- Burnsville High School in Minnesota is in its second year of offering a new pathway approach to high school education, partnering with about 200 local businesses and industries to help students find their career passions and carve out courses that will best prepare them for those goals, Education Week reports.
- A staff member is charged with the creation and support of these local business partnerships, and the school has rewritten its course catalog so all elective classes fall into four broad career areas with three to four pathways allowing students to navigate through courses that support their goals.
- While the goal of the program is to improve graduation rates, help students understand their broader career options, and improve college and career success, the program has seen mixed results so far: 40% of students reported that the approach helped them better focus on career goals, while 60% have not even tried the career-pathway courses so far.
The Burnsville High School experiment is another example of an innovative way schools are seeking to improve graduation rates and better prepare students for the more specialized demands of the current job market. According to a 2013 New York Times article, a large survey of high school dropouts revealed that “about half cited uninteresting classes as a major reason for their decision. Four out of five said they wished they’d had more opportunity to do real-world learning in high school.”
One of the best ways for students to see the relevance of education is through partnerships with local businesses and industries. Students need to see real-world applications of what they are learning so that they can make career connections with their classwork, and theyalso need to be able to explore their job choices early on so that they find the right fit and avoid wasting time and money pursuing college courses or career paths that are wrong for them. However, not all schools are able to hire one person to oversee all these business partnerships. Most schools will need to look to third-party organizations or other resources to help make the career connections they need.
However, schools also need to be cautious that they are not throwing out the core skills students need in the attempt to help them find their passion. All students need rigorous instruction in basic communication skills, math skills, science skills and social studies skills in order to operate effectively in the real world and to be prepared for college work, if they choose that path. Students also need to be able to think critically and have the soft skills that are needed in every job. While high school is a great time for career exploration, it is also the last time many students will have the opportunity to acquire these core skills needed to survive in the world they will face.