School & District Management Opinion

College- and Career-Ready: Job Security in the Real World

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — June 30, 2016 4 min read
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The term ‘college- and career-ready’ has already become part of educators’ long list of short-hand terms that waft into an oblivion rendering them somewhat meaningless. They once stood for something, but over time, a shared definition dissolves and a label without substance occupies the agenda and our thinking. From the US Department of Education, in an effort to prepare all students to be college and career ready, the new ESEA was to:

  • Raise standards for all students in English language arts and mathematics
  • Develop better assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards
  • Implement a complete education through improved professional development and evidence-based instructional models and supports

These are sound ideas and certainly support becoming college- and career-ready. We think this is a halfway mark.

What is missing, and what cannot be legislated, is the heart of the work of schools. While others develop these shared standards that serve schools across our country, on the ground, schools receive children who are self-starters, well prepared, motivated and present. At the same time, they also receive children who are poor, hungry, ill prepared, unmotivated, troubled, and some, disabled. Our goal is to have them all ready. We cannot do this alone.

Partnerships Can Help
We have written often about the value of partnerships. In our research for the book The STEM Shift we found that schools and districts that were engaged in becoming 21st century teaching and learning institutions, they all did it with business and higher education partners. Advantages ran the gamut from offering services, authentic learning opportunities for students and teachers, support in grant applications, making contributions to curricula and assessments, and most importantly, the opportunity for teachers and students to experience the application of what is being taught in schools in the real world in which they are used. What better experience for an English teacher at any grade to partner with an author, editor, or publisher, who can offer the insights and opportunities in the world of written communication to students? What better experience for science, math, technology, and art teachers to have access to research labs in which experiments that can include their students, are being recorded in words and pictures for publication?

To be college- and career-ready, graduates need to be knowledgeable about job security, personnel issues, and their rights. They need to know, really, about job insecurity, and for most in education, that is not familiar. Many states offer tenure to their teachers and leaders and contracts for their superintendents.

Richard D. Kahlenberg wrote in “How Due Process Protects Teachers and Students”

Teacher tenure began in New Jersey in 1909.25 Why was it first adopted? From the critics of tenure, one might imagine teacher tenure being dreamed up by union “hacks” figuring out a way to protect incompetent members. But in fact, tenure rights came out of the progressive good-government movement as a way to improve the quality of teaching and education for children. New Jersey’s law drew on the well-regarded Prussian education system and was backed by Harvard President Charles William Eliot in New York City, Dana Goldstein writes, “as a clean government reform after decades of politically influenced teacher appointments, in which schools were part of the patronage machine.” Education historian Diane Ravitch notes that before tenure was adopted in New York City, ward officers could dismiss an entire staff of qualified teachers and replace them with their own choices. With tenure, as former AFT President Albert Shanker noted, “An elected politician can’t say, ‘I’m going to fire you because you didn’t support me in the last election.' "

The intention of tenure makes sense, especially to those who understand the value of developing and maintaining school culture through the advantage of a stable faculty. The result, however is the majority of the profession has little or no experience about what it is like to work in an environment in which employees are “at will.”

A majority of employees in the United States are “at will” employees. What this means is that you can fire these employees at any time and for any reason, so long as the reason is not discriminatory, retaliatory or otherwise illegal. (Findlaw.com)

There are jobs, many of them, from which one can be fired, at any time, for any reason with little or no recourse. How can educators prepare students for an experience that is foreign to them? It can be an academic lesson, certainly, but students, to be prepared, need a dose of reality that is not part of their experience. Maybe when a student is expelled, the effect is getting fired as a student. But in the ‘real world’ of work, rule bending or breaking can be cause for losing a job, as can disrespect for a supervisor, or simply not functioning as a respectful, contributing member of a team.

The fact is, people lose their jobs all the time. We focus on downsizing or the economy in general as the genesis. But, in fact, it can also be the decision of one boss, one leader, who decides to let an employee go. It can be personal and unsubstantiated. So, behavior on the job, awareness of the value of respect and professionalism becomes different when the stakes are that high. Is it best to leave students with a warning that this is so? Or is this lesson worthy of more attention with real voices from the field? Business partners certainly are one answer.

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Illustration by Keith Bell courtesy of 123rf

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.