A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Education Reforms Point to Jobs

Editor’s note:  The original version of this article written by Matthew Waller was published in the San Angelo Standard‑Times and other newspapers across Texas from the Scripps Howard Newspapers Group.  Reprinted with permission.

Griffin Kent isn’t entirely sure what course he wants his high school education to take.  Whatever he decides, he has choices – ones that could put him on a concrete path to a career.

The eighth-grader at San Angelo’s Lee Middle School said he is leaning toward engineering, maybe mechanical or civil, but he wants to look around first.

“It’s a little overwhelming, but at the same time it’s very exciting,” Kent said.  “Right now I’m still exploring.”

With the end of the school year nigh, students might be thinking about their summer jobs.  Or they might be thinking about their next class lineup.

A new lineup of courses brought about by a law passed last year has Texas turning toward a public education system that moves kids directly toward a career and the workplace.

The major education reform bill that passed into law last session, House Bill 5, has a series of different degree options.  Schools must have a Foundation High School Program, which has core requirements, and then a student can choose an endorsement.

The endorsements include Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (or STEM) endorsement, Business and Industry, Public Services, Arts and Humanities and Multidisciplinary Studies.

Students also can earn the distinguished level of achievement, which requires Algebra II.  Groups such as the Texas Association of Business complained that Algebra II isn’t required of everyone, saying the omission decreases rigor.  Supporters of the bill still believe that the courses can be just as rigorous, but give more choice.

Students also can earn a performance acknowledgment for great test scores or bilingualism or by earning certifications or licenses.

The upshot for students is that the new method of earning credits and picking endorsements gives them flexibility to decide which courses they want to take in a way that drives them toward a career.

“We’re definitely thrilled that it does lighten up so kids make choices that are of real importance to them,” said Joy Gay, the director of Career and Technical Education at the San Angelo Independent School District.  “These young people are going to change their minds, but we feel like the way the law is written we’ll be able to manage that for them.”

For example, a student in the past might be able to take only one class of auto tech and then need to work on other classes.  Now a student could take more and more auto tech classes, then take a capstone class that gives hands-on experience.

At the moment the SAISD is working to partner with Howard College and find ways to develop career technical education courses that could count for advanced math or science.

“I definitely think with House Bill 5 it will encourage students to take more of the career technical education,” said Synthia Kirby, career technical education coordinator for Wichita Falls Independent School District and principal at the Carrigan Career Center.  “It will go along with their endorsements.”

She said the changes in education “definitely give more flexibility.”

Audra Ude, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction at the Abilene Independent School District, said career and technical education courses will come closer to the forefront in education.

“Because greater emphasis is being placed on skills that lead to post-secondary education and a well-educated, productive workforce, Career and Technical Education courses will play a major role in assisting students with earning certifications and completing advanced coursework leading toward their profession of choice,” Ude said in an email.  “I see this as a tremendous opportunity for students to better understand the field they wish to study, get their ‘foot in the door’ so to speak and earn some credentials to help them compete for colleges and careers.”

Thelma Salinas, coordinator for career technical education with the Corpus Christi Independent School District, said certifications, whether in welding or Adobe Photoshop, will tie to high school education.

Now the CCISD is looking at partnerships with nursing homes and enhancing the partnerships it already has, such as with Stripes, the convenience store business.

“I can only see good things,” an audibly excited Salinas said over the phone.  “The vision is that we’re going to produce this student that is workforce-ready and college-ready depending on the choice they make. ... We’ll have a lot more opportunities. No longer is there a taboo in talking about work.”

Brandon Cline, an eighth-grader at San Angelo’s Glenn Middle School, said he hoped to take the multidisciplinary endorsement so that, after college, he can join the military as an officer. Military service runs in the family, he said, and he feels he has the “call of duty.”

“I think it works out really well,” Cline said of the new course structure.  “Pretty much anybody is able to do what they want to set their minds to.”

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