Sunday, April 17, 2011

Have schools forgotten they were supposed to prepare kids for success in the world?

I’m helping passion-driven high school student Armond McFadden put together a resume, cover letter, and ePortfolio website so he can secure an internship, apprenticeship, and/or part-time job this summer in his area of expertise which is photography, videography, and transportation.  You can see some of his photos here and his video series on YouTube at this linkWhile I am happy to assist this talented teen, I’m concerned that this is completely absent from the curriculum of most high schools and many colleges. Instead politicians like this one and places like the board of regents believe the key to getting students ready for the world is more school, longer days, more tests, harder tests, increased graduation requirements.  

Why is it that artificial, meaningless-to-real-world tests and grades are the way we think we prepare students???  How about preparing students by providing real-world opportunities to explore careers through internships, apprenticeships, and/or part-time jobs?  Why not assess students on their experience and what they learned rather than test them in their ability to memorize and regurgitate facts which in many cases don’t matter and aren’t remembered?
School is torture because I am required to spend all my time doing menial tasks, worksheets, and rote memorization. This takes too much time away from being able to discover my hobbies, interests, or passions. I’m in 10th grade and I don’t foresee having the ability to do that before I graduate high school.
Honors society student . #1 in his class.
On the path to becoming valedictorian

In essence we’re doing a good job of preparing students to do a good job of doing as they’re told when it comes to memorization, and regurgitation.  These are not qualities that lend themselves well to success in life or the workforce.  We have more and more kids leaving high school and college with no portfolio to showcase the work they’ve done, no resume, no ability to write a cover letter and no guidance in developing a professional digital footprint.  In many cases they’re left to their own devices when it comes to the real world...the very thing that schools were supposed to be preparing our kids to succeed in.  

Parents are the key here.  They could demand school support their child in providing evidence of their work in a real online platform that the student will own and have access to outside of school.  To be clear...this is not a collection of test scores and data.  Instead it’s evidence of real, meaningful student work.  If this doesn’t exist in your school, that’s a whole other issue because if schools aren’t keeping it real, they’re really not preparing students for success.  

I’m often asked, if you think tests and grades suck, how do you suggest we assess students.  I always find it ironic that schools are supposed to be in the business of preparing students for the world yet they (rather than the student) take ownership of their learning and assessment.  Instead I recommend empowering students to take ownership of their learning with something like a The Personal Success Plan that allows students to define and measure success for themselves based on their passions, talents, interests, and learning styles.  Such a tool also supports students in identifying and working with mentors and seeking out opportunities to pursue their passions.  

While most schools are not preparing students for meaningful success in the real world, there are some that are.  These schools have terrific models that others might consider emulating.  

Schools that Give Students Real World Career Exploration and Experience
If your school is only preparing kids for the pretty useless skill of being good test-takers and grade makers, you might want to consider programs like those mentioned above that help prepare kids for the real world.  
If you want to read more about why I think tests and grades should be abolished and replaced with something along the lines of a personal success plan, you can read these articles. 
Oh, and if you think you might have a position for Armond, please contact me to let me know. 


  1. Although I really like this blog post, I'd like to point out that "preparing kids for success in the real world" varies in its interpretation based upon how we define these terms.

    I get the sense, in reading your blog, that you define success as thriving, finding passion, hitting a place of sustainability. However, I often run into people who think "success" is about winning the grown-up pissing contest. Similarly, I think we miss the point too often in thinking of the notion of the real world. All too often the real world is limited to an office job and preparation becomes a process of treating children as mini-adults, with no regard for what is developmentally appropriate.

    What I see in the links that you posted, however, are learning environments that respect holistic education, critical thinking and the notion that the best way to prepare a child for the future is to reach that child where he or she is in the now.

  2. @John T. Spencer, I believe success is defined by the individual. Ultimately I think individuals define success by personal happiness, satisfaction, health, discovery of people and passions to love, and ability to be independent. There may be something missing there, but I think that comes close to summing it up.

  3. Lisa - have you seen this:

  4. Lisa this is good. You point out the issue and provide possible solutions. I'm looking forward to discussing this more, and I'm reposting!