College and career readiness is anything but the latest catchphrase to Philip Cleveland.
As the deputy state superintendent of education in the Office of Career and Technical Education/Workforce Development, his job is making sure students are “college and career ready” when they graduate.
For more than a decade, the federal No Child Left Behind law crippled school districts when it came to preparing them for life outside of high school, educators say. It focused on making sure students were reading and doing math at grade level, at the expense of making sure they were prepared for college or careers.
But in 2012, that all changed when the Alabama Board of Education passed Plan 2020, a plan to raise the high school graduation rate, make school more relevant for students, and prepare them for college or the workforce.
“Alabama business and industry have spoken and they’ve spoken loudly. We weren’t preparing students for the workforce,” Cleveland said. He began working with the Work Force and Economic Development Councils to find out what students needed to know when they left high school. As a result, nearly 80 career technical education courses were added to the curriculum.
“It’s about making school relevant and helping students find a career rather than a job, so that they’re excited about going to work and living their passion,” he said.
On Thursday, Cleveland discussed at the Brighter Minds education summit how career technical education prepares students for the workforce. Cleveland is one of four panelists at the summit, sponsored by the Alabama Power Foundation, who discussed how to prepare Alabama’s future workforce.
High school students interested in career technical education can choose between 16 career pathways and 215 courses, including architecture and construction; science, technology, engineering and mathematics; manufacturing; and law, public safety, corrections and security.
By the end of their ninth grade year, all Alabama students are required to take a career preparedness course that looks at academic planning and career development, financial literacy and technology. Cleveland said students are given several assessments that look at their career interests. From there, they can find courses tailored toward their interests.
Some of the state’s career tech centers have been converted into “simulated workplaces,” where students clock in, work and earn a simulated paycheck. Some also participate in internships.
“We’ve gone to the business community and we’ve said, ‘tell us what you want your potential workforce to know when they leave us,’ and we’ve really tried to be responsive to that through new course development,” Cleveland said. “Now kids are finding relevance in school. It has meaning now.”