Preparing Students to Enter the Workforce

Preparing Students to Enter the Workforce For many years, the American education system has touted college as the ideal next step for high school graduates, even though a majority of students enter the workforce directly. But recently, several states have renewed efforts to prepare students to go straight to the workplace. For instance, in April, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed legislation that offers an alternate pathway to graduation for students who are not college-bound. Meanwhile, there's growing interest in other nations' approaches to career readiness, including the Swiss model of vocational education and training.

Critics of career-pathway programs argue that they will create a two-tier system in which students of color will be pushed disproportionately toward weaker academic curricula.

Teachers: What are your thoughts on the move away from "college for all"? Are you concerned that amping up career-pathway programs will perpetuate inequalities? What lessons have you learned in working with students who are going straight into the work force? How could schools better serve these students?

Giving High School Graduates Options

Today's high school graduates need the skills that give them the flexibility to navigate between immediately entering the work place, going to a vocational school, or heading off for a degree at college.

Getting Students Ready for Life

Renee Moore A heartfelt thanks to all who shared corrections, clarifications, questions, and deep thinking with me on the first round of our discussion. From that exchange, I want to focus on two especially interesting threads. First, Mark raises some important issues about readiness and remediation of our current college-bound students. I've blogged extensively on this topic over at TeachMoore (The Other Side of College Readiness: Readiness of Colleges and More Counseling Support Needed for Students). I urge those of you who are interested to join the conversation over on those pieces, since I don't have space to repeat those ...

Looking to Finland for Answers on Vocational Ed.

Noah Zeichner Both Renee Moore and Mark Sass wrote last week about the need to move away from locking students into rigid vocational or academic tracks. I couldn't agree more. What then, might a more flexible system look like? People often look to Europe for highly developed vocational programs. But European education systems traditionally sort students into different pathways. In Finland, whose system is touted as being one of the most equitable in the world, more than 40 percent of high school students choose vocational programs, and students attend separate schools. But as Pasi Sahlberg explains in his 2012 book ...

Taking the 'Middle Skills' Path: The Role of Community Colleges

Jennifer Martin The alumni magazine of my local community college recently published an article focusing on students who had gained the education needed for "middle skills" jobs, what we used to call "blue collar" work. The cover photo of the woman in a hard hat caught my attention. The featured alumna was a former teacher, Lily Landau, who had returned to community college to retrain for a new career as an electrician. My guess is that she studied alongside many of my former students, and that they, like her, were looking for the training that would give them "the shortest ...

Two Students, Two Types of Creativity

Sandy Merz Nia and Luis are 8th graders in Introduction to Engineering. Contrasting their strengths shines light on the often unrecognized cognitive demands of the manual arts and bolsters the argument in favor of vocational training. Nia extracts the potential of words—their potential to give life to abstract ideas through well-crafted thinking and precise language. She works inside her own head and wrestles with notions. Her creativity begins when she hears an assertion not of her liking and proceeds systematically to a satisfactory rebuttal. Nia's arguments often appear digressive, but she's not wasting time; she's learning about ideas and ...

Career and College Skills Are Really the Same

Mark Sass The teaching profession is my third attempt at a life-long career. And I think I've found my work for the rest of my life. My first profession as a truck mechanic lasted five years, and my second profession, as a professional advertising photographer, lasted 10. For my generation, I was the exception to the rule—the rule that said that while you might have numerous jobs, they would all be in the same profession. Today, for our graduating high school students, having numerous careers in different professions is the expectation. This is why we need to ensure that...

Bring Back Vocational Education and More Students Will Graduate

Noah Zeichner Two weeks ago, one of my students ventured into my classroom during my planning period. He had missed several days of class in recent weeks and was quickly falling behind. He walked up to my desk and handed me a withdrawal form to sign. "Daniel" had decided to drop out of school. He had already started a 40-hour-a-week construction job, which explained his recent absences. He was just about to turn 17. As he stood in front of me, my mind raced as I tried to come up with a menu of alternative options for him. But I ...

Teachers Need Vocational Ed., Too

Sandy Merz High-definition computer screens punctuate the darkness. Jumbo monitors display urgent "situations." Workers in headsets carry on intense conversations. No, it's not the NSA tackling an international crisis. It's a call-center and the workers are offering special deals on a mobile phone service. Most are between high school and something else. They earned their jobs by completing training in which they had to demonstrate the bedrock job skill: showing up every day and on time. Their pay is low and they won't stay long. But they'll leave armed with the confidence, skills, and experience they'll need for their next ...

Lost Power Tools in Education: Trade Classes

Jennifer Martin In the late 1970s when I was in high school, I shared classes with some boys whose fingernails were blackened by axle grease and whose futures, while potentially bright, did not generally include college plans. My school, like many of that time, had a whole wing devoted to educating students for such hands-on work as carpentry, sewing, cosmetology, cooking, and mechanics. When I began teaching in 2002, the retractable electrical cords for power tools still hung from the ceiling of my middle school classroom. But the tools had been "surplussed," and the shop instructor was now teaching health ...

The Real 'Alternative' Route? Going to College

Renee Moore The majority of high school graduates in America do not go to college, at least not directly. But wait—in all of the high schools where I've worked, half of the students who enroll never graduate, and that's reflective of a longstanding national trend. So where are all those young people going? The vocational career pathway has always been treated as low status in our antiquated educational hierarchy. In reality, this is just academic snobbery; the vocational careers have been some of the most lucrative and bountiful entryways to the middle class in America for a long time....

The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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