speech, phys. ed & health, and at least 2 years of a foreign language.) Our student demographics are basically around 80% at-risk and living at or below the poverty level. 95% are minorities.

The parents and the students are very happy with the structure and choices that our school offers.

Having said all that... I think what we have put in place -- career pathways combined with the traditional college-prep curriculum that most of our students would traditionally not have been "tracked" into -- is the best possible solution for us at this time.

Ideally? I would love to see the policy makers in our country (and states, cities, school districts) wake up and realize that our current educationl structure is antiquated and totally out of sync with what our students are going to need in the future.

Instead of focusing on a "core curriculum" of facts, figures, and "common knowledge" that has been determined by decision-makers in each specific curriculum area (i.e. curriculum specialists) -- we should be implementing more project-based integrated curriculum that mirrors what happens in the real-world. Students should be more engaged in activities that resemble what they will be doing when they enter the workforce -- working in collaborative teams on projects, and gaining knowledge and skills on an as-needed basis. We should be teaching students how to reserach, evaulate, and interpret information and data from a variety of resources (databases, the internet, etc.). At the very least we need to throw out all of those outdated and often incorrect textbooks.

The world has changed so much since I was a high school student in the 1980s. The facts and skills that I learned in high school (typical college prep core curriculum) in no way prepared me for the world that I now live in. Quite possibly the most relevant class that I took in high school was the one semester course in computer skills (using a Commodore 64!) -- because it was the class that engaged me the most in problem-solving and collaborative team work.

Our students are already engaged with the real-world -- blogs, MySpace.com, text messaging, e-commerce (music and videos downloaded on demand from the web), and interactive online gaming/virtual worlds... we are so far behind where our students are that is shocking. The post above -- if it really was a high school student -- is a symptom of an education system that is currently failingg miserably at engaging this generation of students.

We need to catch up and completely redesign our education system to better prepare our students for a world that will look very different when they leave school. Look at how dramatically things have changed in just 10 years.

We must also prepare ourselves for the reality that "one size may not fit all". A redesigned -- re-imagined -- education system may include a variety of "avenues" that better fit the needs of individual students. Examples that now exist include virtual schools, early-college programs, and specialized charter schools.

What we currently think of when we say "career pathway" will look completely different if (when?) we finally get around to redesigning our education system...

...all educational opportunities should be "career pathways" if we really want to prepare our students to succeed outside of the schoolhouse...

...and one final thought...

The kids really are already interacting with the world of tomorrow (virtual and interactive)... and we will fail in any attempt to change our education systems if we don't involve the students and listen to their voices in the process (as another person suggested in an earlier posting).

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • SS: I have worked for the past five years on implementing read more
  • Ric Seager - Administrator and Professional Development Consultant: To Anon: Contact Paul Bergan, CTE director at Berrien County read more
  • anon: Wow! If that really was a student a few comments read more
  • Concerned: Dr. Couch, (and everyone else participating in this thoughtful discussion) read more
  • Sandy Wassilie, school board member: I agree with Donna that student achievement does improve when read more




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