College & Workforce Readiness

Grappling With the Definition of Career Readiness

By Catherine Gewertz — June 25, 2012 2 min read
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You don’t need me to tell you that college and career readiness have been a couple of the big buzzwords driving education policy in the last few years. The common standards, now adopted by all but four states, and the common tests being crafted for those standards, both aim to get students ready for training beyond high school, and for good jobs.

Defining what those two kinds of readiness mean, however, and getting the necessary consensus behind those definitions, are pretty thorny tasks. As I reported last week, K-12 and higher education are coming together in new ways, through the two assessment consortia, to talk about all this stuff. But the discussions show the inherent tensions in the work. While there may be a Venn-diagram-like overlap in these two worlds’ views, they are not mirrors of each other. I saw this quite clearly at the board meeting of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, one of the two state assessment consortia.

And in the discussions of college readiness, career readiness tends to take a back seat. Just about every time I’ve walked into a room of advocates and policymakers talking about this stuff, they’re talking about college readiness. Sometimes they touch on career readiness; most times they skip it altogether. Often, they say that the conversations are pretty much the same thing: that there is a “core” of skills that young people need to succeed in postsecondary education or good jobs.

So does that mean that a definition of “college readiness” includes career readiness? Is there need for a separate, distinct definition, so that employers, or postsecondary career-related programs know what students’ test results mean?

At least week’s PARCC meeting, the handouts acknowledged the importance of a career-readiness definition, and said that it requires engaged discussion with the business and career-and-tech-ed communities. The conversation, however, focused only on college readiness, characterizing it—in a draft definition—as being prepared to succeed in certain entry-level, credit-bearing college courses. The only ones sitting around the table were K-12 and higher ed officials; no one from the business or CTE worlds.

At a break in the discussion, I asked PARCC folks about the invisibility of the other ‘C’ in their name. They plan to have parallel discussion about a definition of career readiness with business and CTE leaders, they told me. But they don’t expect the common assessments to be something that’s used by employers hiring kids right out of high school.

Instead, they envision those scores being used by an array of postsecondary training and education programs. What, in other words, would a yet-to-be-determined cutoff score connote for students who wish to pursue career-related postsecondary programs? This could mean certificates, associate degrees, and/or bachelor’s degrees further down the line. What, precisely, will the test results say about whether students have the right mix of skills and knowledge for a sub-baccalaureate degree in the medical field, for instance? How about one in the hospitality industry?

Finding consensus on a definition of career readiness could prove as tricky, if not trickier, than crafting one on college readiness. Imagine replacing the K-12 and higher-ed dialogue of last week with a roundtable of K-12, business, career-tech, and postsecondary folks, and try to imagine the shaded area in a Venn diagram of conversation about career readiness among all of them.

What will they agree on as a definition of career readiness?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.