Opinion: Why SC must produce career-ready, critical-thinking students
Originally published in Greenville News – June 1, 2019
In his 2019 State of the State speech, Gov. Henry McMaster called South Carolina “red hot,” and reiterated the need for more skilled workers to fill open positions. The solution to this problem starts in the classroom, where we should be focusing on teaching students the skills they need to be career ready.
Historically, a high school’s focus has been to teach students core classes, show them best practices for studying and test taking, and help them get into college. It was then on the shoulders of post-secondary schools to tell students how to excel in their chosen career fields. Meanwhile, career technical education (CTE) classes were elective, viewed as an entertaining escape from core curricula.
Now, all of that is changing. It turns out that those “fun” classes help students become critical thinkers – capable of knowing what to do when they don’t know what to do – and are just what can give them a leg up after graduation
Core classes like English, math and science are certainly essential, but there’s no guarantee that students are gaining or applying the necessary critical-thinking skills that today’s CTE and career readiness classes offer. Another benefit of career readiness classes is that when students are enrolled in pathway-specific programs – like information technology, business management, graphic design and skilled trades – they are simultaneously exposed to a multitude of in-demand, possibly degree-free jobs that only these classes can provide
The good news is that we are already making progress. When the state’s Board of Education issued the 2018 annual report cards for every high school in South Carolina, the rating for each school included a college and career readiness score. The career readiness score was based, in part, on a number of indicators including, but not limited to, the score results of the Ready to Work (R2W) Career Readiness Assessment administered to students in their third year of high school. Other career-readiness indicators include completing CTE pathways of study with credentials like Microsoft Office certifications, ASVAB test results with scores of 31 or higher, and participating in approved work-based learning opportunities.
These readiness scores and indicators help get at a critical point: There’s a difference between learning some technical skills and being truly career ready. If a student graduates from a technical school knowing how to weld, there’s a good chance that that student will be able to get a job in a related field. He or she is hirable. But a job is short-term, and a career is long-term. And to have a long-term, successful career, career-ready individuals must be able to do a lot more than just one task.
Just as we do with our kids, we educators have to keep pushing each other to get better. One of the lessons my dad taught me will always stick with me. He grew up on a farm and plowed many fields with just a mule – no tractor. Every time he finished a row, he would turn back around and see how well he did. As the years went on and he had the benefit of plowing with a tractor, he didn’t change his habit of looking back at his work and mentally assessing his craftsmanship.
For teachers like myself, the experience is much the same. Once a year as students gather to celebrate their graduation with commencement exercises, rarely is there a teacher who doesn’t look at the students as they walk across the stage. We wonder if they are ready for the world. Are they ready for what life has to offer? Have we prepared them? We watch and evaluate our own handiwork in crafting students’ readiness.
It is good that the state is starting to push for previously overlooked career readiness classes to be given more weight to fill the skills gap in South Carolina, but we need to go further. We can no longer rely on the traditional approach to education. It is time for educators to adopt an unconventional one, an approach that shows students the job options available to them and teaches them how to be critical thinkers early on.
Online career readiness programs are important tools we can use to reach students across our state—whether they live in urban communities, rural areas, or somewhere in between. Only in doing so will we be able to shape a population of workforce- and career-ready individuals.
Robert Johnson teaches Accounting I, Computer Literacy (Integrated Business Applications), Web Design I and Web Design II for the Destinations Career Program at the Cyber Academy of South Carolina, a K12-powered school. Johnson also serves as an adviser to the school’s SkillsUSA student organization.
To learn more about Cyber Academy of South Carolina, visit https://casc.k12.com/.