“College and Career Readiness” Needs a Makeover

Next week I have the opportunity to reunite with some of my high school friends.  The thought of the 18 year old version of myself is not only a scary mental image (white jeans, polo shirt, Eastland’s and a school letterman jacket) but an interesting reflection on education.  Especially when now viewed through the lens of a 21st century educational leader.

Was I READY when I graduated high school?

One of the great educational buzz-phrases in recent years, College and Career Readiness (CCR) has become the noble ambition of PK-12 educational systems across the nation.  As an “NCLB” era teacher, my mind, like that of many other educators, immediately thinks of a benchmark score on a standardized assessment.

I guess the answer is “yes, I was ready for college”.  I had the requisite HS GPA and ACT score for college admissions.  So off to one of the local state universities I went.  By the start of my second year I was struggling to maintain sufficient grades.  I found myself woefully un-prepared for the rigors of pseudo-independent learning.  Lack of study skills?  Insufficient exposure to critical thinking?  Poor reading endurance?  Not really any one of those but rather a combination of all them and more. (I don’t fault my high school or college instructors – I had many great ones, for whom I am very grateful.)

Fortunately we have continued to evolve our definition what it truly means to be ready for college and careers to become more than simply a test score.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are grounded in the concept of CCR.

This is progress…right?

Enter now the ever-growing and frequently publicized outcry against the CCSS and the woes of standardized tests.  (“The Cure for the Common Core” and “Testing is Killing Learning” are some of the few.)  The cost of college continues to rise, the student loan debt in the country now exceeds all other personal debt, and graduates are struggling to find jobs in their careers of choice.  (We do have more highly educated baristas than any other country though.)

So where does that leave educational policy makers, administrators and most importantly, teachers?

College and Career Readiness needs a makeover, again.  We need to build upon the already strong foundation of benchmark test scores and standards, a new concept of College and Career Experiences.  Students need to experience “college” and “career” in secondary schools.  Independent study, dual credit classes, blended learning, internships, integrated career courses, etc…are nothing new in education.

But to what extent are we expecting these experiences for all students or simply offering them?  What if by the time our current 5th grade students graduate high school, the Class of 2020, we expected each of them to have these experiences?  What if we established graduation requirements that better mirrored the world of 2020?  What if our high schools were transformed into career prep institutions designed around career clusters?

Courageous leaders empowering teachers, embracing the possibilities, and harnessing the true power technology can make this become a reality.  It already is.

What do you think?

  • What institutional practices and systems impede this kind of innovation?
  • What would it take to integrate “departments” within our secondary schools?
  • How can we better prepare our students for the world they will inherit?

One final thought…

I am a big fan of TED (Ideas Worth Spreading, not the talking teddy-bear movie with Marky Mark).   While not a talk on education, Erik Brynjolfsson’s TED talk “The Key to Growth? Race with the Machines” hints at the next generation of managers/leaders being able to truly harness the power of technology and innovation to make a difference.

Just think about the possibilities that exist with one simple idea – MIT’s OpenCourseWare.  Free classes, lectures, materials, etc… from MIT?

So thankful the fashion trends have changed since the 90’s…let’s give College and Career Readiness that same kind of makeover.

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