High School Principals Must Demand Career Academies
Today, high school principals do not stand up and demand an appropriate education for their students. These educational leaders are smart and look around their high schools and see the great majority of kids are not going to college. Then, why don’t they stand up to demand reconstruction of their high schools into career academies? There is no other explanation than these people have chosen to take the money and not actually help kids. Unfortunately, this lack of professionalism of high school principals has been a problem for 30 years in America. Principals of high schools with many average and below average students as identified by test scores and grades, haven’t demanded changes in their high schools to appropriately educate these young people.
The first thing they should do this take a look at high school graduation requirements. For the supermajority of their students, there is no need for any college preparation courses. There is no discernible benefit for these students to take these courses. No, they don’t need algebra at all. It’s time to recognize that these college prep courses are truly for the academically gifted students and only those students. Not only are these courses a waste of time for average and low achieving students, but these students also desperately need other educational courses. The desperate need for career technical education courses is the most obvious. However, these non-college prep students also need courses in nutrition, consumer mathematics, and parenting in order to survive after high school. In failing to speak truth to power, these educational leaders fail millions of American youth.
In order to develop American high schools that are responsive to the needs of the supermajority of youth, these principals must take a hard look at the criteria use to evaluate their high schools. Principals see many students who do not take standardized tests seriously. Since these young people know they’re not going to college, they do not see value in these tests. Many students do not show up on test days and others create patterns on the test booklets. Principals know that this test data is damaged and not useful for anything. Thus, the principals must look for meaningful measures of success for their students in their high schools. The first measure that they should look at is attendance rates of high school students. If the students are not in class, how can they be expected to learn? Then, they must look at student employability. Are they completing four-year sequences of career technical education programs? The next measure of significance is graduation rates. The whole point of high school is to get kids to graduate. However, far too many high schools have recently added graduation programs that do not represent a high school education. It isn’t a high school education when you count GED programs, high school diploma programs, and online courses. These are gimmicks used to disguise the real high school graduation rate for public relations. It is essential for students to come to school and take the coursework to graduate.
Perhaps the most essential criteria for success of American high schools is what happens to the students when they leave school. In order obtain data on what happens to students leaving school, longitudinal research is necessary. We know about 30 percent of American high school students go on to graduate from college. Thus, the question really is what happens to the other 70 percent? High schools should be considered successful if high proportions of students find employment after high school. This examination of the purpose and appropriate evaluation of the high school must lead principals to understand the need to transform their schools into multiple career academies. Career academies motivate youngsters to attend school, graduate, and go to work. It is this career motivation that alters their trajectory when they leave high school. If they feel confident in their certified job skill, they will find employment and avoid negative activities such as drugs, gangs, prostitution and prison.
Once principals come to the understanding of the necessity to create career academies, they will have to fight with superintendents and school boards in order to move ahead. If they win that battle, they have to obtain teachers and counselors who support career academies. Teachers who just want to teach college prep courses must be sent elsewhere. Of course, this means getting the teacher’s union involved in career academy high school reform. The point is principals must be educational leaders of high schools. They can’t just take the money and do as they’re told. They must be more than glad handers to parents and superintendents of schools.
Today’s high schools need disruptive principals who will not go along with present practice. We need principals with a passion to provide an appropriate education for the kids who are not good academic students. In essence, we need whole new definition of good students. The students who are excellent in electronics or plumbing or construction or automotive technology or hospitality occupations should be considered good students. Leaders in high school education must honor excellence in occupational education. School boards must honor good students in occupational education. This new role is a challenging and a difficult one for high school principals. However, they must be the disruptors who stand up for the supermajority of their students.