How can schools prepare students for a 21st century workforce?

Posted by Ronald | June 3, 2013  |  No Comment

Candice Glover became the 2013 American Idol winner after pursuing her dream three times. By winning this competition, Candice is set to become an accomplished recording artist, star in movies and possibly win a Grammy. Just as American Idol prepares young people for a career in the entertainment industry, schools ultimately have the job of preparing students for the workforce. Therefore, the critical questions to be asked are: How can schools prepare students for a 21st century workforce? What are the 16 national career clusters delineated by the U.S. Department of Education? What is a potential path of study for ninth graders? What is a model Career and Technical Education program?

With a high demand for a rigorous curriculum aligned with a 21st century workforce, public school students in many states are participating in a Career Technical Education (CTE) program that allow students to choose a potential job to pursue or path of study in one of the 16 national career clusters of the U.S. Department of Education. These career clusters which have defined occupations under each area include (1) agriculture, food and natural resources, (2) audio/visual technology and communications, (3) architecture and construction, (4) business, management and administration, (5) education and training, (6) finance, (7) government and public administration, (8) health science, (9) hospitality and tourism, (10) human services, (11) information technology, (12) manufacturing, (13) marketing, sales and science, (14) public safety and security, (15) science, technology, engineering and mathematics and (16) transportation, distribution and logistics.

According to research, the Tennessee Department of Education in 2009 required all students in the ninth grade to choose a career path of study including academic, technical and dual. A ninth grade student on the “academic path must have one fine art credit and two foreign language credits in addition to the required credits for graduation; a student on the technical path must have four credits in one technical area in addition to the required credits for graduation; and a student on the dual path must have both the four technical credits in one area and the additional fine art and foreign language credits.” The understanding is that students’ exposure to a wide range of choices will provide additional options for pursuing college and careers.

Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is a example of a Career Technical Education program. While initially launched in 12 New York high schools in the late 1990s and currently in over 3500 high schools nationwide, PLTW is a pathway to engineering that uses a rigorous curriculum through a four-year sequence of courses. Before moving to more specialized options such as architecture, biotechnical and civil engineering, students complete the necessary foundation courses such as introduction to engineering design and principles of engineering. The program ends with a capstone course in engineering design and development. Students work in teams to research and develop a solution to an open-ended engineering problem according to research.

To grade schools on its effectiveness of preparing students for college and career readiness, the State of Georgia in 2012 implemented a College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) to ensure that all students graduate from high school with both rigorous content knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge for college-level work and careers. While the CCRPI in Georgia replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, it remains to be seen the effectiveness of this model.

Thus, just as American Idol has it forum to find the best singers and prepare them for a career in entertainment, public schools can use the 16 national career clusters as a framework to prepare students for careers in a plethora of occupations in line with the demands for a 21st century economy.

Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of three books, “Education Questions to be Answered,” “Current Issues and Answers in Education” and “How to Eradicate Hazing.” He is publisher of “The Holmes Education Post,” an education focused Internet newspaper. Holmes is the national superintendent of education for the National Save the Family Now Movement, Inc., a former teacher, school administrator and district superintendent. He can be reached at [email protected]

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