The “and career” in the title of this blog provoked some interesting conversations within the AVID Center. Since our mission is “to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society,” staff asked me some challenging questions.
“Are we changing our focus, shifting away from four-year college success?”
“Are we now becoming devoted to vocational efforts?”
“Are we routing students away from courses such as AP, IB, and dual enrollment, so that they can take career courses?”
“Not exactly,” I said. We’ve always emphasized that every AVID graduate should focus on attending a four-year college or university after high school. As you will see from our latest data, most do.
However, what about the idea of a career focus? How can we resolve the perceived juxtaposition between college readiness and career readiness? Let me start with the thinking of Dr. David Conley, whose research and writing have been a strong influence on our work in recent years. In his new book, College and Career Ready—Helping All Students Succeed Beyond High School, Conley builds on his previous work, College Knowledge, and makes his strongest case yet that the two concepts are inter-related. He writes that we should judge our high schools’ success “in proportion to the degree to which they prepare their students to continue to learn beyond high school.” I would argue that school districts should be viewed through the same lens. Dr. Conley further defines continuing to learn as “the ability to engage in formal learning in any of a wide range of settings: university and college classrooms, community college two-year certificate programs, apprenticeships that require formal classroom instruction as one component…” In short, Conley emphasizes postsecondary readiness, not simply admission to college. He replaces work preparedness with career readiness. He believes that if we set high standards for all students, we provide them an opportunity to proceed on a career pathway, not just training for a job.
Conley notes that the discussion about college and career readiness is one of our “great debates taking shape nationally.” In a recent ACCESS interview I asked him to describe why educators and community members sometimes have trouble thinking of college and career readiness as closely connected. Not surprisingly, Conley says the problem is mostly due to the design of our high schools, which “accumulate geological layers of policies and practices,” and lack academic coherence. Moreover, he says, our assumptions about which students are college material further inhibit student progress, especially difficult for those who are the first in their families to consider college.
Conley’s own experience as the first in his family to attend college is well described in his book and contrasted with the recent high school graduate, “Genevieve,” whom he describes in the book’s afterword. Assisted in school navigation by her college-educated parents, Genevieve experienced much less variability, had teachers who recognized her gifts, took the necessary courses, understood her options, and went on to attend MIT. Conley’s experience in a typical suburban high school in the 60’s was very different. I think you will find his description of two contrasting routes illuminating.
What I like about Conley’s work is that he is practical and research-based, and he describes the qualities and behaviors expected of a college-ready student: persistence, precision, focus, inquisitiveness, problem solving, and awareness—just to mention a few. Conley’s four dimensions of college and career readiness, along with the seven principles for schools that exemplify college and career readiness, provide a useful roadmap for school teams. He does not always paint a cheerful picture, noting the disconnect between the expectations of high school teachers and those of college instructors, and the gap between their respective institutions. He brings up other pertinent issues such as grade inflation, low expectations and barriers faced by low-income and minority students, and school systems that are really not systematic at all. But he doesn’t just discuss problems. He offers viable solutions as well.