Preparing students for college and career readiness is a central and necessary purpose behind the Common Core State Standards. Though central and necessary, and some would say obvious, the 'career readiness' referred to throughout the standards leaves too much room for interpretation.
The key to providing career readiness lies in integration. Career education and traditional academic subjects actually support each other. Career education provides a valuable context for many aspects of traditional academics and vice versa. Students benefit from knowing that careers are connected to core academics and that career success depends on a strong academic background, answering the age-old question, "Why do I need to know this?"
Effective integration of career education on the educator's end requires curriculum design that deliberately maps career content to the Common Core Standards. The curriculum needs to provide clear connections between professional work and core academics. Identifying the points of intersection among several academic and career subjects requires that teachers and practicing professionals in the career field have sufficient time to go through the content in detail, then design units and lessons that make the connections explicit for students. Done well, this can enhance student engagement and increase their commitment to completing school.
Effective integration also highlights structural issues that we can't ignore, if career readiness is our goal. In the "real world," people draw from multiple disciplines throughout their work day. The typical high school schedules and planning structures almost assure that students are on their own to make connections between the subjects they study every day. Implementing a model that allows teachers shared planning time and enables student cohorts to share classes fosters the links between various academic disciplines.
"At our Academy of Finance, we have observed a direct correlation between participation in the academy and academic success. Students talk about their dreams of becoming CPAs or of owning businesses and then they use the skills they have learned in their academy classes in all areas of their education to make those dreams real. Their teachers say that academy students are much more focused and engaged in class because they see the relevance of everything they learn in helping them achieve their goals," says Fran Thew, department chair of the business and computer science departments at John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres, Florida. Fran was recently awarded "Exemplary Academy Leader" by the National Career Academy Coalition and is a Curriculum Leader for the National Academy Foundation.
Some argue that career readiness somehow detracts from core academics. This argument is unnecessarily divisive and counterproductive. A competitive and productive workforce needs a combination of strong academics, career readiness skills, and professional knowledge. Besides, many of the skills associated with careers are the same ones that enable students to do well in school.
The Common Core Standards offer a unique opportunity to link career education with core academics on a national level. It also presents the framework for robust conversations with professionals from a full range of careers with educators to produce interesting and challenging curriculum that integrates various disciplines. What is still needed is a commitment to wedding career education and core academics and allowing the school structures that promote shared planning and instruction. Let this be the decade of focusing on the connections needed between careers and college and let the past hold the debates of one being more important than another.