This week, more than 400 educators, researchers, business leaders, economists, and civic stakeholders convened at Harvard University to consider the possibility of expanding career pathways in school systems across the country. The catalyst for the conference was the February 2011 report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) titled, Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century.
Many attendees made the case that the United States can no longer ignore the huge mismatch that exists between the skills students learn in school and the needs of the modern workforce. Several speakers noted that the college-for-all movement has led to widespread dropouts within high school and postsecondary education, college graduates lacking the skills required by employers, and a lack of workers with the high-tech skills essential to the economic development of the United States. Instead, evidence was presented that career pathways prepare all students to be career and college ready and can lead students to higher levels of success as adults. Relevant career pathways open up options for students that the traditional high school and college systems cannot or have not provided in the past.
Ronald Ferguson and William Symonds of the HGSE Pathways to Prosperity Project challenged each person in attendance to submit the steps that they or their organizations will take to advance the Pathways to Prosperity concept. During the conference, attendees shared their strategies, commitments, and experiences for expanding the Multiple Pathways approach. Some see the need to prepare career-ready students as an economic issue, some see it as an issue of equity or social justice, and others view it as a national security issue. Regardless of the philosophical orientation, the participants in the many panels agreed that a more relevant, engaging, and pragmatic approach is needed to prepare students for employment and careers.
Given that students are competing globally with graduates from other countries, it was emphasized that students must acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to help innovate and create new technologies and approaches. Without commitments from business and education to change local, state, and national policies and systems, there is doubt that the full economic potential of our country or wide-spread sustainable wages can be attained in the foreseeable future.
Many presentations supported Career Technical Education (CTE) as an essential foundational element of creating the pathways needed to truly transform education systems. To assist in moving the pathways movement forward, Ferguson announced the creation of the Pathways to Prosperity Network. The network is “a collaboration between the Pathways to Prosperity Project at HGSE, Jobs for the Future (JFF), and six states focused on ensuring that many more young people complete high school, attain a postsecondary credential with currency in the labor market, and launch into a career while leaving open the prospect of further education.”
Patrick Ainsworth, Ed.D., NASDCTEc Past President