September 19, 2016

Career Readiness: A Business-Led Approach for Supporting K-12 Schools

In today’s economy, career readiness is receiving increased attention at the state and federal policy levels and in our schools. Much of this is driven by growing interest in improving student transitions to both college and employment.

Schools have long sought to better prepare students for the future—including careers—by improving the number of students entering college academically prepared. Employers too are signaling that our schools need to help address a persistent and deepening skills gap that is impacting many industries vital to our country’s economic future. For these reasons and more there is renewed interest in addressing the career readiness of students in our K-12 education systems.

Many states have proactively raised academic standards to ensure students are making progress toward important transitions to either college or careers. Many others have been engaged in modernizing their Career and Technical Education (CTE) systems. Others have forged partnerships among K-12 schools, colleges, and workforce systems to ensure students are provided with pathways to careers in fields that are in demand.

A recent development that has generated an increased interest in career readiness is the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Formerly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the reauthorization of our nation’s primary K-12 education law has placed a spotlight on career readiness as part of state accountability systems.

Under the new law, a great deal of flexibility and latitude is afforded to states, including in accountability systems, where they are now tasked with defining and measuring what success looks like for their students. States must track progress against three required indicators and at least one optional indicator, such as “postsecondary readiness.” New state accountability systems must set measurable goals for local districts as well as identify appropriate interventions when goals and benchmarks have not been met.

Many states are now seeking to leverage the new law to build on the advances that have been made to date in supporting career readiness. This too is a topic of great interest within the business community, which depends on our nation’s schools for a skilled and competitive workforce. However, while increased attention on career readiness is a welcome development brought about by the passage of ESSA, the question is how to define and implement it as part of state accountability systems.

Presently, there is very little consensus within the business community—or among education organizations—around how to best define and measure career readiness. For many years, the terms “career readiness” and “college readiness” have been interchangeable and generally understood to mean achieving proficiency in reading and math when measured against rigorous standards. This proficiency was seen as a necessary readiness level to transition to college without needing remediation or to enter the world of work. However, with the possibility of having postsecondary readiness become a significant part of state accountability systems, we must now ask two questions:

1) Are college and career readiness in fact different?

2) Can postsecondary readiness be measured in a way that captures both?

Answering these questions is critical to the successful implementation of ESSA and to the students whose progress will be measured. As states design and implement their new accountability systems, it is crucial for the business community to be involved. The business community is well positioned to play a lead role in helping states and districts define and implement career readiness to ensure it remains a meaningful part of ESSA implementation moving forward.