Kentucky has gotten real about career readiness, writes Hechinger’s Emmanuel Felton. High schools get the same reward for preparing graduates for “middle-skill” jobs as they do for preparing them for college.
In Louisville, Southern High’s machine tool program enables students to earn an industry-recognized machinist operator credential. The job starts at $15 an hour.
“When the Obama administration made some federal funding contingent on the adoption of college- and career-ready standards, most states decided college and career readiness were one and the same,” he writes.
In Kentucky, however, schools are encouraged to create direct-to-career paths with expectations “focused on technical skills and the ability to find and parse informational texts and apply math in occupational situations.”
At Southern High, which prepares students for many careers, Principal Bryce Hibbard hopes to link the auto shop with the student-run credit union, writes Felton. “Auto shop students will fix donated cars which will then be sold to Southern’s seniors on a $1,000, 1 percent interest loan by students at the credit union.”
“When most states say college- and career-ready, they just mean college-ready,” says Robert Lerman, an institute fellow at the Urban Institute’s Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population. “If you look at what amount of jobs require Algebra II, for example, it’s maybe 8 to 10 percent, and on the flip side there are all of these employability and occupational skills that students don’t learn and aren’t tested.”
Kentucky students must pass a college admission or placement test to be considered college ready. To be career ready, students must show pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test or ACT’s WorkKeys to demonstrate their math and literacy skills. In addition, they must earn an industry-recognized credential or pass a state occupational skills exam, based on industry standards.
Five years ago, only 13 percent of Southern students were considered ready for life after high school. That’s up to 57 percent, reports Felton. “Of the 270 students who graduated last spring, 117 were college-ready, 45 were ready for careers and 68 left ready for both.”