It's easy enough to say that schools are supposed to prepare students for life, but what kind of life are we preparing students for? How can schools ensure that students have equality of opportunity without requiring that they all pursue the same goals? Which skills and dispositions are essential for all graduates? And what can schools do to raise students' awareness of the many college and career options available to them? The April 2012 Educational Leadership on "College, Careers, Citizenship" offers a variety of perspectives on readying students for life after high school.
The Road to College
For many, the goal of a high school education is to prepare for college. But not all students leave high school ready for college. Some meet the requirements for college entry but don't earn ever a degree. What can high schools do to improve students' chances of graduation from college? Is college even the best goal for all students?
- Many students want to go to college, but getting into college is only one step. They also have to stay in college—and pay for it. In "One Degree of Separation" (p. 16), Jean Johnson explores the opportunity, awareness, and economic gaps that keep many students from securing a postsecondary degree or credential. Johnson asks five fundamental questions about what educators and policymakers can do (pp. 20–21). How would you answer these questions? What additional questions would you add?
- Linda Murray, in "Gateways, Not Gatekeepers," describes how the San Jose Unified School District in California raised its graduation requirements to match the minimum entry requirements of California's public universities. How well do your district's requirements align with university entrance requirements? What would you need to do to raise the floor for students in your district? (See Murray's suggestions on p. 64 for ideas on where you might start.)
- Although several authors in this issue discuss the importance of college readiness for all, in "Pathways to Prosperity" (p. 35), William C. Symonds states that a focus on college to the exclusion of other postsecondary college demeans the middle-level careers that might be fulfilling roads to success for many. What do you think of Symonds's argument? What kinds of career options are emphasized at your school?
Preparing for Citizenship
Whatever path students choose, they will need to know how to be responsible citizens. But in many schools, civics education is on the back burner, leaving students without the knowledge they need to participate responsibly and effectively in the political and governmental system. In "Failing Liberty 101" (p. 22), William Damon calls U.S. educators to take up their historic responsibility to prepare students for their role as citizens of a democracy.
- What skills and knowledge do you believe students need to be responsible citizens? How might you help students grow in these areas?
- Damon argues that the trend toward global citizenship has led many schools to neglect the importance of instilling national pride in students. What are the benefits and drawbacks of instilling national pride among students? How can schools deal with this tension?
- Damon cites the teaching of the civil rights movement as an opportunity to teach students to be citizens who think critically about their nation but who also have a civic purpose. What other historic events might teach similar lessons?
- If students learn best by doing, schools also need to create opportunities for students to participate in the political process. In "Civics for All" (p. 70), Web Hutchins describes how his students have researched bills under consideration by the state legislature and then traveled to the state capital to make their case for or against these bills. What opportunities might you create for students?
Changing Student Trajectories
In "Finding Pivotal Moments" (p. 56), Roberta Espinoza tells the stories of students whose lives were changed by teachers who intervened at critical moments to encourage them. One student, Blanca, remembers a teacher who insisted that she take honors classes when she didn't see herself as an honors student. Another, Terry, tells of a teacher who worked on her behalf to make sure she could attend a school that challenged her academically.
- Have you had any experiences like those described in this article, either as a student as a teacher? If you were a student, what did the teacher do to inspire you? If you were a teacher, what led you to take action, what did you do, and what happened as a result?
- What do you see as some of the challenges to creating these kinds of moments for students? How might you deal with some of these challenges?
- Think about the students in your classes might benefit from a pivotal moment like the ones Blanca and Terry describe? What steps might you take to create such moments for one of them? (See Espinoza's suggestions on p. 58 for a starting point.)