Saturday, March 8, 2014

College and Career Readiness: Less Political Rhetoric, More Practical Strategies

College and career readiness.

It's the latest education reform movement for improving student achievement, teacher effectiveness, and overall school performance.

It’s what we educators need to consider as we plan our instruction, assessment, and evaluation.   

It’s what the performance standards of the Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy Common Core State Standards profess to address and prepare our students to be.  

It’s how our schools’ effectiveness will be evaluated based upon the results of the assessment developed by the consortium – PARCC or Smarter Balanced – to which your state belongs (or if your state opted out of the CCSS, whatever assessment your state developed.

However, what exactly does college and career readiness mean, and how should we educators be preparing our students to be college and career ready?

When I present to educators at conferences and schools on teaching and learning for higher order thinking and communicating depth of knowledge, I begin the conversation about college and career readiness by showing this picture.

Is This What College and Career Ready Means?
If you've even seen Animal House, you know Bluto with his 0.0 grade point average and the seven years he's taking to complete college does not is not the poster child for college and career readiness; at least, not according to ACT, Inc., which defines college and career readiness as "... the acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing first-year courses at a postsecondary institution (such as a 2- or 4-year college, trade school, or technical school) without the need for remediation", or, as Cynthia Schmeiser, ACT’s former Education Division President and Chief Operating Officer, testified on Capitol Hill during the 2010 hearings for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind“Simply stated, readiness for college means not needing to take remedial courses in postsecondary education or training programs.”

According to the report Diplomas Count, the national high school graduation rate is approximately 75% - "the highest rate in 40 years," according to a press release by Education Week -  and is projected to rise as high as 77.1%.  However, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and the Southern Regional Education Board, "nearly 60% of first-year college students discover that, despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not ready for postsecondary studies [and] must take remedial courses in English or mathematics, which do not earn college credits".  According to the College Board, students take, on average, 6.2 years to complete a 4-year degree (at an average cost of $18,000 per year), often due to remedial coursework (which is eight months less than the amount of time it took for Bluto to graduate college).

So where's the disconnect?

Perhaps it's not how K-12 education is preparing our students to be college and career ready but rather the misconception and misunderstanding of what exactly our students need to be prepared to know, understand, and able to do to succeed and survive in life after high school.

Postsecondary Readiness (Conley, 2010)
College and career readiness is actually only half of what our students need to be prepared for according to Conley (2010), who identifies the qualities of postsecondary readiness as the following:
  • Work Ready: Meets the basic expectations for workplace behavior and demeanor.
  • Job Ready: Possess specific knowledge, skills, and behaviors necessary to begin an entry-level position.
  • Career Ready: Possesses key content knowledge and key learning skills and techniques sufficient to begin studies in a career pathway.
  • College Ready: Prepared in the four keys to college and career readiness necessary to succeed in entry‐level general education courses.
Criteria for College Readiness (Conley, 2010)

Conley goes beyond the ACT's definition and Schmeiser's "simple statement" of what constitutes as college readiness by identifying four criteria for both college "success" and "survival":
  • Key Content Knowledge: Deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of academic vocabulary, terminology, and specific details and elements of the core academic disciplines
  • Key Cognitive Strategies: Demonstration of higher order thinking and communication of depth of knowledge of what is being taught and learned
  • Key Learning Skills and Techniques: Academic behaviors and life skills such as goal-setting, persistence, self-direction, study skills, and time management
  • Key Transition Knowledge and Skills: Deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of the organizational and social structures of a postsecondary institution and the student's identity, role, and responsibilities within the institution.
Conley's criteria for college success and survival - or what he refers to as "college knowledge" - goes much more in-depth description of what students need to know, understand, and be able to do by the time they graduate high school that goes beyond not needing to take remedial courses or even academic proficiency and performance.

However, it's still rhetoric - in this case, academic instead of political.

We educators do not need any more campaigning about what we need to do to prepare our students for life after high school.  We understand.  We need to make sure they acquire and develop the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that will not only strengthen our workforce and economy but also strengthen their chances at succeeding and surviving in their personal and professional lives.   

We also do not need any more theory explaining to us the pedagogical, psychological, or sociological qualities and traits that mark a graduate as ready to meet or exceed the demands, expectations, and responsibilities they will encounter in their personal and professional endeavors.   We are presented with numerous ideologies, philosophies, and theories about what postsecondary readiness means that we can reference.

However, we need practical strategies that will help us educators provide teaching and learning experiences that support postsecondary readiness.

Practical Strategies for Postsecondary Readiness
Work readiness can be addressed through the discipline policies, practices, procedures, and programs we implement at our school.  However, we need to examine and explore whether how discipline is administered and our expectations for behavior mirror its administration and the expectations of the workforce.   We also need to consider how we educators also behave as employees, the expectations for our behavior, and whether we are presenting the demeanor we want our students to develop.

Is the discipline administered at our school or in our classroom based upon punishment and reward or consequences of positive and negative actions?  Are the negative consequences more punitive than educational?  How can students be held accountable while also learn - or even want to learn -from their mistakes and setbacks?   

We also need to reflect upon our own behaviors and demeanor at work and whether they model work readiness.   What does our employer expect of us?  Are we dressing professionally or do we push the policy for appropriate dress?How are we educators as employees of the school conducting ourselves?   How do we behave when we are attending a staff meeting or a professional development?  Are we sitting attentively ready and willing to learn and being respectful to the person speaking or are we whispering to our neighbor, texting on our phone, surfing the internet, or even being rude and disrespectful to the person presenting because we don't like what they are saying - or even like them as a person?

Job readiness is a combination of developing skills and teaching responsibility.  However, we need to examine and explore whether the skills they are learning are what the workforce wants from their future and prospective employees.  We also need to consider what exactly being responsible and taking responsibility means.

How are our students working?  Are they working at their desks by themselves as if they were in a cubicle expected to complete the same tasks as everyone else, or are they working together as a group contributing their knowledge, strengths, and skills to complete the task?  Who's in charge?  Do they need to be told what to do or are they self-directed?  Do they need to wait to be told what they need to do and be given explicit guidelines or are they encouraged to take the initiative as well as risks?  What are the technology tools they are using to help them learn?

We also need to think about our own experiences on our first job or working an entry-level position, whether we were prepared well with the skills needed, or did we fully understand the responsibilities facing us.  What did we learn before we attained our first job and what did we have to learn on the job?  What do we wish our teachers taught us about the world of work?  What technology and tools did we have to learn - or relearn - how to use?

Career readiness is about teaching our students to set goals and understanding how to handle setbacks, successes, and shifts (not work ones).  We need to challenge and engage students to consider how they can develop their interests, skills, and talents into a career.   We also need to help our students realize that their interests may change, their skills may develop even deeper, and they may discover they have talents they can use to set themselves on a career path they never imagined.

How are the teaching and learning experiences provided in our classroom and school helping set our students on a career path as young as Kindergarten while also helping them realize the direction of their career path may change, which is completely appropriate?  How may we support our students in developing their interests, skills, and talents into a possible career they can begin preparing for presently?

We also need to look at our own beliefs and perspectives about our career.  What made us want to become educators?  Why do we continue to stay in education?  What happened when our careers went in a different direction?  Is this what we always foresaw ourselves doing, did our career paths take an unexpected turn for the better (or worse), or did we create our own career out of our education and experiences?

Of all the criteria in postsecondary readiness, teaching and learning for college readiness is the most concrete and familiar since educators are all college graduates and are familiar with the type of work they did in college.  However, we need to consider whether we are primarily focusing on developing foundational knowledge and basic skills or are we truly providing our students the type of teaching and learning they will encounter in college.

Lecture is a teaching method in college, especially in the introductory and lower level courses of colleges and universities in which our students may be one of hundreds of other underclassmen.  Students are also generally assessed and evaluated in these classes by multiple choice tests.  However, the complexity of those tests often require students to gain deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness about what the concept, idea, subject, or topic and think critically about what the correct answer could be.  More importantly, the student is generally expected to do this on their own.  

College professors lectures are generally either deep discussions about a concept more based upon their own conclusions and theories than what the text says or, if the professor wrote the text, expanding and expounding upon their research and work.  They don't expect to have to teach the basics because the student should be well-versed enough in learning to develop their own knowledge, understanding, and awareness.  They should also be able to understand what the professor is discussing and form their own conclusions.

After the introductory courses, students generally demonstrate and communicate what they have learned in the following ways:
  • research
  • investigations
  • experiments and hands-on learning
  • collaboration
  • project design
  • communication using oral, written, creative, and technical expression
These learning experiences not only require students to demonstrate and communicate deeper knowledge, understanding, and awareness of what they are being taught and learning but also provide students experiences with the type of tasks they will experience in the workplace.

These are the type of learning experiences we need to provide our students in our classroom.  Lecture is a good thing, but as the old adage goes, too much of a good thing is not a good thing.  We need to lecture to introduce topics and also help students develop their listening skills.  However, we need to ensure our lectures are a balance of providing and discussing information.  We should only focus on the very basics, giving students just enough they need to know to be able to answer simple questions, address simple problems, and accomplish simple tasks.

However, this should also constitute between 20% and 30% of the learning experience - if that.  The rest of the experience should have the students take the basics of what they learn and go deeper with it by researching and investigating.  They should test validate the concepts, ideas, and theories they learned through experiments and hands-on learning.  They should take what their learned and create new ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking and demonstrate and communicate their innovative and inventive ideas through project design, development, planning, and production.  They should also not have to feel alone in their endeavors and seek out other resources - the teacher, the text, their peers, credible sources of information, or even experts - who can help them accomplish their goals and deepen their learning.

When they talk about preparing our students to be college and career ready, this is what it means, and hopefully, these are the practical strategies we all educators know, understand, and are able to do.

And remember what happened to Bluto after he finally graduated college...

- E.M.F.


  1. Nice! Your explanations are clear and useful to a wide audience. I plan to share this blog with some of the families at Arizona College Prep Academy. Thanks!

  2. Very interesting article! I especially like the suggestion for educators to reflect on their behaviors and demeanor at work so as to determine whether they model work readiness. All of the suggestions for educators are practical and require true reflection--another good skill for students preparing to be career and college ready.

  3. All the points are very helpful indeed and i can say these career strategies will help us a lot. I have fw questions regarding this which i will ask you later. thank you!

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