5 Myths of College and Career Readiness
School districts must develop a plan for supporting College and Career Readiness, rather than hoping for a different outcome. The goals of the American high school have changed from sorting and selecting students for college and the workforce to preparing all students to graduate college and career ready (National Governors Association, 2012). College and Career Readiness should not be reserved for the academically gifted or those students who are in the top ten percent of the class. Several middle schools across the U.S. have sorted and tracked students by ability, pre-determining the type of courses that students would take in high school.
Marsh and Codding (1999) wrote, “The fundamental premise of the comprehensive high school, that only a few need to graduate with solid academic accomplishments to their credit, no longer holds” (p. xiii). No comprehensive high school prepares all of its students for a high academic standard or a high vocational skill. “Some do one, some do the other, most do neither well” (Tucker, 1999, p. 27). “The debate about whether high school is for job training or college prep is over. All adults in the school community, including parents, faculty, and business leaders, understand that the school's mission is focused on college and career readiness for all” (Conley & McGaughy, 2012). Do educators in your school district have a plan for supporting College and Career Readiness?
Myth #1 College and Career Readiness Begins in High School
If students enter high school with a weak foundation, it is unlikely that they will graduate prepared to enter a two-year college or the workforce. Ninth grade course failure is “driven by students’ lack of intermediate academic skills, weak reading comprehension and fluency abilities, and underdeveloped mathematical knowledge” (Balfanz & Legters, 2004, p. 23). A school system that prepares all students for life beyond high school will focus on curriculum design, vertical alignment, academic support and interventions, personalized learning, and the role that each educator plays in supporting College and Career Readiness. Teachers, administrators, and school boards can begin having a conversation about what it means to be College and Career Ready. The changes will not come from speeches, new standards, or hoping that more students will graduate from high school. Change will come when educators define College and Career Readiness and then begin to ask, "What is my role?"
Myth #2 Advanced Placement (AP) Courses Are The Only Way to Become College and Career Ready
Advanced Placement (AP) courses provide high school students with the opportunity to enroll in college-level courses and potentially earn college credit. Traditionally, AP classes were provided to the brightest high school students. Honors or standard courses were reserved for the rest of the student body. A student who enrolled in a Career and Technical course was a career-prep student, while an AP student was viewed by the staff as a college-bound student. Schools across the U.S. continue to open AP classes to more students, while increasing opportunities for all students.
Middle school students are enrolling in high school classes and are beginning high school in the seventh grade. High school students have options to enroll in community college classes, take online courses, earn a certification, take International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, participate in job shadowing or internships, and other concurrent credit opportunities. Traditional methods of preparing students for college still support students. However, AP is no longer the one track towards College and Career Readiness. The comprehensive high school was “designed to process a great number of students efficiently, selecting and supporting only a few for ‘thinking work’ while tracking others into a basic-skills curriculum aimed at preparation for the routinized manufacturing jobs of the time” (Darling-Hammond & Friedlaender, 2008, p. 15). How does your school district support College and Career Readiness? Do counselors promote AP courses for the highly gifted students? Do families know how each option could support their child and open doors for multiple options following high school graduation? What message is your school district sending to families regarding College and Career Readiness?
Myth #3 When Students Take Career and Technical Education (CTE) Classes, It Means They Are Only Career Ready
College and Career Readiness is a shift from preparing some students for college and others for careers to preparing all students for college and the workforce, because the demands of the workforce have changed.The SREB Fact Book on Higher Education (2011) reported, the fastest-growing job segments from 2008 to 2018 will be those requiring a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree or postsecondary technical certificate. How will educators make the transition from college or career readiness to college and career readiness?
Career readiness demands the same level of knowledge and skills as college readiness (ACTE, 2010; Career Readiness Partner Council, 2012). While not every student plans to attend college after high school, many of the jobs that can support a family require knowledge and skills comparable to those expected of the first-year college student (ACT, 2006). Career and Technical Education classes support all students. How does your school view CTE classes? Do counselors still encourage some students to avoid these classes? What role does the CTE program play in your district’s College and Career Readiness plan? Many CTE courses offer certifications which prepare students for college and careers. CTE classes should no longer be viewed as workforce education, because the workforce has changed and the skills students need to succeed are changing.
Myth #4 A High School Graduate With a 3.8 GPA or Higher is College and Career Ready
Most parents would do a back flip if their child finished high school with a 3.8 or higher grade point average (GPA). It is important for school districts to remember that GPA is a single indicator for College and Career Readiness. It is also important to understand that several students who graduate from high school with a low GPA have been successful in life. While a 3.0 GPA may not allow you to enter the school of your choice, you can still enter a two-year college and transfer to a four year college. Some careers only require a certification or a two-year degree. Focusing on GPA alone is as dangerous as focusing exclusively on graduation rate or high-stakes test scores.
Too many college freshmen drop out of college because they are not college ready. Researcher David Conley has identified soft skills and other attributes that prepare students for success in college.Conley (2010) urges educators to reconsider their preparation standards. “The challenge is not to simply get students into postsecondary programs, as daunting as that challenge might be in some high schools and communities. It is to prepare them to succeed in those programs. In essence, it means students ready to learn beyond high school, not simply to complete high school” (p. 14). Which indicators does your school use to identify College and Career Readiness? School districts should use more than grades or a single indicator.
Myth #5 Most School Districts Are Preparing Students to Graduate College and Career Ready
Sadly, most school districts in the United States are still preparing some students for college and some for the workforce. Gather a team of K-12 teachers and principals from your school district and reflect on the following questions:
1) Does our school district have a written plan to support the goal of College and Career Readiness?
2) Which indicators are we analyzing (i.e., Pre-K, Kindergarten, Elementary School, Middle School, Ninth Grade, and High School)?
3) Does our curriculum and instruction reflect our goals for College and Career Ready students? Think vertical teaming and backwards design.
4) Do we understand the skills that students need in order to be successful as a college freshman and in careers?
5) How does the role of a guidance counselor change when we view every student as a "College and Career Ready Graduate?"
6) How do we assist parents and community members in seeing that College and Career Readiness is for every student?
7) Is College and Career Readiness something we talk about (i.e., a goal or aspiration) or do we have an intentional plan for supporting College and Career Readiness?
The goal of the American high school has changed from sorting and selecting to preparing all students for postsecondary opportunities. According to a report from the National Governors Association, “there is a national consensus that schools should focus on students’ college and career readiness.” Most educators have accepted the theory but have failed to create a plan for supporting readiness. These five myths will help educators reflect on programs and systems that need to be created in order to provide all students with the opportunity to graduate College and Career Ready. “No longer an end point in the public education system, the American high school is now being asked to prepare all its students for the postsecondary schooling and training required for full economic and social participation in U.S. society” (Balfanz, 2009, p. 18).