Education Chat

Beyond Grade 12: Preparing for College and Career

What should K-12 schools be doing to better prepare students for college and careers? Guests Anthony P. Carnevale and Lynn Olson took questions and gave answers on the issue.

Beyond Grade 12: Preparing for College and Career

March 27, 2006


Anthony P. Carnevale is an economist with the National Center on Education and the Economy;
Lynn Olson is the managing editor of special projects for Education Week.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat to address the question: What should K-12 schools be doing to better prepare students for college and careers? This chat is part of a special Education Week series, “Beyond Grade 12: Preparing for College and Careers,” that will appear in print and online once a month through June. As shown by the large volume of questions we have already received, this is a very popular topic. So let’s get the discussion started ...

Question from Deborah Perkins-Gough, Senior Editor, Educational Leadership:
What essential skill for the 21st century workforce is most neglected by U.S. schools? Are there any schools or school systems that are successfully teaching this skill?

Anthony P. Carnevale:
If I had to pick one skill set that is most neglected it woud be what psychologists (notably Marty Seligman former president of the Amerian Psychological Association ) calls “positive cognitive style”. Positive cognitve style is a coping skill made all the more necessary in an increasinlgy uncertain and complex world. The economic argument for coping skills is well known: The new, fast-paced, and unforgiving global economy results in constant change in skills required for specific jobs. Constant economic and technological change also discourages growth in job tenure and increases the overall rate of job creation and job destruction. The subtlest behavioral asset in managing school, work, and life in the constant flux of modern times is a positive cognitive style.

The notion of ?positive cognitive style? is more than ?self-esteem? or ?the power of positive thinking.? “Self-esteem” and “positive thinking” are internal attitudes that persist irrespective of external experiences of success or failure. Cognitive styles are the various ways people process information gained from experience?positive cognitive styles encourage success and negative styles encourage failure. The notion of ?positive cognitive style? argues that the way in which people understand and engage reality can encourage successes and discourage failures. From this perspective, individual choices are the key to explain otherwise differences in human behavior that can not be explained by environmental or biological factors. Cognitive style helps explain why some succeed against the odds and others fail in spite of their advantages.

Cognitive psychologists tend to agree that the way people explain events to themselves, or their cognitive style, is a key determinant of success and failure. Those with a negative cognitive style tend to see failure as a result of causes that are “permanent, pervasive, and personal.” They tend to discount successes as temporary, limited in scope, and unrelated to personal merit. People with a negative cognitive style tend to be less successful because they cede control over the choices in their lives to their circumstances, reducing their ability to act and persevere.

Question from Stacey St. Holder, Parent, Friendly High School:
I have 4 kids ages 18, 16, 13, & 8. They are kids of technology and very visual. They use the internet, cell phones, MP3 players, etc. I believe that current teaching methods need to be revamped to grab their attention and engage them. They also tend to be more hands on. Reading and trying to study theory just doesn’t do it for them. Is there a way to modernize teaching methods? Have we asked students for their suggestions on how to make instruction and learning more appealing? I’m very concerned. They think school is too slow and/or boring. They don’t seem to truly be engaged. They are just going through the motions to avoid being grounded.

Lynn Olson:
I agree that the issue isn’t just what gets taught but how--and how much we ask students to take responsibility for and ownership of their own learning. My own son is 16 and it’s typical for him to have two computers and the I-pod going simultaneously. There are some groups trying to garner students’ views on what needs to change in education and to engage them in making change happen. One is What Kids Can Do. You can find it by going to

Question from Susan Kennedy, Mom, Homeschool:
Why would U.S. corporations hire math/science graduates in the U.S. when they can and have outsourced these jobs to the equally educated, glut of cheap labor in countries like India and China? Isn’t telling students that there will be a place for all of these “math and science majors” in U.S. coporations a lie?

Anthony P. Carnevale:
You are on to something when you worry that math and science jobs may not be the best career chioice for individual American youths. But so are the corporate and political leaders who worry about the nations pool of math and science specialists. The heart of the matter is the ambiguity in the differences betweeen individual and national interests.

There is no obvious shortage of math and science workers, especially in he curent global labor pool, and, in the U.S. business, law and medicine pay better . But you need to be careful in the way you interpret these facts as a guide to your childs education.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind in your own childs interests when you hear business, education and government leaders chant the mantra of math and science - something they have been doing since Hiroshima and Sputnik.

Math and science are screening or gatekeeper courses in K-12 education. They are necessary to the nation to find a few top notch scientists and engineers among the mass of students, and, because courses in math and science are also used as universal screens for college admissions. Hence math and science are important to your child, even if your child never becomes a mathematican scientist or engineer, because college is the threshold requirement for all the other good middle class jobs.

For example getting through Algebra II is the best predictor of college graduation and access to middle class jobs. But very few student s use Algebra II in college and fewer than 3% of all workers in good middle classs jobs ever use the content of Algebra II on the job. This is even more true for Trig, geometry calculus and anything beyond descriptive statisitics.

Why take math and siciece in high school. The same reason I was told I had to take Latin and read Ethan Frome when I went to hig school. “You have to have it for college”. Selective colleges are increasingly using advanced math and science as a screen for admision because they view them as a proxy for “potential”.

Taking math and science signals individual “academic potential” which is the key to progress and success in the education system. In turn, academic success signals “potential” performance on the job to employers. In the Ameican system because of the clear separation between schooling and job markets, progress through school and college as we well as hiring into the first job is driven by demonstrated “potential”, as measured by academic degrees, that often has nothng to do with work. Once on the job “potential” matters less, and is judged on performance not degrees, and job “competence” matters more.

Taking math and science in high school also seems to improve performannce on college admissions tets. The SAT and ACT measure math and verbal reasoning ability. Test items on math reasoning ability come form the high school math curriculum.

Math reasoning ability is the most powerful cognitive corrrelate with lifetime earnings. but teh abilty to perform mathematical operations and math reasoning ability are not the same thing. Math reasoning ablity is much more applied and generic than the specific math operations we teach in school. Nonetheless, for now, math seems to be the best way we know how to teach reasoning abilty (In the old days t hey used to use Greek, Latin, ethics and logic for the same purpose) .

Pollitical leaders and business leaders push math and science because it is at the core of the nations economic and military power in the world. Since the cold war national leaders have wanted all of us to take math and since if only to end up with a few briliant scientists who would make the net rocket or laser weapon.

And math an science serve economic as well as national seciruty initerests. Our core stregth inthe world is our economy not our military. After all India and China are a lot bigger than we are but their econimies are too weak to field a powerful miltiary. Since WWII our economic position has increasingly depended on technologcal superiority. Our smallest trade deficit is in technology related industries. Technology is the modern version of the “gold mine” or diamind mine and, because no one ever knows where the next mother lode will be found, every nation wants as many people looking for the gold as possible. One big stirke makes all teh difference. Remember the last big boom in the nineties came from computing and commmunications technolgy. At present the big econimic question is “What wil be the next big technological thing?”.

Leaders are afraid we are losing our technological edge. We used to have 5% of the wor lds population and 30% of the worlds technical capability. But our share of the worlds technical capablity has dropped to 15% just since the nineties. And we are now fourth in overall education attainment.

It is no mystery why leaders are crazed over math and science. It is the core asset in maintaining American economic and military security. But there are problems with the current approach to leveraging technololgy by increasing math and science in the schools and therebye increasing the domestic supply of science and engineering personnel:

First of all, there is no strong evidence that we have a shortgtage of scientists and engineers. So if we produce a lot more scientista nd engineers a lot of them will be driving cabs - unless we have a complementery strategy to increase the number of jobs for scientists and engineers.

Even if we increase American jobs for scientist and engineers its not clear that those jobs wil go to native born Americans. There is lots of foreign competition and its growing.

In places like India and China as well as Eastern Europe and Russia, the whole education system emphasizes science, math and English because these are the three core languages in global economic competition. In addition science and math are the optimal strategy for students in these countries where there are few good jobs in the service sectors of their economies. And if they want to catch on in the global economy math and science are the key. For example, Chinese youth are unlikley to be able to grow up to be an American or European or Japanese lawyer but they can become an American, European or Japanese engineer or work for a foreign company as an engineer in their home country.

And evven if we incease he number of scinece and engineering jobs at home the best American stdents may not went them. Science and engineering is thke best career chioice for foreign studnets but it is not always a good career cholce for the best American students. That’s because the best American students have more career chioces. We have the most well developed business services, financial magement, healthcare and managerial sectors in the world. These jobs requires less effort to qualify and perform and pay more than science engineering and math jobs. For example, PhD bilogists make $3 million less over a workig life tahn MD’s and 1.8 million less than the average lawyer. PhD Engineers make $91,000 on average; Phd mathematicians make $87,000; natural scientists make $73,000; life scientiests make $63,000.

And it takes seven years beyond of school beyond the BA to get these jobs. 7 years living on grats and loans that wil have to be repaid, is more than one fifth of an entire working life. the cost inlost earnngs alone is about $350,000.

At the same time MD’s make $157,000 on average; lawyers make $114,0000 on average; and mangers with MBA’s make $85,000.

Foriegn competition By 2010 China and the EU will produce more Engineers and scientists the the US. Wages for math science and engineering occupations in India, Eastern Europe and China are a fraction the cost in the US, giving American employers a huge incentive to go offshore. Immigration is another source of competition. Already in the US, foreign born workers make up over half the nations’s PhD scientists nad engineers.

Question from Regina Gilchrist Ash, Director of Instruction, Swain County Schools, North Carolina:
Even with all of the reform and redesign efforts currently underway to “fix” our high schools, it is taking FAR too long. We’re still back here asking, “How do we use technology to improve instruction?” while the rest of the world uses embedded technology as a tool and moves on into the 21st century. How do we catch up? Where is the policy and monetary support to help us with this very expensive endeavor? (The $100 MIT laptops are not yet available for us to purchase for our students.) Technology funding keeps getting cut rather than increased.

Anthony P. Carnevale:
Information and comunications technology penetrates education at a very slow rate compared with most industries. The reasons are legion: Education is a service industry with high personal contact. Personnel costs drive out alternative spending. Teachers are unprepared to use technology well. Technical specialists are expensive especially in public markets where budgets are always stringent and inflexible. The market is highly dencentralized so it’s hard for producers to mobilize economies of scale. Large sales staffs are required to cover school districts and schools one at a time. Curriculums are not standardiized and individual teachers use their own lesson plans and methods.

In time technolgy costs will come down and the technolgy itself will become more transparent. Most people who make the technolgy seem to believe that at some juncture their will be a tipping point, perhaps brought on by students not educators, at which the use of technology will accelerate rapidly.

In additon, perhaps the need to educate large populations in combination with low costs and authoritarian governments will accelerate technology penetraion in education in places like China and spur innovation in the US. Microsoft is more likely to make the $50 dollar computer for the China market than the US.

Question from Sheryl Staszewski, Director of Guidance, Lindenwold Public Schools:
From our superintendent: In our rush to be competetive in a global economy and meet high standards in core areas, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide experiences in the fine and practical arts which are both necessary and valuable to us as people. We are trying to blend these experiences as applications of some of the core skills and knowledge but we seem to be losing the sheer joy of learning and experience that comprehensive schools were once able to provide, to a focus or concentration on marketable/competetive areas. Is that really where our fundamental values lie? We may end up with well prepared boring people.

Lynn Olson:
Good point. Education isn’t--and shouldn’t be--just about job preparation. My own daughter loves, and benefits from, her fine art classes, whether or not she makes it a career. We also need to figure out how to engage young people in their education because we know lots of them complain now that it’s boring and not challenging enough.

Question from Mary Ann Kennedy, retired from Florida schools:
I have recently completed some graduate courses. I was surprised at the spelling and grammar of the students who had recently graduated from college. I read in the paper that many schools are reducing their curriculum to just math and reading in order to get high enough scores on the state testing for NCLB. What kind of writers will we be producing? Without writing and grammar skills, their opportunities will be greatly restricted; or am I wrong?

Lynn Olson:
When the American Diploma Project examined the knowledge and skills needed for work and college, it found that both employers and college professors stressed the need for correct English grammar and usage, as well as effective oral and written communication skills. In their book, The New Division of Labor, economists Richard Murnane and Frank Levy also write about the need for young people to have “complex communication” skills, which they define as being able to convey information and persuade others of a particular interpretation of an idea. So you’re absolutely correct, writing and grammar skills are important. Of course, as a writer, I admit to some bias here.

Question from Amar Singh, Associate, Booz Allen Hamilton:
What jobs do you foresee as attractive options (by industry and occupation) for high school graduates who don’t go on to complete college degrees in the next ten-fifteen years? What are some generic skills schools should provide through their CTE programs? What specific skills?

Anthony P. Carnevale:
As a general rule, the best advice for high school students is to get some form of post-secondary education or training. In general, high school graduates don’t have many options that lead to middle-class careers. Over the past 25 years, the earnings advantages of people who go on to get some college over people with high school or less, have increased to almost 70 percent, even as the share of people with at least some college has virtually doubled. In 1967, 69 percent of people with high school degrees were in the middle class. They had earnings in the middle four deciles of the income distribution. In 2004 dollars, that would include earnings between $40,000 and $80,000 a year. By 2004, the share of high school graduates in the middle class had fallen by almost 20 percentage points and virtually all of those who left the middle class fell into the bottom three income deciles--in 2004 dollars, that would be earnings between $14,000 and $28,000. Nonetheless, keep in mind that a substantial share, almost half, of people who have high school degrees do manage to maintain middle class incomes. Most of these people work in the construction trades, retail, managerial positions in fast food, and other occupations such as crane operators and other specialized occupations. But it is also important to remember that the trend, both in earnings and job opportunities, is declining for high school graduates.

Question from Renee Moore, English Instructor, Mississippi Delta Community College:
As a former high school teacher, I was always very impressed with the Tech Prep Initiative, particularly the articulation agreements between high school and community college programs. When they worked, the programs appeared to be very motivational and effective not only for students we traditionally considered “vocational/technical” track, but higher achievers as well. Is the federal government backing away from the Tech Prep initative? Wouldn’t that help deal with the current perceived crisis?

Lynn Olson:
I can’t speak for the federal government, in terms of the Bush Administration’s views on Tech Prep. Education Week reported that President Bush identified 40 Department of Education programs for elimination in his proposed fiscal 2007 budget, including Tech Prep Education State Grants, which had $104.8 million in appropriations in 2006.

Question from Jane Manning, Literacy Coach, Boston Public Schools:
What major(s) should today’s high school graduate be considering when going to college in order to meet the needs of the workforce in 2010 and beyond?

Anthony P. Carnevale:
The most lucrative majors in the current American economy are pre-med and pre-law. Lawyers make $120,000 a year on average and doctors make more than $150,000 a year on average. As a general rule, science and engineering professions make considerably less because the work is concentrated in low--paying, not-for-profit institutions, and because the global competition in science and engineering holds wages down. People who major in finance are more highly paid than those who major in business management and marketing. It is important to remember that earnings depend more on what you do with what you take in college than on what you take. Those who work in the teaching, learning, and caring professions tend to have high levels of education, but their earnings are low relative to those who work in private for-profit institutions. In addition, it matters where you go to college. Students of equal ability have greater post-graduate education opportunity and earnings if they attend an elite college.

Question from Steven Emfield, SDC Transition Teacher, El Camino College Transition SELPA Program:
What are specific things that students with disabilities can do to prepare for life after high school?

Lynn Olson:
I’m not an expert on this topic. You can try the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition at

Question from J. K. Vickrey, teacher, Marshfield HS, Coos Bay, OR:
My question has three parts: First, high schools and colleges need to have a common understanding of what our economic future is and where it is going. How would you define the US economy “inclusively” going beyond the simple statements like a “new global economy”. Second, It seems necessary for high schools and colleges to gather data from their graduates to determine how effective their curriculum has been in providing access to meaningful employment and citizenship. Are there any examples of this kind of research being used to change high school instruction? Third, Do you see any problems when high school curriculum is set by state colleges and universities? Thank you

Anthony P. Carnevale:
It is always difficult to know the future but there are some trends in place that do suggest the shape of things to come.With the rise of the knowledge economy, the decline in blue-collar jobs and the lowering of the social safety net, the United States increasingly relies on education, especially education and training, beyond high school, for allocating economic opportunity, income security and social inclusion. Almost six in ten jobs now appear to require at least some education or training beyond high school. And if the growth in educational requirements continues as it did in the nineties:

demand for people with graduate training beyond the BA may increase from the 12.8 million in the labor force in 2002 to 23 million in 2012;

demand for BA?s could increase from 26 million to 36 million;

demand for AA?s could increase from 12 million to 14 million;

demand for those with ?some college? but no degree should increase marginally from 28 to 29 million workers.

demand for high school educated workers would increase from 45 to 50 million;

demand for high school dropouts would decline from 17 million to 12 million jobs.

At current high school graduation rates, current participation rates in postsecondary education or training and current rates of retirement among older workers, there would likely be a mismatch between the supply and demand for educated workers by 2012. There would be a labor surplus of 2.9 million dropouts and a shortage of about 7,000,000 workers with at least some college. These trends are likely to continue and intensify as global competition increases skill requirements and baby boom retirements reduce the overall supply of skilled workers. The likely effects of increasingly tight labor markets for skill will be to increase wage differences between postsecondary-haves and postsecondary have-nots and to encourage the off-shoring skilled jobs.

Will shortages or even a tight sellers market for skilled labor actually occur by 2012? There are only two honest answers: I don?t know. And the standard social science dodge: It all depends. But there are some trends in place that do suggest the shape of things to come.

Demand for education beyond high school will grow. Run-away global competition will ncrease skill requirements on the job and our homegrown supply of educated workers will likely be inadequate to meet demand. Overall workforce growth, including illegals, will be cut by as much as two thirds over the next twenty years. And the trend in the production of workers with education beyond high school has been flat since the first wave of baby boomers hit the labor market in the seventies.

There are good reasons to believe that supply won?t satisfy the growing demand for skilled workers. Postsecondary educational attainment increased with the baby boom generation in the seventies, but hasn?t improved much since then. The growing share of workers with education beyond high school in the official workforce data since the seventies is partly an illusion created by the retirement of their less educated parents and grandparents. Even though we have increased spending by almost 30% per pupil every decade, the costs of educating increasingly diverse and disadvantaged students through high school and beyond has stalled overall improvements in education attainment beyond high school. As education requirements on the job increase and the baby boomers start retiring our flat line educational performance will be more obvious. More than 43 million baby boomers with at least some college and more than thirty years of job experience will be over the age of 55 by 2020.

Of course, there are equally good reasons to believe that the skill shortage narrative may be overstated. As the demand for education beyond high school increases wages should rise enough to encourage a greater supply of educated workers. But even so, employers increase wages and benefits grudgingly and supply usually lags behind demand, so, at a minimum, we can expect tight labor markets and more spot shortages for workers wit education or training beyond high school.

Some argue that tight labor markets for skill won?t emerge because American employers can take as many as 14,000,000 ? one in every nine jobs offshore. The Congress could also support onshoring policies that encourage skill-based immigration and work visas. As long as America has highest wages we can cream the global talent pool for workers with skills beyond the high school level. And, the available evidence suggests that our wages are likely to stay higher than the global market for at least another thirty years.

Question from John Thorn, Coordinator, Mercedes-Benz Institute:
When will a system be put into place to better identify and direct students toward either further education or career goals? Tech/Prep was a good idea but the implementation was flawed.

Lynn Olson:
Implementation is the Achilles’ heel of a lot of good ideas in education. There is renewed attention now to the need for better education-and-career information and guidance. One thing I’d note is the incredible shortage of counselors. I wrote about a report last week that found the average high school counselor in California serves 790 students. An earlier study out of Indiana found that parents and students really wanted counselors to provide help on colleges and careers, but that counselors had other demands competing for their time and attention. As for Tech/Prep and similar efforts, it’s hard to negotiate these agreements course-by-course and institution-by-institution. That’s one reason why states are looking at Pre-K-16 initiatives that can address such issues more systemically.

Question from Deborah Jackson,Consultant, Oakland Schools:
What is currently being done at the National level to ensure that our students will have employment that is both satisfying and has adequate income once they leave high school or college?

Lynn Olson:
Good question. A number of economists point out that education can’t be viewed as the sole-source solution to problems like global competitiveness and rising wage inequality. In other words, if you want a high-tech, high-wage economy, you’ve got to create high-tech, high-wage jobs and that may require investments in R&D, changes in the tax structure, changes in the social safety net, and other topics that are far less comfortable to talk about.

Question from Rene Perez, Literacy Coach, Sharpstown HS, Houston ISD:
In a senior English class taught by one of our faculty, I polled the students to ask who was going to college (100% raised their hands); then, I asked who had applied (only two students raised their hands). I have students who graduate who do nothing their first year and many don’t know where to begin (even choosing the local community college as an option). My classroom/educational standards have always been college/career prep; however, it seems that it is more than just educational standards. Since I began taking my students to the local community college and even register and pay for their college placement exams, I find more success with my students. Is this challenge much more broad in scope than simply raising educational standards?

Anthony P. Carnevale:
Many college-qualified students either don’t attend college at all or go to colleges that are much less selective than the colleges for which they are actually qualified. In research done while I was at the Education Testing Service (ETS), we discovered that there are almost 200,000 American students who either didn’t go to college or went to two-year colleges in spite of the fact that they were qualified for admission at four-year schools. In the United States, it is actually true that the least-qualified wealthy kids have a better chance of going to college than the most-qualified poor kids. Data drawn from the National Education Longitudinal Survey show that 72 percent of high school kids from the richest 25 percent of American families go to college in spite of the fact that they come from the bottom 25 percent of the high school class in terms of their academic qualifications. By way of contrast, 68 percent of kids who are poorest but come from the highest 25 percent of the test-score distribution go on to college. Income class not only affects whether or not kids go to college, it affects where they go. Almost 75 percent of rich kids in the top 25 percent of the test score distribution go to four-year schools, whereas only 40 percent of poor kids from the top 25 percent of the test score distribution go on to four-year schools.

Question from Davida DeMonte, parent of SLD high school student, Old Bridge, NJ:
Are there specific aptitude tests that the school should give to a student with an IEP to help determine post secondary options? Is the school legally responsible to give classified students these aptitude tests? During what grade should the evaluations take place?

Lynn Olson:
As with an earlier question, I’d point you to the National Center on Secondary Education and Transitions for some help with these questions. The web site is

Question from Gary Ellis, Computer Teacher, Arroyo High School:
I am all for challenging curriculum, high standards and, of course, teacher training and accountability. A major problem to academic achievement (and eventually to national and international competitiveness), however, is lack of student effort and motivation.

QUESTION: What can be done (specifically and realistically) to get the 25-50% of students who slack off to come to school with a mindset to work hard, to try, and to strive to attain?

I am highly-trained, well-organized, knowledgable, experienced, enthusiastic, caring, and with high expectations for my students and myself. Yet a significant portion of my classes don’t want to work very hard.

I have tried everything without much success. And no one else seems to have the solution. What suggestions do you have? Focussing on tougher standards seems pointless when the real issue might be one of student willingness.

Thank you.

Gary Ellis

Lynn Olson:
I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this very important point. Lots of polls have found young people don’t think they’re working very hard in school or giving it as much effort as they could. Economist John Bishop of Cornell University suggests that for secondary schools to do better, we need to persuade kids to work harder and to empower teachers to demand more of students. Changing the structure of schools and classrooms may be part of that equation. Part of the answer may also lie with postsecondary institutions and employers, who need to send much clearer signals to young people about what the stakes are. Dylan Wiliam, who’s focused a lot on assessment for learning, notes that in a lot of classrooms he visits, teachers are working too hard and students are working too little. He suggests at least part of the answer may be to engage students more directly in monitoring their own learning, through peer evaluation, etc., so that they take more responsibility for it. But I also think we need to create whole school cultures where it’s not OK to check out when you enter the front door. And that effort really goes beyond individual teachers, no matter how good they are.

Question from Peter Thorpe, Algebra Teacher, Vallejo (CA) High School:
Because our District is limiting the high school course offerings to only those required by California four year colleges, the “Pre-Algebra” course was eliminated this year. Instead, these students struggling with “Algebra 1" must take an additional “support” class and be graded against the “Algebra 1" standards. This is not working and student test scores are expected to drop. Is there any educational research to support this change?

Lynn Olson:
There’s research showing that taking rigorous academic classes in high school, particularly in mathematics,increases the likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree. Similarly, research suggests that better math skills are associated with higher earnings. Such research has helped lead to the push to have all students complete a more rigorous mathematics curriculum. And there are programs like AVID and the Algebra Project that demonstrate how providing students with additional support can help many more students learn algebra. But what districts are really struggling with is how to do that at scale, once they make Algebra 1 the default curriculum. As far as I know, there’s less research on how to do that well.

Question from s purcell, teacher, dc school:
what is the trend for IB middle schools

Lynn Olson:
First, let me credit reporter Sean Cavanagh for helping me to dig up this information.

Schools can set up IB programs at the elementary, middle, or high school level, offered either as stand-alone efforts or as a continuum at all of those three grade levels. The middle school IB program is relatively new, having only been added in 1994, about 25 years after the establishment of the original, high school IB program.

While overall IB middle school participation in the U.S. and worldwide is much smaller than it is at the high school level, growth in the middle school program has surged in recent years. IB officials say the number of authorized middle school IB programs in the U.S. has risen from an estimated 161 schools as of a few years ago to 283 in 2005 to 323 as of February of 2006. IB officials project that growth to increase to 453 middle school programs by 2008. (Schools go through an extensive preparation process in setting up IB.) Worldwide middle-school IB participation increased by an average of 23 percent between 2001 and 2006, while high school participation rose by about 9 percent a year.

For more information on the IB program at all grade levels, go to

Question from Frank Duffin, Executive Director, Latitudes in Learning:
There are already organizations like the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) TRAC program that helps integrate engineering projects into existing math curricula, and teaching strategies like Debate Across the Curriculum (DAC) that help scaffold critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Both of these practices, along with others that couple project-based learning with academic rigor, are powerful educational tools. But with recent budget cuts to Teacher Quality grants and to federal financial support for public education, what is being done on a policy level to systematize implementation?

Anthony P. Carnevale:
The primary focus of educational change in the U.S. over the past 20 years has moved away from applied subject matters, applied curriculum, and applied skills such as problem-solving. The essential focus of education reform since the Nation At Risk report and the standards movement has been the promotion of academic curriculum. Career and technical education and more applied skills have been missing in both content standards and assessments as they have developed at the state level. The primary focus of reform has been to include more students in a pre-college curriculum built around a hierarchy of academic disciplines taught in a sequence of increasing abstraction and difficulty. The academic focus of reform is understandable since the Nation At Risk report’s reforms in K-8 education have been the priority. But as the reform movement moves toward high schools and colleges, the relationships between schooling and the real world of work and citizenship will inevitably become more important. As a result, there is likely to be a good deal more attention paid to the applications of knowledge that make successful workers, successful citzens, and successful neighbors. We know that academic knowledge is only a small part of what is required in work and in life. For instance, every occupation requires not only knowledge but skills like problem-solving that are required to use knowledge to perform tasks. Jobs also require the development of a set of more-general abilities, such as the ability to communicate, innnovate, etc. And even beyond that, there are values associated with particular occupations. We don’t want dishonest lawyers and hard-hearted doctors.

Question from mike blake, vice principal/teacher, nevada union high school:
with only 25% of the population actually earning a 4 year degree, what steps are being taken so high school is more relevant to the vast majority of students who do not seek a 4 year degree? or, is this just another push to increase college enrollment?

Lynn Olson:
First, there’s a difference between students’ aspirations and their attainment. More than 90 percent of seniors say they plan to obtain some form of postsecondary education, but a far lower percentage actually earn a degree of any kind. So we probably need to do a better job preparing students so they can realize their goals. But there are a couple of other points. “Postsecondary education” for all is different than “four year college for all,” which is often how the current rhetoric gets translated. Rather than thinking about the goal as increasing college enrollment, the goal should probably be increasing college success. It’s pretty easy to enroll in nonselective or open-admission institutions. On your other point, there are a number of efforts now to make high schools more relevant, from creating smaller high schools with career themes to the High Schools That Work consortium, which is part of the Southern Regional Education Board. But, in general, I think the U.S. remains pretty conflicted about career education and its place in secondary schools.

Question from Christine Alger, Special Populations Coordinator, West Central Regional System, Quincy, IL:
Why does it seem that so many college graduates are not finding employment in their fields of expertise or getting the appropriate help from their institutions of higher learning to place them in careers that correlate to their educational degrees? Does this problem start at the secondary level with poor or no career education because of the emphasis on testing and NCLB standards? Is the United States missing the big picture of directing students throughout their educational years to excel both academically and vocationally because of a lack of a clear picture of what the economy needs in their workforce?

Lynn Olson:
We know that, in general, the signals employers send to secondary and postsecondary institutions about the knowledge and skills they need of graduates is pretty weak. That’s been true for a long time, but I think we’re seeing renewed attention to this issue. It’s also probably true that as more young people earn college degrees, just having a degree may not be enough: it also may matter what they earned those degrees in. The U.S. doesn’t have a stellar track record when it comes to career education, but that’s a problem that pre-dates NCLB.

Question from Kim Twarowski, Counselor, Shelby Junior Hig, Michigan:
The State of Michigan is currently proposing graduation requirements that include 4 years of math and 2 years of a foreign language. My concern is that some students are not developmentally ready for algebra as 9th graders, nor may they ever be ready. While I agree with stricter requirements, wouldn’t you agree that alternatives need to be adopted for the at-risk student? Special education students may never be able to learn a foreign language, and why should they? How can we keep strong requirements and at the same time allow for alternative learning?

Lynn Olson:
This is an issue that all states are struggling with as they move to increase high school graduation requirements. Clearly, there need to be supports in place to help students who enter high school behind to move toward the new standards. But the issue is particularly complex for students with disabilities who, as you know, are a very diverse group. While some worry that tougher diploma demands will boost the already high dropout rates for special education students, others worry that creating alternatives will lead to even weaker standards and a more watered-down curriculum for such students. When we focused on special education for the 2004 edition of Quality Counts, we found that while 39 states and the District of Columbia regulate the requirements for a standard diploma, 24 allow students with disabilities to graduate with a standard diploma even if they haven’t met the graduation requirements. If we’re going to move beyond one-size-fits-all high schools, we also might need to think about moving beyond one-size-fits-all ways of demonstrating knowledge and skills.

Question from Nancy Pray, Business Teacher, Kenmore East Highschool, Kenmore Tonawanda School District:
Should computer courses be required at the high school level to prepare students for the workforce.

Anthony P. Carnevale:
It has become commonplace in life and work to use both information and communication technology for a variety of purposes. Over time, the technology itself becomes more transparent and flexible. The technology continues to change faster than any specific knowledge of it can keep up. Theh real knowledge that’s required in the use of communication and information technology is much broader than the set of abilities required to operate devices and software. The competencies that are much more important are skills like problem-solving that allow individuals to use technology effectively. There are lots of people who can operate technical devices but have relatively undeveloped skills in using the technologies to solve work and life problems. The real question is not whether you can drive the car, but whether you know where you’re going and you figure out how to get there.

Question from JLB Lerner, American Youth Policy Forum:
What is the role of programs that actually allow students a jumpstart on college-level courses during high school such as AP, Tech Prep, dual enrollment, etc? If they are part of the answer, how can we ensure all students are qualified to participate/have access?

Lynn Olson:
There’s tremendous interest right now in expanding the availability of such programs, both to give students a “jump start” on college and to let them know, very concretely, what college expectations look like. But you’re right that there are lots of equity concerns, starting with whether all students have access to the middle school education that would prepare them for such coursework. Hilary Pennington of Jobs For the Future argues that if we want to ensure all students are qualified to participate and have access to these sorts of options, then we actually need to create special on-ramps for students most at risk. One example might be Early College High Schools that target students who might not have thought about college beforehand.

Question from John Seeley Shop Teacher Troy High School:
All I hear is more Math more Science more testing. In our shop and CAD program I see real learning and enthusiasm. Yet we seem to be the black sheep of the educational system; the necessary side bar for those “other” students who are not “4 year College bound”. What do you think?

Anthony P. Carnevale:
The bias against vocational or applied education in the Anglo Saxon countries is fundamental and nowhere is this more true than in the U.S. . As a result we have chronic shortages in competent occupationally trained workers and huge lost opporutnites among the non-college bound. The source of this problem is a profound and broadly based bias against “tracking”. As a result of attempts to build strong career and technical education system in the Anglo Saxon world always run up against deep cultural biases. Even if we build it, they don’t want to come.

Because many of the broad skills, abilities, styles and values required in jobs remain unmeasured, employers presume those with the highest level of degree training and those from the most selective programs are more likely to either have these assets or have the greatest potential to develop them. This is why:

Employers are often willing to pass up a student with specific career and technical education in order to hire a student with a BA; and students avoid career and technical programs in favor of the college track.

The one hopeful sign is that the bias applies more to K-12 than postsecondary education. People are willing to enroll in career and technical training programs as long as it is called “college”.

One of the best kept secrets in the American education system is that postsecondary education system is our workforce development system. The majority of students step off the disciplinary hierarchy in math, the sciences, English, and the humanities after high school. In postsecondary education, the vast majority of students avoid the academic silos of math, science, and the humanities in favor of vocational curricula with a more applied focus such as business, engineering, and K-12 teaching.

Of the more than 1.3 milion bachelor’s degrees conferred in a single year in the US, only 33,000 are conferred in the liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities. There are about 12,000 bachelor’s degrees awarded in math butthere are 233,000 bachelor’s degrees awarded in business; 17,000 bachelor’s degrees awarded in parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies; 50,000 in communications; 52,000 in the visual and performing arts; 17,000 in home economics; and 25,000 in protective services. The same pattern is reinforced in the expansion in applied sub-baccalaureate associate degrees, certificates, certifications, and customized training. Of the more than 600,000 associate degrees conferred, only 115,000 are conferred in the liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities. The rest are all in occuaptional prorams.

The current consensus is that the essential value of career and technical education in secondary schools is its use as an on ramp to postsecondary institutions.

Question from Barbara Mattes, Business Ed Dept Chair, Hewlett-Woodmere Public Schools:
The School to Careers and Career Development standards do exist but since they are not tested or reported as a way to rate schools, they are not being done. These activities add the real world opportunities. Local businesses can support some of the efforts. Is there some way to mandate career education, planning and financial literacy in high school? Testing these skills may not be as necessary as long as it is reported and measured in some way.

Lynn Olson:
It’s easy to mandate things, harder to make them happen in a way that really benefits students. Many states are now working to improve their data collection and reporting systems. Certainly, having better data on what happens to high school students after they graduate--whether they go on to work or postsecondary education and training--would help.

Question from Brian McKeon, Program Analyst, CSC:
How do we convince business to invest in education? Currently they do not see the value because they feel the students they help today will not necessarily work for them in the future. But business leaders are aware that it is increasingly difficult to find qualified employees (i.e., can speak, read and calculate).

Anthony P. Carnevale:
We probably cannot afford all the education we need. At least some college seems to be the threshold requirement for jobs with middle income wages and status. Getting all Americans to that level would be financially onerous. About 60% of us make to that level now. It would probably cost a lot me than we can afford to move all Americans to that level. And because the new investments would be in students who don’t currently qualify for college that cost would be astronomical.

It seems clear that effficiency improvements will be required. The accountability movement is essentially an attempt at inspiring those efficiency improvements. As a result in the future we can probably expect more regulation and more deregualtion. Increased regualtion will likely come in the form of outcome standards to drive cost efficiency throughout education. also the use of wage records to tie secondary and postsecondary edication to employablity outcomes.

We can also expect more deregulation to inspire greater public and private competition in Prek-16 at the same time. Additional legislative changes are likely to focus on increasing alignment in the pre-K-16 system and , I believe, between the education system and the labor market. Much of this can be done with data systems that track isntitutions, students and outcomes.

No doubt it will continue to be a bumpy ride.

Question from Kimberly A. Cairns; Elementary Educator; Erie County Schools, Erie, PA:
With the ever-increasing amount of material to be learned; don’t you think that American schools will

to increase the length of the school year? So many other foreign countries have longer school days or longer school years (or both.) This change has already creeped into some Florida schools and schools in Pittsburgh, PA.

Lynn Olson:
As you know, talk about increasing the length of the school year or moving to year-round schooling generates strong feelings, both positive and negative. Back in 1994, a national commission on time and learning produced a report, “Prisoners of Time,” that called for both a longer school day and year and a more productive use of the time students already spend in school. More than a decade later, we’re still having the same debate.

Question from Barb McWethy, Literacy Specialist, Kalamazoo County Head Start:
What role do you see Early Childhood Education playing in preparing US students for both further education and entering the workforce?

Lynn Olson:
There’s a growing body of evidence that investments in early childhood education are worthwhile and that high-qualtiy programs, in particular, are associated with better school readiness, less need for remedial or special education services, etc. But even the best high-quality programs for 4-year-olds can’t be thought about as one-time “innoculations” that are somehow going to equip kids for life. That’s why many people are starting to talk about developing a strong education system, Pre-K-16.

Question from Alfred F. Dugan, III, Moderator / Teacher, Delbarton School:
How do you view the need for innovative global problem solving (i.e. - global warming, global poverty, education for all, combating terror, etc.) coinciding with the urgent concern for America’s global competitiveness relative to current educational standards and curriculum guidelines?

Anthony P. Carnevale:
There is good reason for concern over maintaining the balance between educations economic, cultural and political roles. Since the early seventies, with the gradual disapperance of the blue collar economy and the rise of the knowledge economy, the economic role of education has been ascending. Education, especially access to postsecondary education, has become a key asset in national competitiveness and the principal arbiter of individal economic opportunity.

Americans welcome our increasing reliance on education because, in theory, it allows us to expand opportunity without surrendering individual responsibility. After all, we each have to do our own homework to make the grades and ace the tests. Because it promises opportunity based on individual merit, education has become the nation?s increasingly popular alternative to an expansion in the welfare state.

Fair enough? Not really. In a society where people start out unequal, educational attainment measured by test scores and grades can become a dodge?a way of laundering the found money that comes with being born into the right bank account or the right race.

The growing importance of education’s economic role emphasizes the use of the pre-k-16 system for sorting the nations population according to their educational and economic potential. The sorting function of American education is brutally efficient. In pre-K-12 education students are organized by race and socioeconomic class into neighborhoods. Educational resources among and within schools tend to be distributed inversely with income and minority status. The great sorting occurs at the interface between high school, college and labor markets. There is further sorting by selectivity of colleges and college curriculums. Ultimately those with the most college and college selectivy have access to jobs that further enahnce to their earnings advantages and status. They are tracked into jobs with the most potential for on the job learning and with the most productive technologies - technologies that complement rather than substitute fortheir skills. Hence their human capital advantages accumulate from Pre-k-college and into labor markets. Their labor market earnings affords them access to neighborhoods where the advantaged cluster - ensuring that the the self reinforcing cycle of intergenerational race and class reproduction begins anew.

In addition to emphasizing the sorting functions of education, the growing economic role of schooling theatens other forms of educational value: the intrinsic value of knowedge; learning for pleasure; learning for individual development; learning for the sake of being a good citizen of the nation and the world; learning for developing personal and professional values and all the other non-economic reasons for learning.

Having railed against the growing econoimic role of education for a bit , let me conclude by saying I am all for it. Why? Because the growing reliance on education is the one idea that all Americans in the red and blue states agree on. The relationship between education and economic opportunity is the most widely supported and empirically sound policy narrative in the American public dialogue. Because of its broad acceptance it also provides the most legitimate and compelling context for promoting racial and economic justice and for pursuing broader cultural and political goals.

Moreover, we can no longer ignore the alignment between education and careers. Ours is a society where men, women and youth are now fully mobilized at work. Hence, if secondary and postsecondary educators cannot fulfill their economic mission to help youths and adults become successful workers, they also will fail in their cultural and political missions to create good neighbors and good citizens. Those who are not equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to get, and keep, good jobs are denied full economic and social inclusion and tend to drop out of the mainstream culture, polity, and economy. In the worst cases, they are drawn into alternative cultures, political movements, and economic activities that are a threat to mainstream American life.

Question from belinda J. Wilkerson, Counselor-in-Residence, Providence College:
What do you see as the role of student support personnel (school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists)in helping students “bridge the gap” between high school and the world of work?

Anthony P. Carnevale:
An essential difference between students who succeed and students who don’t is the difference in social capital. Social capital is the support that individual students get from parents, teachers, counselors, and communities. The most-affluent students tend to have the highest levels of social capital. The performance of lower-income students tends to suffer for want of social capital. For example, we know that lower-income and upper-income students, when tested at a very early age, tend to have very similar distributions of innate abilities. But when low-income students are tested in high school, we find that there is no statistical relationship between their innate abilities and their developed abilities at that time. In other words, low-income students never get the chance to be all they can be. By way of contrast, the best predictor of the developed abilities of upper-income students when they are in high school is their innate ability measured when they were children. One way to compensate for these differences in social capital is to provide counseling and other kinds of support. In the U.S., these supports are woefully inadequate.

Question from Cherri White, Teacher, Copper Hills High School:
2 part question a. What are the specific skills and what knowledge do you feel our graduating seniors need to have?

b. What structures best meet those needs?

Anthony P. Carnevale:

The relationship between education and economic success is black box at the center of the American opportunity debate. Currently transitions between education and careers are driven altogether too much by one-dimensional measures of academic attainment and achievement, even though we know with increasing statistical rigor that career success is driven by a multi-dimensional set of core competencies.

Our knowedge of the actual relationships between learned and developed competencdies and occupations has been greatly enhanced in the past decaede with the completion and ongoiing developmnt of the O*Net Data base- the modern version of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. The O*Net data base throws open the black box. It allows us to connect education outcomes with key occupational competencies including occupational knowledge, skills, abilities, interests, styles, values, contexts, tasks and activities. O*Net provides rigorous validation of multiple intelligences, articulates the utility of liberal education, redefines the notion of educational adequacy and suggests new competencies for testing and new venues for learning.

Using O*Net is the most promising path available toward greater efficiency and equity in matching students to careers. Our current inability to align labor markets and the education pipeline also discourages equity and upward mobility. When they first meet job applicants who are recent school graduates, employers only know basic educational attainment and institutional selectivity of the school or program they attended. But, the jobs actually require a complex set of competencies that are not reflected in academic credentials.

Employers respond to this basic information problem by using educational credentials as one dimensional and indirect measures of potential and as simple proxies for a much broader set of occupational competencies?knowledge, skills, abilities, styles, values and interests. I am currently involved in a large project usijng the )*Net Data base from the USDOL to identify and measure competencies (knowledge, skills and abilities), work values, work styles; and work interests and their relationships to education and earnings. Here is a summary version of our classification.

Knowledge: Discrete sets of facts and principles used on the job.

Knowledge Classifications Math Social Science Science Medicine Engineering Education Law Management and Business Administration Information Technology Arts and Humanities

Skill: A skill is the ability to perform tasks.

Skill Classifications Problem Solving Skills Technology and Computer Skills Learning Skills Leadership and Management Skills Effective Communication Skills Service Skills Mechanical Skills

Ability: A developed aptitude that can help a person do a job.

Ability Classifications Mathematical Analysis Innovative Creativity Multi-Tasking Perceptive Pattern Awareness Oral and Written Expression Category Flexibility Memory Sensory Physical Ability Detailed Abilities Mathematical Analysis Mathematical reasoning Number facility Innovative Fluency of Ideas Problem Sensitivity Deductive reasoning Inductive reasoning Creativity Originality Time Sharing Perceptive Speed of Closure Flexibility of Closure Perceptual Speed Spatial Orientation Visualization Pattern Awareness Selective Attention

Interest: Individual approach to performing occupational functions.

Interest Classifications Realistic Artistic Investigative Social Enterprising Conventional Detailed Interest

Work Value: The worth derived from performing a job.

Work Value Classifications Achievement Working Conditions Recognition Relationships Support Independence Work Value Detailed Achievement Achievement Ability Utilization Working Conditions Activity Independence Variety Compensation Security Working conditions Recognition Advancement Recognition Authority Co-workers Social status Relationships Co-workers Social service Moral values

Work Style: A personal characteristic that can affect how well someone does a job.

Work Style Classifications Creative Reliable Team Player Independent Adaptable Detailed Work Style Creative Innovation Analytical Thinking Initiative Achievement/Effort Reliable Dependability Integrity Leadership Attention to detail Team Player Cooperation Concern for others Social orientation Independent Independence Adaptable Self control Stress Tolerance Adaptability/Flexibility Persistence

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for this important discussion about how K-12 schools can better prepare students for college and careers. And a special thanks to our guests for taking the time to answer your questions. This chat is now over. A transcript of the discussion will be posted shortly on

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