“Is it really the goal of schools to create college and career ready students?”

This is a question I posted on Twitter the other weekend as it has been a topic that has remained in my brain for some time and continues to swirl around the the chaos of my cranium. I keep reading about College and Career this, College and Career that, a committee for this, a taskforce to transform education to get students ready for what is supposed to happen after high school.

And why are we doing this?

What about now?

Is the goal of what we do in our classrooms on a daily basis really to get them ready for another four years of school or to enter the job force right away?

I personally don’t think that is the goal of education. It surely is not the goal of learning and shouldn’t school be about learning? Learning is about empowerment, bettering ourselves, keeping us engaged as human beings, and working towards solving problems. Learning is an action. It is something we do. It is not something we receive!

To be fair I think the intent and drive behind all the college and career initiatives are after something good and is needed. However, it is the delivery I question. The systemic changes to make this happen is screwing kids and their education(or at least that is what I think). The implementation to help students score a 306 to show they are ready is flawed. I am not a research expert, but a score to show us what? That we are human. All this does is lead to tests to prepare for tests which lead to test prep, test practice, and aligning teaching practices to tests. Test, test, test. My children don’t need a test to figure out where the stand among others or what they want to do with themselves. I don’t believe a score is going to help them carve that path.

You cannot standardized people!

I don’t want to rant as that provides nothing of value. Instead I want to share key ideas shared with me in some very powerful conversations I had on Twitter, Facebook, G+, and email. I have curated the content to be sure I do justice to the ideas. I hope you find the ideas as engaging and thought provoking as I did. I removed names and condensed conversations and ideas to protect people and make for smoother reading(if you would like your name added please let me know and I will add your name). I am by now way intentionally stealing thought, but don’t want to drag other names into the post, but want to share all the ideas with hope that it sparks more conversation.

What About Now?

A current topic that must be addressed. I am tired of hearing people tell kids when you are older, when you get to high school, when you enter college, barf, barf, barfity, barf. What about RIGHT NOW! This moment, this year. What is the purpose behind what we are doing now? Is it really to threaten them with what comes next? And we wonder why kids are not excited for school and learning? We must do this tedious task now to get you ready for more painful work next year. Take care of me now and let the future take care of itself when it arrives.

As Timothy Monreal(I am sharing his name because he has great blog posts that must be read on this topic) shared with me the following which was great “Students are always thinking about next, or the next grade. How do we value you them now, in this moment.  I recently read a post by John Spencer that got me really thinking about this again –https://medium.com/synapse/that-s-not-why-we-make-stuff-fdc5e4efecb5”

I love the last paragraph of that article when John Spencer states,

When kids are designing a video game or making an arcade out of cardboard or building a circuit board, they’re not thinking about how we can beat China. They’re not thinking about a job that doesn’t exist. They’re thinking about the joy of making stuff. Ultimately, that’s why we make stuff. Because, it’s fun and it’s human and it’s a part of how we learn.”

Tim also shared his writing where this statement really resounded with me, “They must wonder whether anything they are learning is of relevance and importance right now, in the present.”

Keeping with the idea of now, what about the learners? I love the idea shared of “just in time learning” where we have to keep things fresh. We don’t have to change our curriculum but we must change how we deliver the content to make it real for the learners. When you look at the all the CCR jargon and systems does it excite learners? I don’t think so. Once again we must create life long learners where learners and excited about learning.

Should it be OR instead of AND?

Does the way it is written matter? Do learners need college? The end result is to help push learners to move their potential into ability and figure out how to optimize those traits. Not everything in life requires college as we often make kids believe and if you are not motivated for college then don’t individually place yourself in debt.

Recently there was an article posted about how Q-C employers can’t find enough skilled labor to fill jobs where jobs are needed, but they cannot find people with the skills. What is the point of placing yourself in debt and not having the skills? I question the notion of pushing for this future goal where that goal is not preparing people for the workforce. This is a very general statement but we don’t share enough in schools the importance of manual labor, factory work, and more. These are frowned upon which there are very skilled technical jobs that create sustainable living. Not everything requires a four year degree like we make students believe. If people don’t have the skills for these jobs, then what are colleges and these major money making schools doing?

As I stated before I know not everyone agrees and I am not asking you to agree but to continue conversation. One question posed through it all was the following:

“What would the goal be then if not preparing them for life after HS?”

This question is a good one. What is the goal of education in school? This is the crux of the matter. I don’t think anyone would argue that we need learners to be able to contribute to society, hold down a job, sustain themselves and their family, and be a good person. If we don’t place the goal on college and career, then what do we call it? What does it look like? I am not sure what the alternative is and maybe there is not one, but as I posed earlier I am not against the idea, but the implementation is not working. I don’t have the answer and I love this question to challenge my thinking.

Another educator that always shoots it to me straight shared the following statement which I think hits the nail on the head in many places.

“In my jaundiced view, many “good” high schools are churning out students who jump through all the right hoops, get all the right grades, test scores, acceptances to college, etc., but aren’t taught to think critically, or to take ownership of their own learning and success. When they get into the career world, they are lost, because of this lack of skills.”

I have expressed the idea many times on this blog and to many people that school forces kids to learn how to game they system, but fall flat when the game is over and reality sets in for them. I guess I question whether our day to day operations in the classroom should be focused on preparing for college and career readiness or more focus on the now/present and developing learners who understand how they learn and how they operate. If we could transform our classroom experiences for learners to tackle relevant issues and help them plot their own course based on their experiences they would be better prepared. Hint….hint…. do I think deeper learning, pbl, and personalized learning can help?

Once again we pay heed to the idea of relevant and authentic learning. Or perhaps you like to use 21st century skills. Or maybe the 4 C’s. Or perhaps the 4R’s. Pick your system as they all strive for the same thing.

I am tired of “We don’t know what jobs the future holds….blah blah blah”

I also think that the idea that we don’t know what the world will look like when they are older has merit, but that is nothing new. People treat that notion like this is some brand new concept that we don’t know how to grapple with. I bet every generation can make that case. Isn’t that why it is called the future? No matter the future, the 4C’s, being a good person, and being able to solve problems will tackle any situation. Stop with using this as a reason for why we implement what we implement when deep down we know there is little value.

As we grapple with this topic we must not forget that the push for CCR and standardized testing leads to the removal of essential classes. We must provide multiple learning opportunities for students to find their gifts and explore those areas whether it is music, arts, tech, engineering, cooking, etc. It is hard to judge people(not just students) by a same set of standards when we are all unique individuals.

I was reminded of two great quotes from the book Shop Class as Soulcraft

“When the point of education becomes the production of credentials rather than the cultivation of knowledge, it forfeits the motive recognized by Aristotle: “All human beings by nature desire to know.”

― Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

“It is a rare person who is naturally inclined to sit still for sixteen years in school, and then indefinitely at work, yet with the dismantling of high school shop programs”

― Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Content or Thought?: Which comes first?

The next question that fall into place in this discussion is  Does this come down to the question of whether we should be teaching content or thought?

This is perhaps a question for another time. I recently listened to Chris Emdin speak at Deeper Learning conference and he suggests content is the last thing you think about for your classroom. I really have be interested in his ideas and what he has to say so I would push more to thought(yes, blog post on this will be coming). Content is simply a platform to teach skills and how to think for success in the world in my opinion. There were many others who argued the opposite stating content should be taught. There were varying levels of how we should choose content, how much content and the to what extent, but I would say majority of people in discussion believed in content over thought. This conversation among the channels was quite interesting and one I would like to continue another time.


So, I understand the goals of people who are pushing for CCR, but I feel like this is not the real goal of education and why we learn. I don’t continue to learn on my own because I want a job(granted I have one). I believe the human condition is curious by nature so education should be a place where we cultivate and nurture the idea of lifelong learning. Our goal as educators and schools is to help develop and enhance the skills to being a lifelong learner and college and careers are just byproducts of our path in life.

We also had some pretty powerful conversation about preparing people for jobs to work through the issues of poverty. I understand the ramifications of can you be a lifelong learner if you live in poverty and are unemployed and simply are not equipped to do so. Well, let me state I understand the argument as I have been fortunate enough to not have a life down this path so I don’t understand the experience, but I understand the idea behind the argument.

If we are equipped with a passion for learning, developing, and making ourselves better, then doesn’t those skills and mindsets keep us out of poverty? School sucks for so many people. It is tedious and not engaging. If we were to provide them opportunities to engage in learning, discover the possibilities of where their interests could take them, then the college and career aspects take care of themselves. I guess what I am saying is that there is more pressure for standardized tests, college readiness cut scores of 306( or whatever system you are implementing) and these do not measure how successful everyone can be. Focus on the now as we can control that and the future work itself out.

And here lies the crux and more conversation. Do we equate CCR with testing or are they two separate things? If separate then why so much testing emphasis to determine if a student is CCR? If not, then how do we separate the two monsters and give equal attention to both?

I want to clarify a few last ideas

1. I am not equating passion with careers and jobs. You can have a passion that provides no income but keeps you happy. However, we must find what we like, what we are good at, and what we would like to do with our time on earth. It is limited so we do want to make the best of it. Not every job can be passion filled, but we must find jobs that we can tolerate so we can have time and resources for our passions.

2. I am not right. I am not portraying that I am right. These are my current ideas. My ideas shifted through these conversations and I hope to keep powerful dialogues like this going in education because I feel like there are small shifts where educators are finally having real talk. Talk and discussion like this can strengthen educators which will strengthen schools and education.

So, what is the answer? Maybe there is not one, but let us continue to go down this path to unearth what is really needed to prepare students to be their best.

Thanks for reading and would love to hear your thoughts.


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7 thoughts on ““Is it really the goal of schools to create college and career ready students?”

  1. As Jack Berckmeyer has said in a presentation to middle schools, “Middle schoolers are NOT the FARM team for high school!” I agree. We put too much emphasis on preparing kids for the “next level.” I cringe when I hear that. Do we want students to be prepared for whatever life throws at them, and at whatever stage that happens? Sure, but I also ask that question: what are we really preparing kids for? We talk about preparing them for a future “we can’t even imagine,” but that makes the goal ambiguous, and then I wonder, “How do we even know if we are serving kids if we don’t know the goal?”

    Ok. I’m not rambling. Thursday morning brain.

    Thanks for the brain coffee, Aaron!

  2. The words “create” and “prepare” and even “teach” are used in the great blog post AND BY LOTS OF WELL-MEANING EDUCATORS (politicians and even policy people use them too – BUT they truly mean exactly what they are saying …). Educators do split on CCR and effective learning. But as you say, we cannot create, prepare, teach anyone for anything at all really; I guess we can provide specific material and test for its being memorized to have it mostly in short term memory for a little while; we can give them materials and instructions and develop narrowly focused skills for use for a little while. As you note in the post, this is even with lots of practice not learning – skills or knowledge.

    Learning is very personal, different for every person, AND it is a choice each person makes. AND it is a skill EVERY person must develop – with the help of educators, family members, coaches, experts, authors, and community members!!! To me, that skill (effective learning) is one of a minimum of four skills everyone must master through application to real world applications – so they become habitual. The other three are effective problem solving, teaming, and communicating. Only then will they have the usable core knowledge and the skills necessary to be CCR and to respond to personal opportunities that arise.

  3. Great post! I always need to push myself and not get lazy about relying on the “career or future” justification for doing something. Plus, I want my students to think of themselves as creators, not just eventual cogs in an economic system. I think you hit the nail on the head a few posts back. If you concentrate on deeper learning then everything else takes care of itself. Focusing on skills, content, and learning that serves kids in the present will also serve them in the future.

    PS – Thanks so much for including my quotes. The link to me medium piece appears to be broken – https://medium.com/education-reform/for-students-its-always-about-next-year-631410e33b8

  4. How do we decide we want to learn more? What skills do we have, or strengths, that pushes us to learn more? Did a leader push us, what is a quality of ours?

  5. This post makes me reach back to teacher training where my mentor pushed us to explore Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s works, specifically as related to the concept of ‘flow’ (the link at the end of this comment provides a brief overview). I think that the best classrooms create an environment where students are more likely to enter flow, and I believe that deeper learning is learning that challenges in this manner. Purposeful, excellent teaching provides immediate feedback, encourages students to feel personal control over their current situations and potential outcomes, has challenging yet attainable goals, etc.

    I loved reading through this post; sometimes the internet should be gulped quickly, and sometimes it’s good to savor and ponder extended thoughts and dialogue.


  6. Interesting read and thought provoking. What if we educated students instead of teaching content? What if we handed the reins of control to the students? I like the idea of teaching students for today instead of preparing them for the next level. What happens to those students who balk at the idea of 4 more years?

  7. Challenging question. I added a link to this in my own web library and hope more people read it.

    I think of this as a ying-yang problem. If all kids had strong learning aspirations, problem solving skills, grit, resilience, etc. — well supported by parents, educators and communities–this might feed the economy with a surplus of workers and leaders and provide jobs that enable graduates to raise their own children free of poverty, and with the support system that repeats this virtuous cycle, This would provide unlimited opportunities for a lifelong exploration and engagement in whatever is of interest to each of us.

    However, all kids don’t start at the same starting line, due to different economic support systems, different family histories, and thus different types of education support, and the spark for learning has not been lit, or burns very low, in far too many kids.

    I think the higher education industry has created a marketing monster that dictates college or failure, when as you’ve pointed out there are many routes to well-paying jobs that don’t require a four year college. Other research would point out that there are a lot of college graduates in the US and around the world who can’t find work or are in low-paying service jobs, and with a load of college debt.

    I’ve been following some folks on G+ who write about systems and design thinking, and visualization, such as: http://newcommunityparadigms.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-what-why-and-how-of-design-thinking_2.html

    I’d like to see your conversation and its various strands visualized so that we might better understand its complexity and the topic of MOOCs like the DLMOOC that engage more sectors than just educators and interested people like myself.