By Devin Vodicka
Go to just about any school or district website and there will be a claim about preparing students to be “college and career ready.”
According to Inside Higher Education, the most recent pre-pandemic data from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System indicates that 37% of college students in the US took at least one online class in fall 2019. That number jumped to over 50% in the early stages of the pandemic.
McKinsey surveyed more than 25,000 working adults in Spring 2022 and found that a staggering 58% of Americans work at least one day per week from home and 35% now have the option to work from home full-time. According to their research, “What makes these numbers particularly notable is that respondents work in all kinds of jobs, in every part of the country and sector of the economy, including traditionally labeled ‘blue collar’ jobs that might be expected to demand on-site labor as well as ‘white collar’ professions.”
Unfortunately the shift to more flexible, hybrid models in both college and career is happening at the same time as our education system is reverting back to a rigid, seat-time based system that was designed for a different era. While there are legitimate reasons to provide in-person K-12 schooling, our factory-model of teaching and learning still relies very much on an approach in which we tell students what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. When they leave high school, our students are now very likely to enter into college or career situations where they will be largely unsupervised. Accountability will come in the form of productivity and performance.
There is an urgent need for us to reconsider what it means to ensure that learners are prepared for college and career. How might we better prepare students for flexibility? If self-management is required, how might we create experiences that promote self-directed learning?
How might we shift away from seat-time-driven credits into performance-based demonstrations of learning? Are there developmentally appropriate ways to reimagine use of time and space?
The good news is that there are emerging models of learner-centered education that embrace a broader view of success for students. These systems tend to have locally-developed, contextualized learner profiles that map to whole-learner competencies. They are finding ways to use student-led conferences and learning exhibitions to make the process and outcomes visible while promoting student ownership.
I am also encouraged to see an increase in creative schedules that are promoting self-directed learning in schools across the country.
Chandler’s School in Logan County (Kentucky) has a Friday 4th grade schedule that includes “Self-Direction/Mentoring” time as well as flexible rotations and time at the end of the day for “Accountability.”
At Juab Junior High School (Utah), they have “Targeted Friday” where students create their own schedules for the day based on their learning goals.
Circulos High School in Santa Ana Unified School District (California) offers a “community week” where students nominate courses and then vote on their favorites. This allows the school to engage in areas of student interest, including current events such as the Ukrainian Invasion and real-world topics that include personal finance.
The McKinsey study on the rapid changes in the world of work includes a reminder that flexible employment will have ripple effects that require deeper analysis:
“Flexible work’s implications for employees and employers—as well as for real estate, transit, and technology, to name a few sectors—are vast and nuanced and demand contemplation.”Americans are embracing flexible work—and they want more of it
It is clear that there are implications for education as well. Let’s rethink college and career readiness in a hybrid world.
Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.
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