State Superintendent visits RCA (Oct. 9, 2011)
State education officials will be converging at Rockdale Career Academy Wednesday to kickoff the state-wide “career clusters” initiative that will reshape the graduation pathways for Georgia’s high school students.
State Superintendent John Barge will give an overview of the initiative at tomorrow’s kickoff, followed by breakout groups for each of the 17 Career Clusters. Advisory members will discuss the development of Georgia’s 17 Career Clusters and their respective pathways.
The event is open to the public and will begin at 4 p.m.
Barge described the career pathways when he visited RCA in October.
Students will now choose a "career cluster," starting in ninth grade, that would lead them through the classes they need to either go on to a two-year or four-year college or to go straight into a job. This steps away from the previous path that prepared all students for four-year college.
Out of the students that do drop out, many do so because they don’t see a connection between school and life, Barge said.
“They see high school as unrelentingly boring and not relevant to what they want to do,” said Barge. “They don’t see a connection between school and a career.”
To address this, House Bill 186, signed into law last year, will require high school students to have a career pathway starting in ninth grade, to help determine what tests students will need to take and what classes would be beneficial.
It would also help students start thinking about their careers before they head off to a pricey four-year university or get stuck in a job they end up hating, he said.
"We can do a much better job preparing students for post-secondary," Barge said. "Any parent will tell you that college is the most expensive career development."
For example, Barge said, an education major might not do his student teaching until his senior year in college only to find out he doesn't like being in a classroom.
Other states are trying similar programs, though Georgia would be among the first to make career clusters a requirement for getting a high school diploma, said Dean Folkers, deputy executive director at the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium. The consortium has helped states like Florida, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Colorado implement career training programs in the past few years, he said.
"Many states use career clusters, but Georgia is taking it another step," Folkers said. "It's not about redoing career technical education for those kids. It's about embracing it for all and realizing we all are ultimately preparing for a career and college is a vehicle to get there."
If passed, Georgia's plan would go into effect for entering high school freshmen next fall.
Under Georgia's plan, students would take the same general core of classes with basics like algebra, English and history. At the end of their sophomore year, students would choose a cluster to determine what advanced classes they take.
For example, a student in the health sciences career cluster wanting to be a certified nursing assistant would take nutrition and wellness, chemistry and physical science — and go straight into a job after graduation. A student wanting to be a doctor would take Advanced Placement biology, physics and biotechnology and go to a four-year college.
Students who change their minds can switch between clusters throughout high school, said Mike Buck, chief academic officer at the Georgia Department of Education. And no matter what their post-high school plans are, all students will graduate eligible for college, Buck said.
"If we can pull this off, then we're going to save a lot of kids and we're also going to get a lot of kids plugged into careers they enjoy," Buck said. "The kids hanging in there until they turn 16 where school may not have always been a lot of fun for them, we get them on a job site where they see how they're going to apply this."
Students would have an internship during their junior or senior year in the career field they've chosen, giving them a chance to see what welding is like or to work in a hospital with medical professionals. And they'll have teachers as advisers to help guide them throughout their four years of high school — relieving guidance counselors who are stretched thin across the state with a ratio of one counselor for every 450 students, Buck said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.