If you read this post this morning, then you read the rant that you can still find at the bottom of this article. It is all based on this article from the AJC: Georgia to Require Students to Pick Career Path.
After publishing my rant below, I have had a chance to have a few very intriguing and intellectual discussions on the issue. Based on those discussions, I will not amend my original writing, as I chose to publish it as a rant and so it will stay in its original form.
However, I would like to take a more thoughtful approach by asking a list of questions that I think could help hash out the issues as the legislature and business community considers how best to implement the proposal. My intent in asking these questions is to offer a more even-keeled and affirmative perspective, understanding that my personal experience is fairly limited and largely centers on a youthful naiveté and disregard for the impossible.
That being said, I fully understand that the complexities of the national/state/local governments and school systems are extensive. This means that no solution is easily implemented and any solution is confusing to get on paper in such a way that it satisfies requirements while still keeping the end goal at the forefront.
Here are the questions I have, and what I would ask my representative. I hope you’ll read, consider, and add any further questions you might have to the discussion in the comments section.
- Who will serve as career counselors for our many high school students?
- How are students educated on the 16/17 career paths?
- Is there any evidence showing that earlier career choice and directed studies will improve on graduate skill-levels?
- Is there any evidence showing that a 9th grade career choice might improve dropout rates? Or improve on employment opportunities for those students who cannot or choose not to attend college?
- What effect would a student’s choice have on their college careers? Would it predetermine their major? If they chose to switch career paths, would they be set back in school – either high school or college?
- If teachers are to serve as career counselors, can we reasonably expect them to be effective and excel in both their role as teacher AND career counselor?
- Is this a good opportunity to begin researching ways to raise teacher pay to increase competition for careers in education? Could we somehow put in place positive incentives for teachers who excel in the classroom and as career counselors?
- Is high school a reasonable time to ask students to choose a career? Is there any research that analyzes the ideal age for beginning a student on a career path?
- Could we succeed in solving the problem at hand by teaching transferrable soft skills instead of asking students to choose a career at such an early age? Soft skills might include written and verbal communication, self-awareness, problem-solving, critical thinking, brainstorming and creativity.
- What is the ideal solution to the issue? What are the key limitations that prevent implementation of an ideal solution? How would we know if we had an ideal solution?
- Is there a difference in effectiveness of the program for those that will enter the work force directly following high school vs. those who go to college? If so, is there a case to be made for altering the way we think about education? Would there ever be a delineation between career-track and college-track students? Would such a delineation be helpful? Could it potentially cause stratification of education and self-esteem issues for students?
- If students are not ready to choose, but we determine 9th grade is the ideal time to start preparing for a career, how do we handle that? How do we help them make the right choice? Or do we take the choice out of their hands and ask for help from parents, career counselors, etc? Would making a choice for a student, in the student’s best interest, violate core American principles? Or would it perhaps make for a more efficient economy?
- Are we missing career paths with the 16/17 currently in place? Are we at all limiting the perspectives of students? Is there a place for career paths like entrepreneurship or creative & performing arts?
- Do we have the right technology in place in classrooms to effectively educate and prepare students for their chosen career paths?
- Is this simply the best-case scenario for making forward progress right now? If so, are there more benefits than costs to the proposal?
- How do we know if it is improving our education system? How do we know if our high school graduates are more prepared for the workforce and/or college? What are the metrics?
OK, I think that about hashes out many of my concerns in a much more productive fashion. I hope you’ll add your own questions about the proposal in the comments. Just as before, I would love to send a list of thoughtful, well-intentioned questions off to our representatives for consideration.
After all, one of the great opportunities and duties of being a citizen is that of being engaged and informed on the issues of importance today and in the future. How can we drive the conversation forward in a positive manner, both for us and for our future graduates, workforce, and leaders?
Again, below you will find my less-thought out rant as published this morning. Feel free to comment on it as well, although I fully endorse the above questions as a more beneficial and reflective response.
Fair warning: This blog post is a rant on the costs and potential benefits of a new push in the Georgia legislature to have 9th graders pick a career path at the outset of their high school careers.
Check out this article from the AJC earlier this week: “Georgia to Require Students to Pick Career Path.” In it we find that the Georgia legislature has an itch to get proactive about our increasingly unprepared and unskilled graduates… A common complaint heard from employers everywhere these days. The proposed solution: require 14/15 year olds, entering into the ninth grade to pick a career path out of 16 or 17 different categories of career.
Now, let’s look at an example. Think back to the first day of school in 9th grade. Perhaps you were worried about a fresh pimple, a scuff on your new school shoes, or whether the seniors were going to bully you because you hadn’t hit your big growth spurt yet. How, exactly, do you suppose you might choose between “Business, managements and administration,” “Finance,” and “Marketing, Sales, and Service.” Ok, I’m just getting going here, but I think this highlights one of the many things wrong with the idea. Do you suppose 9th graders have any idea what the difference is between the various business functions listed above? Do you think most graduating college students have a true grasp of the difference between the three?
To be fair, let’s start of with the good points of this legislation.
- The legislature is indeed trying to improve our education system… Although we are clearly not a trailblazer here, as we waited to see what kind of success this type of program had in other states before trying our own. And yet it doesn’t appear that we are using the learning from other states to adjust. Oh well, A for effort.
- This program could potentially educate our high school students on the merits and opportunities of pursuing careers that do not require a college education. College is not for everybody, and this program could open up new doors for those not inclined or able to attend college. This is a point that truly matters.
- If executed in the most efficient and effective manner possible, this program could drastically improve the education and preparation of our students as they head into college or careers. Key words here: If executed in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Given the state of our education system, I have less than stellar expectations.
- Students will largely make their decisions based on one of two criteria: What do my parents do for a living?; or What looks coolest right now? Remind me how this makes for an engaged and satisfied work force four and eight years down the road? I suppose it depends on your lens, but if we’re trying to prepare students for any old thing that will earn money, then this might work. But if we are trying to open up the possibilities of the world and encourage students to dream big about their futures, and solve the preeminent issues of our time… is this really how we want to do it? By putting them in one of sixteen buckets based on minimal counseling? Which brings me to my next point:
- The current expectation is that the teachers at our schools will serve as career counselors of sorts. Really? So we want to put our students in the worst schools at the biggest disadvantage not only in the classroom, but also in career preparation? Is this starting to seem like a cruel joke to anyone else?
- The faculty/staff to student ratio at the high school from which I graduated is something like 1:10 IF you include security officers, administrators, etc. And we’re fairly middle of the road from an over-crowding standpoint. So on top of teaching responsibilities, you are telling me that in a given year, every person on faculty at is going to effectively counsel TEN students? Can you imagine effectively serving as a mentor to 10 people in addition to your everyday work schedule?
- Something’s got to give, and its either going to be quality of teaching or quality of counseling, and most likely it will be both. Even the most productive individuals can only handle so much in a given day.
- We’re asking a 14/15 year old to make a career choice because we know they need to begin developing the requisite skills earlier and more often… So we’re treating a symptom, which comes in the form of unprepared, unskilled high school and college graduates.
- Without solving the first problem, which is finding a way to deliver better education for every student in our school systems, we are opening our state up to a whole new slew of issues with the advent of career choice in 9th grade.
I would hire at least two new professionals at every high school in the state, dedicated to educating our ninth graders about one of the most important processes they will ever undertake: learning about themselves. These are not life-long educators, they are not business executives, and they are not politicians. You can’t put them in buckets because you just know them when you see them. They are inspirational, passionate, and engaging. They have a desire to change the world and help every student arm themselves with powerful tools for self-discovery and awareness.
These professionals would be hired to teach only ninth graders and they would be paid handsomely for it, because investing in our professionals of four and eight years in the future is worth far more than any amount we could pay today.
In the first semester of 9th grade, students would learn about one career ‘bucket’ per week. The classes would be engaging and dynamic. They would leverage technology to get the students bought in and enthusiastic. THERE WOULD BE NO TEXTBOOKS. Here’s what a typical week would look like:
- Monday: Intro to Business, Management, and Administration
- Tuesday: What is a business?
- Wednesday: What is management?
- Thursday: What is administration?
- Friday: Meet Dave, Senior Project Manager from Google, one of the most admired and recognized companies in the world. (How do we meet Dave, you might ask? Hmm, perhaps Skype. Or, perhaps at the beginning of every year the all-stars teaching the 9th grade course could get together and each tackle an interview with a relevant and exciting professional in a given ‘career’ bucket. The conversation could be recorded via webcam and be made available for use across the state.)
Second semester of 9th grade is when the fun stuff starts. By and large, we simply used first semester to get students bought in to this ‘boring’ career prep class that they are dreading… Which turns out to be their favorite class because they are learning practical information, leveraging technology, and there’s no textbook.
So in second semester we start giving our students tools for self-awareness. We take them through an intentional process of digging deep and getting to know themselves. They learn about the power of values, passion, strengths and dreams. They are shown dynamic talks from some of the world’s foremost thinkers through websites like TED. They are taken on field trips that expand their minds and force them out of their comfort zones. They are genuinely inspired and we light a fire within them. We make it ok to dream, and be creative, and imagine a world where anything is possible. We challenge them with tough questions and even tougher assignments that make them dig into the subjects they love most. We open doors and create connections. We create dreamers and problem solvers instead of test-takers and fact memorizers.
But wait… this sounds too much like make-believe and not nearly formulaic enough for our school system. How do we teach someone to spread great ideas like this? You don’t. You find the people who already have the desire burning deep inside to change the lives of students and open up the possibilities. You make it prestigious to teach the 9th grade class and you make it well-rewarded. But where would we get the money? You cut useless programming in the education system and find private investors, like the Gates foundation, that are enthralled with improving education. And when students graduate and find jobs, you ask them to give back to their high school career program because it was so valuable. $5 a month from every graduate should do just fine.
And to cap it all off, at the end of 9th grade, every student is assigned a mentor – a rising senior in high school who can become friends with them and form a meaningful relationship. Because in 10th grade… Well, in 1oth grade they pick a career. But you better be careful… They might just want to create a new bucket.
Well, if you made it this far, you’re a champ. Excuse my ranting and raving today, but it infuriates me when our government comes up with bandaids instead of innovative solutions. We have a duty to improve our education system and putting our students into buckets at the age of 14/15 is not the answer. We’ve got to reimagine what it means to go to school and learn. It starts with incorporating exciting new ideas and curricula into the system.
Maybe my solution that I thought up on the spot over the course of 30 minutes isn’t the answer. But I guarantee that if you stole a couple of ambitious young professionals from places like McKinsey, Google, or the startup scenes in Austin, Boulder, or Menlo Park, you’d come up with a pretty dad gum good solution in a short amount of time. Because I bet they’d be willing to ignore the ‘impossible’ and do what’s right for our students and future professionals. Is it worth the investment? If you ask me it’s a no-brainer.
We’re headed down a path to creating an extremely disengaged and dissatisfied work force by forcing students to make uneducated, uninspired decisions. What are we going to do about it?
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!