Career planning starts in 8th grade

Is 8th Grade Too Early to Pick a Career? asks the National Journal. In South Carolina, counselors help middle schoolers set career goals through the Personal Pathways to Success program.

(Patricia) Reid begins by meeting and talking with each student about her interests, hobbies, and academic preferences. Together, the two identify a career path that the student can focus on during high school—perhaps technology, engineering, veterinary science, or manufacturing.

Then Reid meets with the student and parents to develop an individual graduation plan, which allows students to take electives throughout high school to bolster particular interests. So, if a student expresses interest in becoming, say, a veterinarian, he could sign up for an agricultural science or animal-care classes in high school in addition to enrolling in required courses such as English, math, science, and history.

South Carolina saw textile jobs move overseas in the 1990s. Attracting new manufacturing jobs was hampered by a shortage of skilled workers.

The state has required schools to include career exploration in the curriculum since 2005. By eighth grade, students meet one-on-one with counselors, choose a career cluster and take a few career-related electives in high school.

Counselors are the key to success, a five-year study concluded.

“School counseling used to be focused on college, college, college,” says Natalie Stipanovic, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville, who has extensively studied the counseling portion of the South Carolina program. “With all of the kids who don’t go to college, what do we do? This program makes sure that every student is seen as important to talk to.”

Career discussions should be more than college or bust, says Anthony P. Carnevale, director and research professor of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. “If you want upward mobility in America for low-income kids, you have to get them to think about how they will use their education to make a living,” Carnevale says. “Right now, we act like there’s only one pathway.”

In southern California, San Bernardino Unified hopes to put every student on a career path by 2017.

Students in career pathways programs have higher graduation and college enrollment rates, research shows. “Programs in visual and performing arts, construction technology, finance, and digital design and communication are joining long-standing district pathways, such as the Educators for Tomorrow program, and others in public safety, green technology and business,” reports EdSource.

Make it really hard for kids to fail in school

To prepare “difficult” students for the real world, make it “really hard to fail,” argues Dr. Allen Mendler, an education consultant, on Edutopia’s blog.

An effective practice is to “appreciate and focus on the student’s strengths rather than emphasizing and punishing shortcomings such as lateness, lack of productivity, and disruptive behavior,” Mendler writes.

But critics say that’s preparing students to be fired.

Grading for progress rather than achieving a “group-based standard” also doesn’t work in the real world, critics say.

School isn’t like the workplace, Mendler argues. Students have to go to school and take courses in subjects they may not like or be any good at. In the real world, workers can specialize.

“Make it really hard for students to fail school,” he writes. “Not impossible, just really hard!”

Do what you can to impart important life skills such as a solid work ethic, promptness, patience, and getting along with others. Have rules and, as much as possible, “logical” consequences for unacceptable behavior. (For example: “Work needs to be completed. You can do it in class with others, at home, or during recess.”)

. . . I am far more likely to motivate an uninterested student with poor attendance to show up, and therefore make it more likely that she will pass my class and graduate, by telling how much we missed her during her absence rather than by giving her a zero on missed assignments.

School success doesn’t always predict success in life, he concludes. Of course, school failure usually does predict future failure.

Success paths for all

How can high schools ensure graduates are college- and career-ready, asks an Education Next forum.

Students need multiple pathways, writes Robert Schwartz, a Harvard professor emeritus who coleads the Pathways to Prosperity Network. “We have allowed a very important idea—that all students need a solid foundation of core academic knowledge and skills—to morph into a not-so-good idea: that all students need to be prepared to attend a four-year college,” he writes.

If we follow a cohort of 8th graders, roughly 2 in 10 will drop out before high school graduation, and another 3 will graduate high school but choose not to enroll in postsecondary education. Of those who do go on and enroll in four-year institutions, nearly 4 in 10 will drop out before attaining a degree. Of those who enroll in community colleges, roughly 7 in 10 will drop out. The bottom line: by age 25, only 33 percent of the cohort will have attained a four-year degree, and another 10 percent will have earned a two-year degree.

Many good jobs require some education beyond high school but not a four-year degree, Schwartz writes. He likes the northern European model: “All students pursue a common curriculum up through grade 9 or 10, and then choose between an academics-only pathway leading to university and a more applied-learning pathway leading to a vocational qualification.”

Instead of letting students choose their path, we “force march all students” through a math sequence leading to calculus, a goal few will achieve and even fewer will need, he writes.

Yet most community college students and many university students aren’t prepared for college algebra. “In my view, the vast majority of students in two- and four-year institutions would be much better served by getting a solid grounding in data, statistics, and probability in high school,” he writes.

Common foundational skills are essential, writes Cynthia G. Brown, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. All students should take a college-prep curriculum, but high school students could choose “curricular options that fit their interests, skills, and plans for the future.”

What about kids who aren’t ‘job material’ either?

Some students aren’t college material and would be better off on a vocational track, Mike Petrilli wrote in Slate. Now, he concedes one of his critics’ points:  Kids who aren’t “college material” aren’t “career- and technical-education material” either. Strong CTE programs require academic skills that many students lack. So what do we do with ninth graders who are way behind?

Sixty-four percent of eighth graders aren’t “proficient” in reading and math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. They’re not on the college or career readiness track. Even worse, “just 14 percent of blacks and 21 percent of Hispanics are proficient in math at the end of eighth grade; for reading, it’s 17 percent and 22 percent, respectively.”

If we push the “pedal to the metal” on every school reform, we’ll still have many ninth graders who aren’t prepared for a true college-prep route or high-quality CTE, writes Petrilli.

 . . . we encourage such students to muddle through “on-level” quasi-academic courses in large comprehensive high schools. Eventually, they drop out or get labeled as “over-age and under-credit.” At that point, various credit-recovery (or dropout-recovery) initiatives kick in. If the students are diligent and lucky, they squeeze out a credential. And then?

That’s hardly a strategy, a system, or a solution. And keep in mind that in some big urban districts, we’re talking about upwards of 80 or 90 percent of today’s kids—and, for all of our reforming, big fractions of tomorrow’s, too!

What would work best for these students? Petrilli doesn’t have the answer, just the question.

Carnegie’s Opportunity by Design is working with urban districts to design high schools that improve the life chances of underprepared students, respond Michele Cahill and Leah Hamilton. Their goal is to raise the number of underprepared students who complete high school, enroll in non-remedial college courses and stay in college for at least two semesters.

Not ready

Education Trust documentaries, American Grit and Speak Unto Us, follow high school graduates into the working (or not working) world.

Unready in 12th grade

College and career readiness” is the goal — but not the reality — for high school graduates. States and school districts are developing “transitional” curricula to move 12th graders off the remedial track.

Not your father’s shop class

Career Technical Education (CTE) is Not Your Father’s Shop Class, writes Harry J. Holzer in The Washington Monthly.

In “old-fashioned voc ed,” low achievers trained for “low-wage or disappearing jobs, if any job at all,” he writes. “Even worse, the programs tracked students, particularly minorities and disadvantaged students, away from college.”

By contrast, the best models of high-quality CTE today integrate rigorous academic instruction into the teaching of technical and employment skills and thus prepare young people for college just as well as a traditional “college prep” program does.

. . . there are now several thousand “career academies” around the country, where students take classes that prepare them for jobs in a particular sector (like health care, finance, or information technology) as well as participate in more general academic classes. To complement their classwork, students are placed into jobs in their chosen field during the summer or the academic year. For example, the Ballard High School Academy of Finance in Seattle trains students in financial literacy and banking activities within a broader academic curriculum, and also helps students get internships with local financial firms.

These career academies improve the post-high school earnings of disadvantaged students, especially at-risk young males, by nearly 20 percent, according to research studies.

Other models, such as High Schools That Work and Linked Learning integrate high-level academics with career exploration, Holzer writes. In some places, high school students can earn associate degrees in vocational fields.

Levi McCord and Nehemiah Myers are students at the Lehigh Career and Technical Institute in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania.

McCord . . .  plans to head straight into the workforce after graduation. “I’ll already have most of the skills I need to know to get a job,” said McCord, who is learning to become a welder. As a certified welder, he can eventually expect to earn as much as $67,000 in some parts of the country.

Myers, on the other hand, has been studying electromechanics and mechantronics part-time at Lehigh. He plans to enroll in a co-op program at a four-year college next year, where he can get paid work experience while working toward a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

CTE can benefit all students, concludes Holzer.

California will put $250 million — out of a $55 billion education budget — into “shop plus.”

Career ed gets kind words, few dollars

The Obama administration is promoting career education, reports Joy Resmovits on the Huffington Post. President Obama called for career education funding on a visit to Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in New York City, a partnership with IBM.

The president’s push for more college degrees has drawn criticism. There are few pathways to success for career-minded students. Now the rhetoric is shifting.

Mixing career and college courses is “just something I absolutely believe in,” Duncan told the Post. “When young people have a chance to take college-level courses, when they’re thinking of careers as well, that’s just hugely important.”

“For the most part, they’ve been about academic standards,” said Anthony Carnevale, leads Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “I’m glad to see them open up another front here.”

“Academic reform has been too much of a good thing and we’ve overdone it, and moving to a point where we have only one pathway to college, which is the high school to Harvard model,” Carnevale said. “That model is only applicable to the 25 percent of college-going students who attend four-year-colleges,” he said. “It’s the only one we understand. … they’ve added another pathway here, and seem to be more and more serious about it.”

Carnevale says he sees education reform floundering on subjects like Algebra II, with Texas’ recent move to drop the course as a high school graduation requirement serving as a sign of things to come.

Duncan has pushed for Common Core  standards, which aim at “college and career readiness.” But all the stress has been on college prep. Only 13 states have defined “what it means for a high school student to be career- or work-ready,” concluded a Center on Education Policy survey.

“College and career readiness” has come to mean that every student has to take three years of university-track math, pass standardized tests and jump through college-prep hoops, writes teacher Mark Gardner on Stories from School. Doing “career ready” right isn’t cheap, he points out. Schools need “a shop, a technology lab, tools, an industrial kitchen, consumable materials, a greenhouse” and a lot more.

The administration has released a blueprint for revising the Perkins Act, which funds vocational education, “but has had little success in increasing its funding,” writes Resmovits.

Here’s the Republican take on reauthorizing Perkins. Everybody wants employers involved — because they want them to foot part of the bill.

Both Democrats and Republicans oppose the administration’s proposal to make school districts compete for the $1.1 billion in Perkins funding, reports Ed Week. Competitions favor large districts that can afford grant writers.

Yesterday, the Department of Labor announced $100 million in YouthCareer Connect grants to high schools. By federal standards, that’s very small potatoes. Schools will compete for career-tech grants. Programs must integrate career and college prep, let high school students earn college credits, provide “work-based learning” and/or partner with employers.

YouthCareerConnect came as a surprise to House leaders, who held a hearing on reauthorizing the Perkins Act yesterday, reports Ed Week. Because the funding comes from H-1B fees, the grants don’t require congressional approval. But legislators like to be consulted.

Even though the competitive career-tech program involves a relatively small pot of money, the administration’s proposal essentially an end-run around Congress, which isn’t really the most helpful way to kick-off a bipartisan reauthorization.

The administration likes models that offer career training and college options. But there are quite a few students who are strongly motivated to learn job skills and turned off by academics. They need pathways too.

Employers: Grads aren’t prepared for work

Most employers say college graduates aren’t prepared for work, reports a new survey. College students tend to be overconfident about their readiness.

“College for all” — or even job training for all — won’t revive the economy, argues a new book. We don’t lack skilled workers. We lack skilled jobs.

Two math pathways in high school?

Most community college students don’t need Algebra II, but do need mastery of middle-school math, concludes What Does It Really Mean To Be College and Work Ready?, a recent report by the National Center on Education and the Economy. In his Top Performers blog, NCEE’s Marc Tucker explains why he supports Common Core Standards, which require Algebra II content, but doesn’t think Algebra II should be  graduation requirement.

Algebra II prepares students to take calculus, which fewer than five percent of U.S. workers will use on the job, writes Tucker. Why require it of everyone?

Some students, including many who will go on to STEM careers, should study Algebra II and beyond, including, if possible, calculus.  But many others, going on to other sorts of careers, should study the advanced mathematics that is appropriate for the kind of work they will do.  Homebuilders, surveyors and navigators might need geometry and trigonometry, whereas those going into industrial production or public health might want to pursue statistics and probability.  We argued not for lowering the standards but for creating pathways through advanced mathematics in high school that make sense in terms of the kind of mathematics that may be most useful to students when they leave school and enter the workforce.

Phil Daro, who headed the team that wrote the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics, also co-chaired the NCEE study’s math panel. Daro writes that the Common Core math standards include “college ready” and STEM goals. The lower “college ready” standards are not as rigorous as a traditional Algebra II course, though they are “more demanding than the NCEE study found was necessary for success” in community college.

 In writing the CCSS, we were charged with articulating one set of standards for all students that would be sufficient preparation for 4-year college programs.  . . . we could not customize different standards for different students with different destinations.  The principle behind this is social justice, but it has a cost.  One could argue that it would be better to have the common standards end earlier, and specialized standards start sooner.

Indeed, my own view is that there should be two mathematics pathways to college readiness that split after grade 9: one for students with STEM ambitions and one for students with other ambitions.

To avoid “social justice risks associated with different pathways,” Daro suggests making both pathways qualify for college admission without remediation.

By 10th grade, students would have to decide whether to take the easier non-STEM path or tackle college-prep math courses that keep the door open to a career in engineering, math and hard sciences.

Now, many students wander through years of middle-school and college-prep math without understanding what they’re doing. If they’re assigned to remedial math in college, the odds are they won’t earn a degree or a job credential. Is that social justice?