Will We Ever Learn? ask Robert Lerman of the Urban Institue and Arnold Packer of SCANS in Education Week. That is, will we ever learn to stop forcing a one-size-fits-all college-prep curriculum on all students.
Many high schools require Algebra 2, they write, but “Northeastern University sociologist Michael Handel has found that only 9 percent of people in the workforce ever use this knowledge, and that fewer than 20 percent of managerial, professional, or technical workers report using any Algebra 2 material.”
Part of the reason high schools fail so many kids is that educators can’t get free of the notion that all students—regardless of their career aspirations—need the same basic preparation. States are piling on academic courses, removing the arts, and downplaying career and technical education to make way for a double portion of math. Meanwhile, career-focused programs, such as Wisconsin’s youth apprenticeships and well-designed career academies, are engaging students and raising their post-high-school earnings, especially among hard-to-reach, at-risk male students.
Research shows what employers want:
Successful workers communicate effectively, orally and in writing, and have social and behavioral skills that make them responsible and good at teamwork. They are creative and techno-savvy, have a good command of fractions and basic statistics, and can apply relatively simple math to real-world problems such as those concerning financial or health literacy. Employers never mention polynomial factoring . . .
The proposed common core standards ignore career readiness in favor of college-prep, they write. “We need rigorous but basic academics, homing in on skills that will be used, and not short-shrifting the ‘soft skill’ behaviors that lead to success in college and careers.”
I’m not sure how schools could get rigorous about “soft skill” behaviors. But I see very little in most high schools to engage career-minded students.