College and Career Readiness
At the turn of the century, a professor at the University of Mississippi described the perspective of many Americans. Saunders (1903) wrote, “College education is desirable and theoretically necessary for preeminence, but it is not for the masses, and it would be but a utopian theory to plan for the day when a bachelor's degree shall be a qualification for suffrage or a necessity for success and happiness” (p. 73).
College readiness for all is a new concept in American education. A recent report from the College Board defined college readiness as “Students who are college ready should be able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses without the need for remediation. Other factors associated with college success (e.g., motivation, study skills, attitudes) may be equally important in evaluating outcomes such as persistence, college graduation or post-college career readiness” (Wiley, Wyatt, & Camara, 2010). A study titled, Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different (2006) concluded that the knowledge required for entry-level workers is nearly the same knowledge and skills required for college-going students. Achieve, an independent, bi-partisan, non-profit education reform organization led by governors and business leaders, recently defined College and Career Readiness as being prepared for the next steps, that all doors remain open as students continue to pursue their education and careers.
According to the Association for Career and Technical Education (2010), Career Readiness involves three major skill areas: core academic skills and the ability to apply those skills to concrete situations, employability skills - such as critical thinking and responsibility, and technical, job-specific skills. Traditional high schools have treated college and career readiness as two separate tracks or pathways (ACT, 2006; ACTE, 2010; Boykin, Dougherty, & Lummus-Robinson, 2010; Duncan, 2011; & Miller, 2009). Most high schools have traditionally treated college and career as mutually exclusive options (Symonds, Schwartz, & Ferguson, 2011). Recent studies have indicated an overwhelming percentage of new jobs that offer a wage sufficient to support a family and provide opportunity for career advancement require some postsecondary education and evidence shows that the skill level required to enter college or a work-training program are the same (Achieve, 2004; Achieve, 2005; ACT, 2006; America’s Promise Alliance, 2008; College Board, 2010; U.S. Department of Labor, 2008; Markow & Pieters, 2011).
For over a century, educators, policymakers, and families have struggled to define the purpose and goals of secondary education. In 1893, the Committee of Ten determined “every subject which is taught at all in a secondary school should be taught in the same way and to the same extent to every pupil so long as he pursues it, no matter what the probable destination of the pupil may be” (National Education Association, 1893). Since that time, one of the ongoing philosophical debates in American education has been whether high schools should become college prep for the masses or an avenue to career readiness. In 2009, President Barack Obama called on all Americans to commit to at least one year of higher education or career training, as he stressed the importance of better schooling in reviving the nation's economy during his first address to Congress. The President of the United States said, "So tonight I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be a community college or a four-year school, vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma” (White House, 2009).
The American high school was designed to prepare a small percentage of students for college. In recent years, educators, policymakers, and employers have pointed to surveys and data on employees indicating that high school graduates are underprepared for the 21st century workforce (ACT & The Education Trust, 2004; Achieve, Inc., 2004; Achieve, Inc., 2005; ACT, 2006; Casner-Lotto, & Barrington, 2006; Jerald, 2008; Wagner, 2008; Casner-Lotto, Rosenblum, & Wright, 2009; CTE, NASDECTEC & P21, 2010; Symonds, Schwartz, & Ferguson, 2011). “The United States is developing a deep social consensus that American high schools should ensure that all adolescents graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary schooling and training” (Balfanz, 2009, p. 17). In recent years, policymakers have begun to emphasize the goal that all students graduate from high school college- and career-ready (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Association of State Boards of Education, & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2008). However, the diploma from an American high school signifies a broken promise, according to a report published by the American Diploma Project (2004). The majority of recent high school graduates in the United States are not academically prepared for the rigor of postsecondary education or to enter the workforce (ACT, 2009; Conley, 2007, Flippo & Caverly, 2009).
“In many ways, the United States produces the college outcomes that its systems of education were designed to produce. Its K–12 system was developed to provide education to everyone; its college and university system was developed when only a few were expected to attend college. Today, the vast majority of high school students aspire to attend college, but only about half of the students who enroll in college are prepared for college-level academic work” (Callan et.al., 2006, p. 21). Nearly one-third of all high school students leave the public school system before graduating (Swanson, 2004). A high school diploma should signify that students have attained college-ready knowledge and skills (Callan et.al., 2006; Conley, 2007, Pinkus, 2009; SREB, 2010). “Students who are college ready should be able to succeed in entry-level, credit bearing college courses without the need for remediation. Other factors associated with college success (e.g., motivation, study skills, attitudes) may be equally important in evaluating outcomes such as persistence, college graduation or post-college readiness” (Wiley, Wyatt, & Camara, 2010, p. 3). Reports indicate nearly 60 percent of first-year college students discover that, despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not academically ready for postsecondary studies (SREB, 2010). “While a majority of high school graduates enter college, fewer than half leave with a degree” (American Diploma Project, 2004, p. 3). High school graduates and students who do not graduate from college make up a majority of the workforce. It is becoming clear that it is equally important for career-bound students and college-bound students to receive a strong K-12 education (Boykin, Dougherty, & Lummus-Robinson, 2010; CTE, NASDECTEC & P21, 2010).
“The mission of the public education system must shift from educating some students and preparing them for the twentieth-century American economy to educating all students and preparing them for the twenty-first century global economy” (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2009, p. 4). Educators cannot focus on college and career readiness if they do not know where students stand (Roderick, Nagaoka, & Coca, 2009). “Accurately measuring and diagnosing college readiness is the first step to helping a greater number of students achieve college readiness” (Wiley, Wyatt, & Camara, 2010, p. 14). How does your school measure College and Career Readiness?