Commentary: Online learning can be key to career readiness

March 8, 2020

When it comes to preparing high school students for long-term career success, Washington is headed in the right direction.

At the start of the 2017-18 school year, state officials implemented what’s known as the High School & Beyond Plan, through which seventh and eighth grade students have conversations with their school counselors about their post-secondary goals. These conversations help counselors create a “personalized pathway” that structures coursework around those goals and state/local graduation requirements, paving the way for them to pursue a two-year degree, four-year degree or some sort of specialized training/certification program.

Washington is leading the pack in this way, as most states maintain the status quo approach of making college preparedness the No. 1 goal for all students. We know that attending college is a strong, necessary requirement for certain careers, but we also acknowledge and respond to the fact that for many high-growth, high-paying occupations, the lack of a college degree isn’t necessarily a deal breaker.

What we have yet to understand and appreciate are the many ways in which students can benefit from career readiness in an online environment.

Today, most students fill up their schedules with whatever electives are available at their local high school, and in cases where their district has strong elective programming, those electives can sometimes align with a student’s personalized pathway. But what happens when a student interested in information technology (also known as IT) only has one or two computer programming options? Or there isn’t a marketing elective for a student interested in business?

Online education can help districts overcome difficulties like these, giving students access to a much wider range of courses when traditional schools blend online offerings with their own in-person offerings. This option can benefit all students; but it’s particularly beneficial for students in under-resourced districts.

If blended learning isn’t something their district can provide — or students experience a medical condition or extreme bullying that makes physically attending school too much to bear — students can still take online classes on their own. They can potentially take more career technical education (CTE) classes than their former school was capable of offering, and, because they are still receiving a public K-12 education, they can continue to make progress on their individual High School & Beyond Plan with online counselors.

Online schools can also provide opportunities for work-based learning with greater ease. It can be difficult for both large and small districts to find the time, resources and a variety of business partners they need to cater to students’ plans for life after high school. But in a virtual environment, these limitations are greatly diminished.

The tools that are the bread-and-butter of virtual classrooms — video conferencing, screen sharing and online communication platforms — make it easy to interact with businesses spread across all industries and all parts of the state. It’s also easier to offer internship/externship or job shadow experiences to online students, as the self-paced nature of virtual classrooms means that learners can organize their schedules around a business’ availability – a time management skill that will prove useful no matter what job they ultimately wind up in.

At the end of the day, that’s exactly what we are trying to accomplish with the High School & Beyond Plans and career readiness course expansion: ensuring students acquire career-ready skills. Now, it’s time we take our state’s already progressive stance on career readiness one step further. It’s time we — a state that’s home to Amazon and Microsoft, two of most well-known technology companies in the world — embrace online learning.

Online learning allows us to help students better achieve the goals they lay out in their High School & Beyond Plans, and in turn, it allows us to better prepare our students for whatever life might throw at them.

Cecily Kiester is head of school at Insight School of Washington, powered by K12, Inc.

To learn more about Insight School of Washington, visit

KEYWORDS: Thought Leadership

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