Starting in the fall of 2012, ninth graders will sit down with guidance counselors and parents to map out not just their classes but their “career pathway” during and after high school. Georgia is rolling out an intensified “career clusters” initiative that will make high school look more like college in an effort to better prepare students for careers after high school.
The initiative is among the actions mandated by HB 186, signed into law this year, and the “Bridge Bill” HB 400, signed last year. Its goal is to “make school relevant,” according to State Superintendent Dr. John Barge.
“This doesn’t change our curriculum at all,” said Barge during the state-wide Career Clusters kickoff and workshops held at Rockdale Career Academy last month. “We’re not changing standards. We’re not changing anything about the rigor level. It’s an organizational model to ensure that students are taking the appropriate coursework to prepare them for post-secondary success.”
April Fallon, Rockdale County Public Schools Director of Community and Student Support, said “I think of it planning backwards. Students have to think ‘Where do I want to end up? Do I plan to go to a technical college, do I plan to go to a four-year college?’”
RCA’s Career Technical Academic Education head Roger Ivey said in many ways, RCPS is ahead of the curve.
RCA currently offers career clusters similar to most of the federal clusters; career clusters have been part of Georgia’s CTAE landscape since 1999. The majority of RCPS high school students take some sort of course at RCA by the time they graduate, and many even take double pathways. And Rockdale’s three public high schools also offer CTAE classes and pathways within the home schools, such engineering, family and consumer sciences, and business administration.
RCPS Chief Academic Officer Rich Autry said, “As far as the career tech path, we are ahead of the game. Many of our pathways have been expanded due to the fact we have a career academy.”
How it works
Much like college, the first two years would be similar for most high schoolers, with core classes filling their schedules. After 10th grade, students would start taking more career pathway specific courses.
Georgia is starting with 17 Career Clusters, taken off the federal career clusters model, but the state has the option to add more or adjust the federal categories to fit Georgia.
The current clusters are: Agriculture/food/natural resources, architecture and construction, arts/audio-video/communications, business management and administration, education and training, finance, health sciences, hospitality/tourism, human services, information technology, law/public safety/security, manufacturing, government and public administration, marketing/sales/service, science/technology/engineering/mathematics, transportation/distribution/logistics, and energy.
However, there would be multiple “pathways” offered within each cluster. For instance, within the architecture and construction cluster, there might be pathways for design and preconstruction, construction, and maintenance and operations. Even within a pathway, the set of classes a student takes might differ depending if they were aiming for a job that required a four-year degree or a two-year degree.
Ga. Chief Academic Officer Mike Buck said, “There’ll be a standard set of career clusters and career pathways within those clusters for the state, but not every school district will offer every cluster and pathway.”
For instance there might be a maritime logistics pathway offered in Savannah but not in landlocked parts of the state.
One thing that will be common state-wide is the tool used to track the career plans – GaCollege411, a website already run by the Georgia Student Finance Commission.
What RCPS students might see that is different starting next fall is more organized, focus discussion about careers starting at an earlier age.
In order to prepare students to choose a pathway by high school, discussion about careers would begin in elementary school with “career awareness” and deepen during middle school with “career exploration.” By eighth, students would map out an Individual Graduation Plan on GACollege411.
“So by the time they get to the ninth grade, they can make a pretty educated decision about an area of interest for them,” said Barge.
Questions and undetermined details
Fallon said she knows parents may be concerned their children aren’t ready to decide on such things.
“People say, high school kids can’t make that kind of decision yet. I understand that,” she said. “But I think what’s important, by going through this type of pathway, the soft skills they gain, you transfer that no matter what you do.”
Barge said students would still have flexibility to switch between clusters, particularly during the first two years of high school.
Ga. Department of Education spokesperson Matt Cardoza said the pathways aren’t meant to lock a student into a career but rather to expose them and help determine early on what they do and don’t want to do. This helps avoid wasting expensive years in college headed in the wrong direction.
Cardoza said the language of how the pathways would figure into graduation requirements is still being worked out.
Currently, RCPS students are required to either take three successive years in a CTAE pathway or a more humanities based courses such as foreign language or arts to graduate, according to Ivey.
Many of the details on the pathways within the clusters are still being hashed out, but the first course in each pathway will be determined by fall 2012 so students can begin.
The clusters/pathway reorganization would be carried out with existing state funding and CTAE funding, which is driven through federal Perkins dollars doled out through a formula.
“Is there a huge pot of money to do this? No,” said Buck. But, he pointed out, “All economic recovery is going to be tied with our boys and girls.”
During the kickoff, Barge highlighted a recent Harvard study, “Pathway to Prosperity,” and other interviews that showed there was a disconnect between what employers needed in employees and what school systems were producing.
At the kickoff event, construction industry representative Ricky Vickery said they were struggling to fill jobs for skilled craftsmen, even in the recession, because of a lack of skilled personnel.
“For the last 20, 25 years, not a lot of people coming out of schools have gone into the construction, developing the skills to learn the trade,” Vickery said. “The Hispanic labor force has filled that void, and that’s dwindling somewhat. When we go to look for skilled craftsmen, they’re not there. The average age for a skilled worker is around 57, 58 years old. They’re all retiring out of it. Nobody went into it for the last 20, 25 years. We’ve got a big gap there.”
John Reagan, a law enforcement educator at North Cobb High School, pointed out the unemployment rates for skilled personnel was about 3 percent – much lower than the national average. “The idea is to give these kids a skill and it helps their opportunity for employment. In law enforcement in Cobb County, they’re out 25 officers… In the Atlanta Police Department, there are 200 openings any given time.”
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Career planning early on:
6th grade – take a career assessment or interest inventory
7th grade – take a career assessment or interest inventory, explore at least three careers concentrations/clusters
8th grade – explore at least three occupations, complete an Individual Graduation Plan (lists the student’s high school coursework 9-10th based on his or her career interest)
9th grade – investigate and record at least three additional occupations, update IGP
10th grade – made aware of dual enrollment opportunities (earning college credit in high school); update IGP
11th grade – explore and save in portfolios at least three possible choices of postsecondary institutions that match their IGP, update IGP; begin taking career pathway specific classes
12th grade – identify next step after graduation in their electronic portfolio: 4-year institute, 2-year institute, apprenticeship, military, technical college, special purpose [vocational] school, or workforce; update IGP