Employers want to hire students with demonstrated skills at graduation

America’s students will step into a world full of new job opportunities; the Institute for the Future estimates that up to 85% of these jobs do not even exist yet. A 2021 survey found 77 percent of employers believe high school preparation should focus more on demonstrated real-world skills, rather than traditional academic achievement measured by test scores and seat time.

Currently, most schools focus on everyone going to college. Little time is spent offering students opportunities to develop career and technical skills and gain exposure to different career paths and industries to meet the rapidly changing nature of work.

What needs to change?

For decades educators have been relying on the Carnegie Unit - which was developed in 1906 as a measure of the amount of time a student has studied a subject. For example, a total of 120 hours in one subject—meeting 4 or 5 times a week for 40 to 60 minutes, for 36 to 40 weeks each year—earns the student one “unit” of high school credit. Fourteen units were deemed to constitute the minimum amount of preparation that could be interpreted as “four years of academic or high school preparation.”

The time has come to challenge seat-time as the only way to earn credit toward graduation. The education systems should focus on learning (what a student knows and can do) and enable students to earn credits based on demonstrated proficiency. The goal is to help educators implement a student advancement model driven by demonstrated knowledge of a subject (proficiency) instead of the traditional emphasis on age and “seat time” for advancement.

To its credit, the Carnegie Corporation is supporting collaboration that produced “Making Mastery Accessible: A Practitioner’s Guide to Mastery Learning.” Spring Point, a team of experts working with

districts and network partners to improve high schools, teamed with reDesign, which specializes in teaching and learning practices which can be found on the reDesign website. This toolkit is a how-to guide for mastery-based learning offers school districts a suite of free resources.

More and more schools are moving to personalized, competency-based learning. If lectures are needed, students can watch videos of them at home, practice what they learned and then take a formative assessment to indicate what they learned (a new kind of homework). Then in the classroom, teachers can address learning challenges at the beginning of class and work directly with small groups of students having difficulty, while other students team with others or independently work at their own pace.

The competency-based learning model is a better way to address the “equity goals” of the education system. Where everyone receives what they need to be on equal footing with others at a pace that best fits the students’ level of learning, by providing additional instruction for challenged learners while not holding back more advanced learners.

To better serve all students, the states and schools need to look at innovative ways to replace seat-time funding. In the future, state funding no longer tied to the physical presence of students, schools would have substantial flexibility in how to spend state aid, allowing them to educate students in a more dynamic and complex network of learning opportunities.

Future of Learning

Across the U.S., parents are already starting to reimagine how schools might function in the future. Last year, 63% of U.S. parents considered finding a new or different school for their child. Schools and parents need to require the highest possible expectations for all students with the educational system providing personalized learning and advancement based on demonstrated subject mastery rather than age and grade-level seat time. These expectations will prepare each student for success in life with a viable career, regardless of their socioeconomic status. It is no time to lower the bar. Instead, we should aim to ensure all students reach their unique potential.

It is time to replace how students earn credits based on the number of minutes in a course for a specific subject, it limits the ability for learning after school, in the community, through internships, apprenticeships, and through online learning to account for learning credits. State policymakers can enable personalized, competency-based education that provides “open-walled” learning opportunities–inside and outside of school buildings–by allowing students to accumulate credits toward graduation by demonstrating competencies across disciplines.

A skilled workforce is key to reshoring and making Made in America a reality, again. The Reshoring Initiative® President, Harry Moser, explained that a national mind shift is needed from promoting education and degrees as the only mean for achieving success to promoting both education and training with demonstrated proficiency as a pathway to high-paying new-collar careers of the future.

As education breaks free from classroom borders and seat time, public school districts have a new opportunity to invite public-private participation on how to effectively graduate skilled and career-ready citizens. These innovative approaches to the education system are heartening for the future of a skilled workforce as well as for equitable opportunity for families and their students to achieve their “American Dream.”

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Glenn Marshall, the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Management Team leads an initiative for a “Manufacturing Renaissance,” member of the Reshoring Initiative, Job Creators Network, and Industry Reimagined 2030. Contact marsh8279@aol.com and www.ame.org.

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