IT IS A CRISIS THAT EDUCATORS SPEAK OF CONSTANTLY AND
employers bemoan: high school dropouts leaving urban schools with no skills and no prospects. Frustrated parents are left to wonder where are the career guidance counselors, those special people who will help their child see the value of completing high school to begin a career. At the same time, employers question why students, desperate for job training, drop out of high school and limit their futures.
Is a new paradigm emerging as districts struggle to answer these concerns? Is it time to replace the traditional career guidance counselor? If so, how can schools and districts replace that resource so critically needed? Who can help guide students to a better future? Is this something academic teachers must do in addition to their required subject matter? Perhaps administrators are missing a valuable resource already in their buildings: career and technical education (GTE) teachers and curriculum.
Falling Through the Cracks in Big High Schools
Urban schools most authentically reflect the American mosaic. Serving a diverse and disadvantaged student population, urban schools face unique challenges, of ten with inadequate resources. Graduation rates are lower in districts with low socioeconomic-status students. Current educational literature and data point clearly to what can be predictors of students who will not complete high school: poor academic performance, English as a second language, pregnancy, frequent absences, and physical or mental impairments, among other factors. Additionally, many students who attend school in big cities will be the first generation in their families to attend high school or the first generation to be educated in America. The families of these students depend on public schools to help their children navigate a world that is unfamiliar to them. The lack of preparation to navigate the changing workplace can be tied to a lack of career knowledge and awareness.
A Job Is ... Just a Job
As the American economy has shed low-skills jobs, students who do not acquire marketable skill sets find themselves unable to compete. The skills successfully used by their fathers and grandfathers are no longer in demand. Many urban students, because of poverty or community or cultural differences, do not see a model for a career path. The sentiment, "A job is just a job," often reflects urban students' views of the working world as they know it; a job with no future, with few raises or benefits that feeds neither their wallet nor their spirit.
Career guidance, in its most elemental form, should provide all students with the tools to assess their skills and abilities. Career guidance should be coupled with sound decision-making processes, and suggest further training and education. The 2008 Association for Career and Technical Education Issue Brief, "Career and Technical Education's Role in Career Guidance," startlingly reported that "more than half of high school students say no one in their school has been helpful in advising [them] on career options or options to further their education." This may be compounded by the lack of models of successful and long-established employment in the urban community.
Where Did All the Guidance Counselors Go?
Traditionally, guidance counselors in high schools helped students, with self-assessments, encouraged students to ascertain their abilities and helped to set them on a career path. Today's counselors, perhaps more than any other members of public school faculties, have witnessed an explosion of responsibilities. The testing culture has permeated public schools over the last decade, and so counselors have been assigned more tasks related to training and administering the end-of-year or "high-stakes" testing. …