#131. Preparing for the Future – Part 1

Posted on | The Agurban

If you are a regular reader of the Agurban, then you know we feel very strongly that education is critical not only to the success of individual Americans, but also to the country as a whole.

Preparing for the Future – Part 1

Today’s high school graduates are entering a world in which they’ll need at least some college to gain access to decent-paying careers, according to the 2007 edition of Diplomas Count. And those without even a high school diploma will face increasingly bleak labor-market prospects.

Findings in this report, Ready for What? Preparing Students for College, Careers, and Life After High School, underscore that to earn a decent wage in the United States, young people need to anticipate completing at least some college. But while it’s clear that more education is associated with higher pay, it’s far less clear what mix of academic and nonacademic skills will best prepare young people for college and careers.

The study highlights some of the tough issues now facing state policymakers and educators as they redesign high school education for the future:

  • ** Students who score higher on mathematics tests in high school tend to earn more in the labor market later on. But while there are benefits to taking advanced math, at least some researchers and economists argue that may be less crucial than developing skills in problem-solving and the ability to apply math in new situations.
  • ·** Employers complain more about a lack of “soft” or “applied” skills among high school graduates than they do about inadequate academic skills. For example, young people must also be able to work comfortably with people from other cultures, solve problems creatively, write and speak well, think in a multidisciplinary way, and evaluate information  critically. And, like workers of previous generations, they need to be punctual, dependable, and industrious. Yet few schools have explicitly focused on developing soft skills as part of their core mission.
  • ** The focus on college and career readiness, combined with concerns about economic competitiveness, has also led some states to place a renewed emphasis on career and technical education (CTE). Research has found that participation in CTE courses can reduce high school dropout rates and increase short- and medium-term earnings for students. But the new generation of CTE programs faces a daunting agenda, including increasing academic rigor; forging stronger links to local labor markets and high-demand, high-skill jobs; and making better connections to postsecondary education so that students have the option of going directly into the workplace or continuing with their formal education.
 Our series will continue next week with a look at what states are doing to prepare students for college and careers.