Last week in this blog I began a discussion titled “The Portrait of a Graduate” that focuses on shifting our K12 school focus from student success with minimum competency tests to actually preparing students for success with life in the high-tech global economy. I pointed out that this is becoming the focus of attention for our Commonwealth, not just our local school division, as political and business leaders recognize that Virginia must transition to a new economy of highly skilled workers if we are to maintain a strong standard of living. Evidence of this shifting focus is found in the graphic that the State Board of Education is now using to redesign our Standards of Quality (SOQ), Standards of Accreditation (SOA), and student graduation requirements. This week we will focus our attention on the first component of that graphic, career literacy.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question that should be asked of all children and remain a driving consideration throughout life. We all have talents that make us creative individuals and we find great fulfillment in life when we can parlay these into a productive career. It is said that the person who can make a living doing what they love never works a day in their life, meaning that they love what they do so the tasks required are fulfilling rather than onerous. An advantage of developing technology is that it has created more opportunities for individuals to apply their creative energy to tasks that are available to a much wider, even worldwide, market so that they can earn a living with them. However, the pursuit of this opportunity and the development of necessary academics and skills must be very intentionally and carefully planned. Ideally it should begin as the child expresses creative tendencies in play and continues through lifelong education and development.
Career literacy should therefore be the foundation of education. There are many questions to consider as we launch forward through education and life. What do I love to do? What are my gifts and talents? What jobs and careers are available that give me the opportunity to apply my talents? How competitive is this career compared to another that makes use of my talents? Which of a variety of job options that utilize my skills pay well enough for me to make a living? Where are these careers available? What is the best pathway to success with this career? What are the various launching points from education to practical application and job? How is this career changing in a global economy and what impact will technology have on it? How must I continue to upgrade my skills to remain competitive in my career throughout life? Do you now see why career literacy is a lifelong pursuit?
We have ignored career literacy in our public schools. Instead of engaging students and parents in a developmental process focusing on the identification and pursuit of ideal careers, we have created a one-size-fits-all conveyor belt process that expects all children to start at the same place and proceed through all grades learning generally the same thing (called SOL’s.) Children are bored to tears with this and teachers are frustrated because they are blamed for not getting at least 90% of their widgets to pass the test at the end of the year. Public school education is the only significant institution in this country that is still applying the concepts of conveyor-belt manufacturing.
How can we apply career literacy to our K12 education process? Basically it is a matter of making appropriate career information available to students and parents throughout the years of development, monitoring the decision process, create opportunities for students to explore options, and master the specific academic and skill requirements for their chosen career pathways. More specifically there should be career awareness in elementary schools, career exploration in middle school, and career preparation in high school. I believe that we shall find that high school diplomas will be awarded based on the fulfillment of individual career plans created on this model rather than completion of a set number of academic courses.
“BUT,” you might ask, “what child knows what he/she wants to do for the rest of his/her life when a teen-ager?” This is a very important question. Very few do. However, the process of being intentional in setting long-term goals and pursuing them to completion is a most necessary skill that must be learned early. The reality for children today is that they could face 12 to 15 career changes in their working life. Our generation faced only about three. Our parents typically held the same job throughout their life. This change is due to the rapid development of knowledge and application of technologies to the workplace.
Additionally, one must be much more aware of the cost of education and skill development beyond high school. This issue goes back to my blog about considering the return of investment (ROI) for your education dollars. One can only answer this question through careful research and application of career literacy. Education beyond high school is expensive. It can easily become the most costly investment one will make in his/her life, replacing the purchase of a house.
Finally, this focus returns the responsibility of education to the student, hopefully with significant support from parents. Our current system holds teachers and schools responsible for student success. Students can, and many do, lose motivation for learning because there is no connection between their education and the real world. They ask only “What do I have to do to graduate?,” and fulfill minimum requirements to pass tests that seem totally irrelevant to life. When they come to see that academic information is the foundation of skill requirements for a job they will have to compete for, then there will be more motivation for excellence.
My goal is that Mecklenburg County Public Schools will soon begin conversations among administrators, counselors, and teachers about how to integrate career literacy options into our education process. This dialog will include parents and students. It must also include input from local business, civic groups, and county leaders. Upon this foundation will be built the concepts for the other three components of the portrait of a high school graduate. I will be sharing more about the other three areas in upcoming blogs.
In other news this week:
· I am very excited that the Board of Supervisors and the School Board will be sharing a dinner meeting next Thursday, January 27th. I cannot remember when the two Boards have met together in this way before. I look forward to being a part of this gathering.
· The School Board voted to establish several standing committees at their January meeting this past week. These committees will work with me to move the county forward in critical areas. This will be a part of strong communication and transparency for the Superintendent’s office and among the Board members.
· When I met for the first time with teachers and staff in each of the schools before Christmas, I asked that each teacher share with me in writing what they felt was the most positive educational characteristic of their school, and the biggest barrier to a good education for our students. The results are coming in and I am getting a good sense of our school climate. Our teachers are working very hard and their voice is critical to the positive development of our school programs.