By Tom Blankenship
As Dr. Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s education commissioner, crisscrosses the Commonwealth, he states unequivocally that all Kentucky students deserve a world-class education that prepares them for college, for careers and for life. And in response to that challenge, 100 percent of Kentucky’s boards of education signed a Commonwealth Commitment to College and Career Readiness pledge. I’ve thought about what truly constitutes a “world class College and Career Readiness education,” and whether we, as Kentucky leaders, are truly preparing our students for the challenges of life beyond the schoolhouse doors.
Reflecting back, most of us would attest that not so long ago, most folks could get by fairly well with a standard high school diploma. Jobs were plentiful and coupled with hard work; the skills one garnered in high school sufficiently enabled a person to be successful. However, in today’s rapidly changing world, factories have closed, companies have downsized and outsourced, and employment is no longer a guarantee. The skills our young people possess must enable them to respond to the economic reality of a global economy. In other words, this isn’t the world or workforce of our youth and we must equip our students for a workplace in which boundaries extend far beyond anything we could ever have imagined possible.
So what does the term “college and career ready” really mean for today’s graduates? Put simply, it means that ALL students must stay in school, graduate and acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful either in college or in their chosen career. No longer is dropping out physically or even emotionally an option for our students. To do so condemns them to a life of struggle and hardship. It’s critically important that parents, teachers and community stakeholders collaborate and design the requisite support structures that prepare our young people for jobs that haven’t been imagined or invented yet. By 2018, 62 percent of jobs will require some college education or more, according to a report by the Center on Education and the Workforce.
For our young people to compete in a global economy, it is vital that their educational experiences provide them with the dispositions necessary to be successful in the brave new world of the 21st century. But, how do we accomplish this daunting task? Tim Godbey, the principal of Lincoln County High School, consistently challenges his staff to ensure that every student is proficient in what he calls the “5 Cs”: communication, collaboration, creativity, creative thinking and connectivity. According to Mr. Godbey, “Students must write and speak proficiently, work cooperatively within teams, and respond in innovative manners to novel and complex real-world problems.” Tim understands that the marketplace of tomorrow requires individuals who possess the capacity to design and create through both the traditional mediums and within cutting-edge technological resources.
“As school leaders, we sometimes get consumed with budgets, facilities and myriad management issues. And, while these items are crucial for operating an effective school, we must not forget why we work on these items in the first place. Our students and meeting their needs through effective teaching and learning practices must remain our utmost priority. Everything else is secondary,” Mr. Godbey said. I couldn’t agree more.
To be college ready, students must meet minimum academic benchmarks for reading (a score of 20), English (18) and mathematics (19) as measured on the ACT – an examination that all Kentucky students take in the spring of their junior year. Meeting these minimum requirements prepares first-time college students to complete credit-bearing courses that earn them a minimum of a C and prepare them for subsequent courses that follow.
To be deemed career ready, students must demonstrate core academic skills and the ability to apply those skills in concrete situations and routine daily activities that the workplace demands. Students in the Commonwealth achieve this career readiness standard by meeting the academic benchmarks as measured by the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, Kentucky Occupational Skills Standards Assessment, and/or earning industry-recognized career certificates. The latter two are achieved by completing a series of related courses within a vocational and technical career pathway.
Dr. Holliday has thrown the educational gauntlet down, and it is a moral imperative that all educational personnel respond with a sense of unity and heightened urgency. 21st century skills for our students are simply nonnegotiable. The success of our most precious resource, our children, depends upon our ability to deliver. Indeed, the very future of our communities, our state and our nation depends upon our response to this critical challenge.
-- Blankenship is also vice-chairman of the Lincoln County Board of Education