As Coordinator for the CAPS Network, it has been my privilege to meet with educators from across the nation. From superintendents of the largest and most prestigious school districts to the hard-working teachers in rural classrooms of remote areas of our diverse country, each has showcased their important work. I have participated in productive exchanges between elected officials, senators, mayors and most recently economic developers.
Powerful intermediaries such as foundations, associations like ACTE and gatherings such as ASU-GSV have been the platform to build relationships and learn of others’ innovations. Industry organizations from CEOs of our largest corporations to small business owners have expressed to me their workforce needs and assessment of the current products coming from our schools. And, most importantly, students and parents have shared their personal hopes and dreams.
This opportunity, this blessing as I define it, to connect with the stakeholders up and down the education value chain has fueled my passion and provided insights on what was, is today and what can be. The epiphany I share with you today is that stakeholders are more aware and aligned with the fact that a tighter connection between education and occupation is not only needed but required.
For decades, we educators have discerned the exposure of performance gaps and the call for education reform. In the past, our focus had been fixated on the simple metric of graduation rates while the real measure of success, connecting kids to their destiny, has languished. My most recent reminder is from a presentation at a recent ACTE conference by fellow educator and author Kevin J. Fleming. There he talked about the mismatch between the current education system and our workforce needs as illustrated in his book: Redefining The Goal: The True Path to Career Readiness in the 21st Century. His, and other voices have pointed out that at each stage of the value chain (pre-school to grade school, grade school to high school, high school to post-secondary and from there to careers) failure is not only manifested by the lack of attaining the next step but reaching it and still not satisfying their passions and playing to their strengths.
And respond we did. Good people with good intentions implemented both incremental process improvements and full-blown innovations to address these gaps. Some have been technology-based solutions while others have been modified pedagogy such as Project-Based Learning. And we have seen improvement. Every day we hear anecdotes of students overcoming their circumstances to identify their passion and skills and achieve their goals. These successes are welcomed and celebrated but also highlight that we have not yet achieved critical mass. The majority of students still do not reach their potential and as importantly do not recognize a pathway to get there.
And now, circumstances have become even more complicated. After surviving a 100-year pandemic, the forces of technology advancement, climate change and globalization have accelerated and are impacting our economy, and our varied way of life, at an astounding pace. It is not an exaggeration to state that our future is at an inflection point. While other institutions and industries must pursue solutions that leverage their core competencies, our industry must rally our resources to ensure our next generation possess the optimal set of skills and mindset.
For high school programs, I have seen what that solution looks like. At the National ACTE Work Based Learning (WBL) conference held last month in Sandy Utah, Ms. Jan Jardine, ACTE WBL Section Chair and Director of Provo Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) Program, facilitated a panel of students from her and other CAPS programs within Utah to include Basin, Davis, NEBO and Wasatch.
These students shared with the attendees, their personal experiences with Profession-based Learning. Profession-based Learning is the CAPS version of WBL where students earn both high school and college credit through projects and internships with industry partners in disciplines that they have interest. Resume-worthy work experiences with real business and other career institutions. The enthusiasm and passion they displayed as they spoke to the challenge, successes and yes celebrated failures, was genuine and earned. Designing experiences where students not only learn but practice technical and essential skills in real situations is the change we need. Providing a chance to explore pathways while developing marketable skills through Profession-based Learning will prepare them for their future challenges.
You can build a program to produce these same results!
The specific action depends on each community’s situation. Some may require the redesign and implementation of an entire system. Leveraging the experiences of proven intermediaries such as the team at Getting Smart is a good starting point. Others may need to tweak classroom practices. The CAPS Network provides a series of free, “Do-It-Yourself” playbooks that you are welcome to use.
The work may not be easy, but it is necessary. Connecting students to their careers fulfills not only their passion but our mission as educators. Assemble your community, assess your situation, find partners and take action.
Gregg Brown is the Coordinator for the CAPS Network.