Does Your State Have a Good Plan to Ensure Students Are Career-Ready?

By Catherine Gewertz — July 06, 2017 3 min read
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The Every Student Succeeds Act offers states an opportunity to make plans that will build career readiness into their school systems. How are they doing with that so far? Pretty good in some ways, and not so good in others. That’s the finding of a new analysis of states’ ESSA plans.

A study released Thursday examines the plans submitted this spring by 16 states and the District of Columbia, and finds some nice career-focused work, especially on accountability, but also a host of missed opportunities.

The fact that experts are studying states’ plans to build career readiness represents a significant shift from recent years, when the “career” part of the “college-and-career-readiness” buzz-phrase typically got overlooked.

In the wake of the Great Recession, and soaring levels of college debt, many have begun to question the value of four-year degrees, and states are focusing much more on making sure students have the skills to earn a good living. High school career and technical education is getting renewed attention as a way to build work skills and a pathway that includes postsecondary training or college study.

So what are states doing to build the “career” part of “college and career readiness” into their systems? Advance CTE, an organization of state CTE leaders, and Education Strategy Group, a Washington consulting firm, examined Round 1 of states’ ESSA plans to answer that question. By examining the first group of plans, the two groups hope to influence the plans submitted in Round 2 this fall, and to pressure states to turn good ideas into concrete commitments.

“There are clear opportunities for states to leverage ESSA to bring the ‘career’ in college and career readiness to life for all students ... We encourage states to draw on stakeholder input—which often surfaced a desire for stronger systems of career preparation—to design and implement more concrete strategies related to career readiness,” the report says.

Career Readiness: What Are States’ Plans?

The new report evaluates plans through four key sections of ESSA that lend themselves to building career readiness: its accountability provisions; the block grant under Title IV that’s meant to support a “well-rounded education,” teacher professional-development opportunities in Title II, and “direct student services.”

Accountability is the tool most states chose as a lever to produce career-readiness. Eleven of the 17 states that submitted plans in Round 1 built some kind of career readiness measure into their accountability systems, and three more said they planned to do so soon.

The report noted that no state chose to do this through its academic standards (though Colorado and Tennessee are working on it), something the authors consider “a significant missed opportunity.” But states did include various measures of career readiness in the way they’ll judge schools. North Dakota, for instance, created a profile of a “choice-ready” high school graduate that blends college-level expectations with career-focused work or plans to enter the military.

Fifteen states also used the “well-rounded education” provision, saying that federal money should support local CTE, but half were pretty vague about their plans, the report said. The money from this block grant flows to districts, but states can influence how it’s spent. Massachusetts was among the more-specific in its plans for this money: it will use the grant money to support students’ movement through nontraditional CTE pathways.

States didn’t make much use of the other ESSA provisions for leverage, though. Only two took advantage of Title II’s professional-development money for integrating career and technical education into academic instruction, and those states described their ideas, but didn’t commit money to them.

The report has a breakdown of each state’s plans in the four areas of ESSA the authors examined. Check out the details and see how your state’s plan—or its draft plan, still in the making—stacks up.

For more on measuring career readiness, see:

Should Schools Test the ‘Career’ Half of College and Career Readiness?

Is DeVos Sending Mixed Messages on Advanced Courses and Accountability?

Image: Istockphoto

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.