College and Career Readiness: Moving Beyond a Catchphrase

College and Career Readiness

The education world loves buzzwords. Phrases such as Common Core, Professional Learning Communities, and Positive Discipline flow in and out of school buildings like water in a stream.

When does a concept move from a fad into a structured practice? When does an idea become an accepted part of the educational structure?

For some educators, the idea of College and Career Readiness is another educational trend that is gaining traction and notoriety across the country. These educators believe it’s a fad that, if you are willing to wait it out long enough, will eventually disappear.

What about the students in each school? Would they want anything that could help them connect what they are learning to their future career to be considered a novelty?

Understanding the purpose

The idea behind college and career readiness is aligning curriculum to support higher levels of learning and to help students meet the challenges of an ever-changing job market. Many states or districts claim to have college and career readiness embedded into their curriculum. In order to move this concept from buzzwords to a structured practice, there needs to be a system of accountability in place.

A strong teacher strives to make learning meaningful to students. Finding a way to create buy-in or make the connection to the real world is often the Holy Grail for most educators. It doesn’t take years of teaching experience to come to the conclusion that the best connection to make is to have educational objectives that obviously pair with the career goals of the students.

While many states recognize the importance of college and career readiness, most have not made it the central concentration of their accountability systems.

Preparing a strong accountability system

Achieve, the nonprofit educational reform organization, identifies traits of a strong college and career readiness accountability system:

  • Clearly identified college and career readiness indicators
  • Achievable performance goals
  • A process that encourages school districts to show improvement of defined performance goals
  • Consistent and long-term data collection

Accountability for college and career readiness cannot be measure simply through in-class academics. The school environment plays a large, but often overlooked, role in this process.

States such as Maryland, Colorado, and North Carolina use data from working condition surveys to help establish district goals. When joined by attendance data and student surveys, a clearer picture can be developed of the type of learning environment that exists and what needs are currently being unmet.

Although this may sound like a separate topic from career preparedness, the atmosphere of a school has a direct connection to the quality and quantity of learning that can take place.

Look before you leap

Enhancing the college and career readiness qualifications cannot be something that is just dropped in the laps of teachers and administrators. Proper planning and professional development is needed to ensure smooth implementation. Involving stakeholders from schools, parent organizations, businesses, and student groups will provide critical points of view and produce a well-rounded system.

Not just a student problem

Students who are not prepared for life after high school carry a heavy burden, with effects radiating across the community. With 20 percent of incoming college freshmen requiring remedial courses, according to Complete College America, at a cost of nearly $3 billion to the government, lack of college and career readiness affects more people than just the individual student.

Educational trends will continue to work through schools, but common sense should remain consistent. Aligning curriculum and providing accountability so schools can better prepare students for the future should not be a topic worth considering, it is a responsibility that the educational community can no longer choose to overlook.

Dr. Jason Perez is the executive director of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness for the Oklahoma State Department of Education with 14 years of educational and administrative experience at the elementary level. He also serves as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.

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