Children are not Assets to Make Ready for Careers & College

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Released into the public domain by Gentry George, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Released into the public domain by Gentry George, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

There was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that I believe pertains to K-12 education.  The authors (Krislov, M. & Volk, S.S., 2014) reminded us that college is still for creating citizens.

One of their main arguments was that “higher education fails in its mission if it trains graduates only for first post college jobs.”

I believe that middle and high schools fail if they think making students career and college ready is the main goal of education. But according to two major organizations–the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education (ED), making students career and college ready permeates the aims of their funding of K-12 education programs.  Gates has spent so far, $2.3 billion on college ready programs, and the ED has spent $4.5 billion in its Race to the Top program, which promotes standards and college ready programs.

According to Achieve, Inc., the company that wrote the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS),  implementing improved K–12 standards will better prepare high school graduates for the rigors of college and careers.

Children as Assets?

But there is another troubling idea that education reformers use when they talk about students. To some, children are assets that will contribute to the economic welfare of the state, and as better prepared assets, they will be more competitive in the global marketplace.

According to Dr. Meria Carstarphen, the designated nominee for the Atlanta superintendency, children are important assets that are entrusted to the Atlanta Public Schools (APS). This is an unfortunate metaphor to use when speaking about students.

Instead of assets, why not learners, or children, or kids, or teens, or youth, or by, George, human beings. Thinking of children as assets turns education into an mechanistic enterprise in which children are viewed as an economic investment.

There are contradictions here that raise questions about the rationale for putting achievement on core subjects such as reading, math and science as the pinnacle of success in high school.

What Skill Set?

What does it take to be successful in a job (career readiness) or in college? Is a student’s score on the SAT, or on a high school battery of high-stakes tests predictors of immediate job success or college readiness?  Is the overemphasis on achievement in high school warranted given that employers and colleges look beyond test scores, and indeed, many college no longer use SAT of ACT scores as admission measures.

In recent surveys reported by  Krislov & Volk (2014), as many as 70% of employers would hire someone without a higher-education credential, and more than 50% said that at least half the jobs in their companies did not require postsecondary education.  But even more definitely is that it is estimated that people will hold an average of 11 jobs between ages 18 and 46. That’s a different job every 2.5 years.

So, for our high school students who don’t attend college straight out of high school, for what jobs does school make them career ready?  And to use the language of the reformers, what “skill set” will they need?

Krislov & Volk (2014) write that “data doesn’t support those organizations’ reported conclusions that employers will be looking increasingly for workers with a targeted skill set and that a college degree in and of itself will not be important.”

They go on to say that employers are still looking for those characteristics that have long been central to a liberal-arts education: skills of communication and critical thinking, innovation and collaboration, integrity and responsibility.

These are what should characterize secondary education.

The Krislov and Volk article offers a strong rationale for the purpose for K-12 schooling, especially at the secondary school level.  We have created a conundrum for teachers who want students to develop a love of their subject, but at the same time, they work in an environment in which high-stakes tests are not only used to measure student performance, but their own performance as instructors, as well.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Read here what Krislov and Volk say:

These qualities (skills of communication and critical thinking, innovation and collaboration, integrity and responsibility) come not just from a single class but from a thoughtful and purposeful education. To the extent that these skills can be paired with experiential learning and creative problem-solving pedagogies, we will be preparing our graduates not just for their first jobs but for their future lives, which will very likely involve multiple jobs and career changes.

Children are not assets to make ready for careers & college.  They are not sent to school by their parents as assets.  They go to school as children and adolescents.  They do not serve the state or the school system.  Indeed, the school system should serve students and their parents.  Students are first, full human beings.  They have completeness now.  It is not something that will happen to them because of school.  School should be experiential.  It should engage students in explorations of art, science, mathematics, music, social studies, technology.  School should be an expedition into these realms of knowledge.  Courses should be a reconnaissance into the nature of music, or art, or science.

To abandon the notion that school is to make students ready for careers and college, we will have to think different about school.  And thinking different means to think from the inside out, and not the top down.  When we begin to realize that qualities for working with students already exist in schools, we won’t have to run around deciding whether a school system should run as a charter district, or an investment zone.   Instead, the focus will be on learning, tutoring, student voice, team learning, and assessment for learning–five qualities that honor students for who they are.

We know that the place called school is here now, and all that needs to happen is to release the resources from the inside out.  Teachers already know that if they are given the opportunity to work in school through the eyes of interconnections and not in tightly managed boxes, measured with standards and tests, they realize greatness in the classroom.

Perhaps, for K-12 schooling, this last paragraph from the Krislov and Volk article is what secondary education should be about.  They write:

Finally, we believe, with the historian William Cronon, that education should “aspire to nurture the growth of human talent in the service of human freedom.” It is the responsibility of all colleges and universities not just to teach their students calculus and U.S. history but to help them answer the question of what kind of life might be meaningful, productive, and rewarding. This mission serves not only our students, but employers, communities, and nation (Krislov and Volk, 2014).

Do you think the purpose of school is to make students ready for careers & college.


Krislov, Marvin, and Steven S. Volk. “College Is Still for Creating Citizens.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 7 Apr. 2014. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University