Our director of community programs, Sarah Pechan, was on vacation in Arizona this summer and found the whole state buzzing about the issue of school choice. She shares some of the perspective of parents she met while rafting through the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River.
As I mentioned in my post earlier this week, when the conversations on the river or hikes turned to school choice and education policy, a hot topic was incorporating more career education and real world work into high school curricula. Lots of great reasons came up and people were happy to hear that this is already a hot topic in education policy through the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others.
Reason to incorporate more career education #1: To put it bluntly, high school is pretty lame.
Education observers have long noted that students often drop out of high school not because of family issues or because they can’t read. They drop out because they see school as irrelevant to their lives and have become completely disengaged. One of our river guides skipped most of his classes in high school but is an extremely talented young man and now studies physics in college.
Reason to incorporate more career education #2: Hands on jobs often pay pretty darn well.
Our rafting trip leader, a geologist, was passionate about career education: “We need to decrease the stigma against career education. Graduates of career programs often make more money than if they had gone to college, usually in jobs that can’t be outsourced. People who work with their hands often have higher job satisfaction too.”
Reason to incorporate more career education #3: We all could stand to know more about how the world around us works.
Knowing philosophy and literature is really important. But so is knowing how small engines and waste water and personal finance work. I think I would feel like a more well-rounded human being if I had learned more about these things.
Reason to incorporate more career education #4: Our economy could boom from a generation of entrepreneurs and technology-competent workers.
This recent article calls Ohio employers “frustrated” that they can’t find more qualified employees. Likewise, schools like ePrep are preparing entrepreneurs to create small businesses that fuel our economy.
Reason to incorporate more career education #5: Nothing stinks more than spending 4 years and $40,000 to get a degree that you find out your first year on the job you really hate.
The earlier students start exploring career options, the earlier they can start heading in the right direction for them. This means they spend less time in college or post-secondary education wandering from major to major trying to find a good fit.
The lone dissenting voice came from a vascular surgeon in Bel Air (home of the Fresh Prince) who said he didn’t support skills-based education until the graduate education level. He said K-12 should be for students to learn how to study, undergrad should teach students how to think, and graduate school should teach students how to “do” something.
But as someone who personally emerged from high school recognizing that my primary competency was test taking, which is not exactly a helpful skill in the real world, I’ve got to believe that we can do better.
The Cristo Rey network of schools is a great example: they incorporate corporate internships into their college-prep curriculum. Students are engaged in the outside world and learning things they can bring back to the classroom. This mutually reinforcing study-practice rhythm of education makes sense.
What if Ohio ran with this model and expanded it into a broader apprentice system beyond the corporate world? This is what fellow hiker Debby shared has worked brilliantly for her son in Switzerland.
“In Switzerland, we have a strong apprenticeship system and career education system that allows students to explore concrete areas that interest them. As parents we save money on college expenses when our students have already had a chance to narrow down their fields of interest.”
Ohio has some truly outstanding career options through the College TechPrep program, but they require students to sign up for a separate program outside of their regular high school curricula. What if we were to offer biotechnology, graphic design, entertainment, and information technology courses alongside the geometry, AP English, and physics courses to allow all Ohio high schoolers access to a more dynamic high school experience?