Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Reflections on Senior Year: Should We "Just Keep Swimming?"


Senior year: a time for learning, a time for memories; the last hoorah of adolescence. As the dusty cars from summer road trips bustle into the school parking lot, students are reunited with hugs and handshakes, some thrilled and some anxious to begin their very last year of high school. As the weary-eyed students compare schedules, the sun slowly creeps above the houses of a familiar town and Senior Sunrise, the first bonding experience of senior year, is complete. Walking into the school, the students know deeply within their thoughts that this is not only a year for excitement and memories, but also one last year to challenge themselves in their high school career. The most difficult part of this year is managing the tricky balance between Friday Night Lights and physics homework, sports and submitting essays minutes before midnight, and college applications and Carpe Diem. If one can maintain this perfect balance, their senior year aspirations will be absolutely fulfilled.

Ryan Krout & Matthew Hickey Seniors & Student Leaders
Senior year poses many questions for students eager to graduate. Some of the most pressing may include: Is “senioritis” a treatable illness? Who is this guy “FAFSA” that my guidance counselor keeps talking about? And the most commonly asked question, how many long, arduous days until we can finally walk across the stage at graduation and receive our diplomas? By the end of the year, every senior will know the answers to these questions. Throughout the year, the challenges of applying to college, completing senior projects, and staying involved with clubs, activities, and friends allow seniors to learn valuable skills and lessons before they embark on their new endeavors following graduation. For those who have not yet experienced the struggles that senior year presents, I can offer a small, but extremely valuable piece of advice. I would like to comment on one of our favorite childhood characters, Dory from Finding Nemo, and her words that many seniors internalize in their last efforts to finish the year, “Just keep swimming”. These words have never seemed so fitting, but Dory’s mentality is just plain wrong. Don’t just keep swimming, but rather swim deeper into harsher waters, all the while noticing and enjoying your surroundings during the journey. Don’t just get through senior year, thrive during senior year. Take the hard math class. Try out for the sport you’ve always wanted to play. Tell your crush that you like them. Senior year is not just about academics and SAT scores, it is also about living; becoming the best person you can be and making lasting memories while doing it.

Ask any adult and they will tell you that some of their most unforgettable memories are derived from senior year. Skip day, weekend getaways with friends, and spirit weeks are few of the best and brightest reminiscences that this year has to offer. As a senior, you have the opportunity to grow and learn from challenges, but also to have fun. Don’t just keep swimming, stop and look around; take in the precious moments before they’re forever gone and only encapsulated in yearbooks and class photos. The last year of high school, in fact, of adolescence as a whole, is one that is filled with emotion, comradery, and many, many “lasts”. If you don’t truly appreciate these things in the moment, you might look back ten years from now, wishing that you could have done it all differently.

All in all, senior year is what you make of it. Finding the perfect balance between overcoming challenges and creating lasting memories is the greatest task that you will encounter upon entering the doors on the first day of the last year. However, those that strive to obtain this balance head-on will know that their senior year was not squandered, but rather, that their last year of high school was the best it could possibly be; the only thing one could wish for when closing this chapter and opening a new one.   

Ryan Krout and Matthew Hickey
Seniors and Student Leaders @ Washougal High School
Washougal School District

Friday, May 19, 2017

Would Cinderella feel safe, cared about and successful in your school?

I recently had the opportunity to see the Broadway performance of “Cinderella”. It wasn’t the Disney performance that I remembered from my childhood where the girl is saved by her prince. In this version, Cinderella is a resilient girl who experienced trauma, abuse and loss.  Instead of being saved, Cinderella saves the prince and advocates for the poor within her community.

Throughout the performance, the commonalities between Cinderella and the students who continuously impact my practice were huge. Unlike Cinderella, students who are impacted by trauma don’t usually have a fairy godmother to wave her wand and make their dreams come true. Our students have a different type of fairy godmother that comes in the form of a teacher, para educator, secretary, bus driver, counselor or social worker, recess supervisor, administrator, or many others within our learning environments. While we don’t have a magic wand, we have something better, the gift of relationship.

I often ask myself, what protective factors influence circumstances in which “all” children are learning ready? How do we as educators increase these protective factors that lead to resilience. For many of our students, school is their only protective factor. In a culture in which many educators feel overwhelmed by initiatives, how do we support the work that must be done?  PBIS, trauma informed practice, social emotional learning, disproportionate discipline, and restorative practices are a few of the issues that our school communities are grappling with.

There is not a magic wand or fairy godmother to support this work.  We, are it. We have the privilege of educating children during a time when research is clear about the impact of trauma on brain development. We know that zero tolerance policies of the past are ineffective, even detrimental. We understand that the school to prison pipeline is a real risk (Teasley, 2014). Yes, this is an opportunity to do what is right for all students. We know that if students mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological needs are met, they will be learning ready (Souers, 2016).

Thus, we create environments where students feel safe, they are taught to self-regulate, deal with conflict and experience academic success. This requires a commitment to provide systems of support for all students. In a culture of accountability, where data drives our academic decisions, I challenge you to place that same value on the social emotional well-being of our students. There is not a curriculum that will guide us through this process. These are children who ultimately need relationship, caring consistency, accountability and empathy.

 We must move away from a deficit model that attempts to define children who have experienced trauma as damaged. It is our moral responsibility to capitalize on the strengths of our students. This requires a major shift in educational mindset.  Students can learn emotional regulation and social skills the same way they learn to read. Many educators do not come out of teacher preparation programs with the skillset to support social emotional growth. Thus, we must make it a priority to train staff regarding the latest research and support them as they support students.  We must shift our priorities to include emotional intelligence as an indicator of a successful student. We must shift from merely admiring the problem and blaming students, parents or teachers to a culture that supports the growth of the whole child.

Would Cinderella feel safe, cared about and successful in your school? It doesn’t require a magic wand to make this a reality for all students. The magic is in the relationships we build, the support we provide and the priorities we make.

Catheleen Schlotter, MSW
Assistant Principal
Snowdon Elementary
Intervention and Re-engagement Specialist
Cheney School District
National School Social Worker of the Year, 2016-2017
Washington State School Social Worker of the Year, 2016-2017

Souers, K. (2017) Fostering Emotional Literacy. Curriculum in Context, Journal of Washington State Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, (42)1. Pp. 8-9.
Teasley, M.L.(2014) Shifting from Zero Tolerance to Restorative Justice in Schools. Children and Schools, (36)3. doi:cs/cdu016

Thursday, April 13, 2017

How Does Game Based Learning Work?


Game based learning is a powerful instructional strategy that leverages student familiarity with and enthusiasm for games and combines it with proven instructional strategies.
The prime benefit of game based learning is in motivating students to engage with challenging learning tasks. The mechanism has not been fully researched but it is likely rooted in the fact that play is an innate drive for humans. Games have been present in every human culture throughout history. In fact, it is arguable that it is built into our biology with evidence of play in other mammals. Student interest in games can be maximized by understanding the interplay between games and motivation.

Daniel Pink’s thinking about motivation, based on the research of Deci and Ryan, says that once a person's basic physical needs are met, people are motivated by the need for autonomy, mastery, and meaning. Game based learning is a powerful way to incorporate these needs into instruction.

The best games provide players meaningful choices that determine their success. The game Chutes and Ladders for example quickly becomes tedious because success relies solely on the randomness of a die roll. The game Risk on the other hand has die rolling at the root of its mechanics but players make decisions on where to move their pieces weighed against the likelihood of success based on die rolling. Likewise, instruction that insist on compliance with a set method or strategy do not appeal to the human need for autonomy. An instructional game that allows for students exploring multiple strategies for reaching an understanding of what works and also what does not work through their own strategies rooted in their own understandings and skills is powerful. While this idea is incorporated into many instructional strategies, a game based approach builds in an implicit mechanism for this and can give students freedom to explore at their own differentiation, instead of a teacher attempting to plan for every differentiation.

The best games give players multiple paths towards mastery. The classic Super Mario Bros. video game highlights how games can start with easy levels that allow players mastery of the basic skills of the game. Boss battles at the end of each level check for mastery of those skills before allowing a player to move on to more challenging learning. Getting an answer right or wrong is stressful situation for students. While winning and losing a game is a normal outcome, particularly if students are given permission to play again until they master the game. A well-crafted game based experience gives students opportunities to explore their thinking on a subject and work through the various outcomes until they discover a viable path that is also tied to understanding a standard or learning target.

Corps of Discover, a game created by our game based cohort for 4th grade students. It incorporates 4th grade literacy, math, science, and social studies standards into a challenging game of exploring and surviving based on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The best games allow players to choose meaningful roles. In many digital or pen and paper role playing games, players decide their own part to play in the game. This allows players to develop strategies around the strengths and weaknesses of the role they play. Perhaps the greatest meaning is allowing students to experiment with new roles. James Paul Gee, the godfather of game based learning, speaks about the Identity principle in his thinking on game based learning. This is the idea that games are good at allowing players to explore the taking on of roles that they do not normally have access to. Games allow players to explore the identity of being an explorer or a warrior. A well-crafted game based learning experiences can give students a safe and accessible way to explore the identity of being a mathematician or a writer, a scientist or a leader. The narrative theme of a game can offer this connection to students as well. A game based system can be customized to various narrative themes to fit student interests or paired with a unit of study in a similar fashion.

In Tacoma Schools, we have spent the last four years developing game based approaches with teachers and have learned a few lessons. Game based learning does not need to be digital. Game based learning is often associated with video games such as the classic Math Blaster. Many early educational games were focused on repetitive skills acquisition. This may be good for homework or an extended learning activity but in school, game based activities should be built around higher depth of knowledge to maximize their effectiveness and use of school time. Creating digital games tailored to specific learning requirements of a teacher is likely beyond their ability and resources and may sink a game based initiative. Games that are built on readily available objects in the classroom such as math manipulatives, games that are on paper, or even movement based using the students allow for a teacher to explore viable game based instruction without investing too much time or money. It’s best to start small and be prepared to improve over many drafts and playtests. Students are the best play testers and they will give you good feedback on if your game is engaging and effective. Above all it is best to try something and improve it than to not try at all.

Submitted by:
Damond Crump
Instructional Facilitator
Tacoma Public Schools

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Critical Question Series: How Does Project Based Learning (PBL) Ignite Enthusiasm and an Appetite for Deep Learning for Both Students and Teachers?

Highly engaging learning, much like life, is a never ending process of encountering problems and exploring solutions. Project based learning is a powerful solution to the complex problem of practice educators continually encounter. How do we create the conditions in which students and teachers are truly engaged in learning that is meaningful, connected and real?

In a PBL classroom, learning is designed to answer essential questions, commonly generated by the students, to explore content across disciplines. Real world, relevant topics provide the why that fuels students to ask and answer increasingly more rigorous questions in a personally and socially meaningful context.  PBL classrooms are well suited for cooperative learning, developing essential college and career ready skills.  Both students and staff are engaged in authentic learning that is co-generated and collaborative. Units of study develop over several weeks leading up to demonstrations of learning including complex projects and presentations.  It’s real, a bit messy at times and thoroughly captivating for all involved. 

PBL allows kids to be kids! Students ask a lot of questions (i.e., Can we live on Mars?  Why do we need trees? Where does all the rain water go?). PBL gives learners the freedom to exercise that natural curiosity about life.  In a PBL environment, answers are not provided for students instead they are allowed the means to discover the answers.  Encouraged to pursue their own curiosity, learning which tools to use, students experience real success as problem solvers and creative thinkers.  Within this context, learning how to read, write and solve mathematical problems has direct purpose and application. Students own their learning and are motivated to learn content and skills.   Students practice collaborative skills like active listening, giving and receiving feedback, and valuing others’ knowledge and skills.

Likewise, teachers access their natural curiosity about the art and science of teaching. By working together, teachers research topics, plan which state standards students will learn, and refine their own collaboration skills.  For experienced teachers and new teachers, there is genuine professional growth and excitement for their communal work.  Experienced teachers share their knowledge of effective instruction and content.  New teachers infuse collaboration with innovative technology and pedagogy.  PBL fosters more organic collaboration.  Teachers seek out opportunities to work together during breaks, after school, and online.  Healthy professional relationships, essential to successful schools, are created through doing the work together. PBL provides the opportunity for staff to work closely together on things that matter to them which deepens staff bonds and mutual respect. They encourage each other, push each other gently, and grow together; a genuine professional learning community.

So what does it look like in real life?  Sherman Elementary, is a K-5 school in Tacoma with 426 students.  The Sherman teaching staff is strong in the sciences and our families include artists, professionals and creative entrepreneurs.  It’s the perfect mix of techies and fuzzies!  The staff started small with a few teachers collaborating around PBL cycles.  Their enthusiasm and success spread throughout the building.  Now, five years later, we do multiple PBL cycles school wide each year.  We integrate literacy, math, and art into science based cycles. Informational texts at different complexity levels are used for research.  Parents with professional expertise (a chef, an entomologist, a salmon biologist, a cartoonist) and business partners (a farmer, retailers, architectural firms) add to the richness of classroom discussions.  Students use our Maker Space to create prototypes and revise and rebuild after receiving feedback from these experts. Teaching and learning is fun, engaging for teachers and students, and rewarding for everyone.
Project based learning is an answer to the age old problem of how to enhance student and staff engagement to improve learning outcomes. At Sherman, the ownership of learning is clear and compelling for both students and staff. Resources are abundant: curiosity, questioning, collaboration, commitment and community. It all starts with a problem that needs a solution or a question that needs an answer.  Students and teachers alike have plenty of those!

Anne Tsuneishi
Principal, Sherman Elementary
Tacoma Public Schools

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

If Something Isn’t Working, Do We Try Harder - Or Do Something Different?

A thoughtful colleague once posed that question at a staff meeting where tensions and emotions were running high about an issue we were grappling with.  The reaction was immediate...stunned silence.  I remember sitting there wondering, “What’s the right answer?”  I went over the thoughts and actions that had led to that meeting and realized that we had been trying to solve a problem by doing the same things repeatedly with...unsurprisingly...the same result.  At that point, the discussion took a turn for the better as we started brainstorming new ideas and strategies to solve our problem. 

After 16 years of teaching grades 1-5, I became a Tier 3, middle school math teacher.  That first week I looked out at my new students and saw them slouched down in their seats avoiding eye contact with me or looking back at me with boredom, challenge and even fear.  I was going to have to do something different to grow their intelligence to understand the concepts and skills necessary to exit the class and change their fixed mindsets to growth mindsets.  I guided my students to write mission statements like this:  Use a math growth mindset to grow our math knowledge and skills so that we can exit this class and be successful in a regular math class, college, career and everyday life.  I also significantly changed what I had my students learn and do in the first 2 weeks of school. The following are a few of the growth mindset learning activities I guided them through in the first few weeks:

      Learning the difference between a growth and fixed mindset
      Discussing how a growth mindset can foster success in math class and beyond
      Learning how the brain is like a muscle because it grows when it is exercised/challenged
      Connecting goal setting to practice and perseverance
      Defining/learning/strategizing about grit and overcoming obstacles
      Discussing what it means to be a “math person”
      Learning about the benefits of asking for help

Throughout the year, my students reflected on their mindset over the last unit of study and set growth mindset goals for the next.  I posted growth mindset messages out in the hallway for them to see as they entered my classroom.  Messages like: “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence.  The only consequence is WHAT WE DO”.  I taught my paraeducators how to use growth mindset language with the students.  I invited students to share their success “stories” so that others could learn from them. 

Then our math department made the brilliant decision to read Mathematical Mindsets:  Unleashing Students’ POTENTIAL through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and INNOVATIVE TEACHING by Jo Boaler as a book study...and I realized that there was so much more to fostering a math growth mindset!  I know many of you are familiar with this research-based book that gives educators a proven, practical roadmap to mathematics success...but the question is will we now have the creativity and courage to do something different?  Maybe a more important question would be, “Do we truly believe that ALL students can learn to high levels.?” And if we do, what are we willing to do differently to make that happen?  Will we find a way to:

      Give ALL students access to the highest levels in math at school...stop ability grouping?
      Take the time to give students open/low floor-high ceiling math tasks that encourage the opportunity for important learning and making important connections so that students believe that math is a learning subject and NOT a performance subject? 
      Teach math so that students appreciate the beauty of mathematics, explore how maths are connected and learn how to apply the subject?
      Teach in a way that shows students that math performance is NOT associated with speed...so they understand that the best mathematicians are slow at math because they are deep thinkers and want to make connections, think logically and apply the depth/breadth of mathematics to a variety of problems...so students understand that math is a creative, visual, connected and living subject to do great and everyday things?
      Not give up on one student...even if they have given up on themselves?  Act like we know we are the dream-keepers?

I now pose that all-important question to my students every year on the first day of school.  I give them a 3 X 5 index card and ask them to write the question on one side and their answer on the other.  I guide a brief discussion about their thoughts and answers to the question, but when they ask me to tell them the right answer I reply not today.  I give them a big, welcoming smile and tell them that we will find the answer together as a class.  And we do.  I purposefully look for every opportunity to ask that question again as individual students, collaborative groups and the whole class try to persist in solving a problem with an ineffective or inefficient strategy.  I foster independence by posing that question initially instead of giving immediate scaffolding or support.  They begin to understand that I am encouraging creativity and the courage to try something different.  They begin to understand that there are many ways to solve problems...to change...to grow.    I believe that we can change and grow as educators too.  Currently three fifths of U.S. students fail mathematics.  My question to you is, “Do we try harder or do something different?”

Amy Sperline
Instructional Coach/Mentor
Jefferson Elementary
Richland School District

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Is it time for us to change the way we respond to discipline?

When it comes to managing discipline in our schools, punitive consequences have been the primary instrument in the toolbox of educators for decades (Swain, & Noblit, 2011). As Abraham Maslow once said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail” (1966). As we know, there is no single tool that can fix every problem. However, because of our over-reliance on punitive measures, especially suspensions, we have ended up causing more harm than good for those that we have committed to serve.

At its core, suspensions remove students from the classroom and ultimately from their opportunities to learn. Students who are routinely suspended end up missing out on crucial instruction time which often leads them struggling to get through the remainder of their course. Research has indicated that there is a direct correlation between students who are chronically suspended and high school dropout rates (Barr & Gibson, 2013). When these students begin to fall behind, they become more likely to act out in the classroom, which then creates a vicious cycle within the discipline system.

To further compound the issue, national data has revealed that our current punitive practices have created a discipline disproportionality among various groups of students. Minorities as well as students in special education programs are suspended two to three times more often than their white counterparts (Skiba et al., 2011). Also, these same students are three times more likely to be introduced into the school-to-prison pipeline (Wilson, 2014).

It is easy for us to forget that schools also serve as a protective factor for our students. For many of them, it may be the only protective factor they have. Today's students have experienced a variety of adverse childhood experiences, and in many cases, the home may not be the safest place for them to be. Also, more and more schools are becoming the primary source of nutrition for our students. When they miss school, they miss out on meals.

When students return from a suspension, the relationships that may have been harmed by their initial behavior have not been repaired by their consequence. This, in turn, creates tension not only for the student but for the teachers as well as the student’s peers. Due to the lack of a proper reintegration back into the classroom, the student may lose the sense of belonging they once had and may find themselves struggling to succeed and once again acting out as a result (Barr & Gibson, 2013).

With all the adverse effects of punitive discipline, we need to find a way to create equitable opportunities for our students to succeed so that our already disadvantaged children don’t become even more disadvantaged. One method that has been studied and shown to be successful is transitioning away from punitive practices in favor of restorative ones (Gonz├ílez, 2012).  Restorative Practices focus on the idea that school is a community and when harm has been done to that community it has a significant impact on its members. To repair the harm that has been done, a variety of practices are recommended including formal conferencing, community service (which directly benefits those harmed), and other alternatives to suspension.                      

The Restorative Practices philosophy focuses on the idea of “building social capital and achieving social discipline through participatory learning and decision-making” (Wachtel, 2012). It stresses the importance of building and maintaining relationships while at the same time holding students accountable for their actions and repairing the harm that they have caused not only to individuals but also their community. The fundamental philosophy of Restorative Practices is that,

Human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them. This hypothesis maintains that the punitive and authoritarian to mode and the permissive and paternalistic for mode are not as effective as the restorative, participatory, engaging with mode. (Wachtel, 2012).

Restorative Practices can be broken down in to two main components; the proactive social emotional learning aspects and then the reactive Restorative Justice element. The proactive elements include using circles to build and maintain community, using affective statements (statements that express how you feel), and using affective/restorative questioning.

The Restorative Justice element helps to open dialogue between those that have been harmed and those that have done the harm by giving everyone a voice and letting them reflect on the incident. Formal conferencing works with all parties involved through a method of mediation. This process helps to peel the onion and highlighting underlying issues while at the same time facilitates a conversation on what needs to be done to make things right so that everyone’s needs get met, relationships can began to repair, and the students can be reintegrated back into their community.

Barr, R. D., & Gibson, E.L. (2013). Building a culture of hope: Enriching schools with optimism and opportunity. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

González, T. (2012). Keeping kids in schools: Restorative justice, punitive discipline, and the school to prison pipeline. Journal of Law and Education, 41(2), 281-335.

Maslow, A. H. (1966). The psychology of science; A reconnaissance. New York: Harper &

Skiba, R. J., Horner, R. H., Chung, C., Rausch, M. K., May, S. L., & Tobin, T. (2011). Race is not neutral: A national investigation of african american and latino disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Review, 40(1), 85-107.

Swain, A. E., & Noblit, G. W. (2011). Education in a punitive society: An introduction. The Urban Review, 43(4), 465-475.

Wachtel, T. (2012). Defining restorative. International Institute for Restorative Practices: IIRP Graduate School.

Wilson, H. (2014). Turning off the school-to-prison pipeline. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 23(1), 49-53

Alden M Clark
Counselor/Admin Intern
Covington and Pacific Middle Schools/Evergreen Public Schools

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Should We Rethink How We Prepare Students to be College and Career Ready?

Changing mindsets
From my past 25 years in K-12 public education it has been my experience that preparing students for college and career readiness across our nation has been more or less a single minded approach. When we currently think of college and career readiness in most minds it means preparing students to enter college, namely four year colleges and all of the specific requirements that go into that particular process.  Thus, when the term of college and career readiness comes up in most circles of K-12 conversation, it typically means that a student transitioning out of high school that is college and career ready has met each of the requirements to be accepted into a four year college institution.
It is there that we assume that by students being ready to enter college, we have set students on a stage for being equipped with the knowledge and appropriate career preparation tools to excel in college and thus a career of choice for their futures. We have been under the notion that the best way to a solid career path was to earn a four year degree which in some areas of perspective employment is very necessary. However, not all gainful career paths require a four year college degree to set students on a successful journey towards their employment future.

Rethinking the approach to career preparation:
In recent years, it has been noted by industry that the K-12 approach of “college for all” has eroded the workforce that has been largely responsible for the industrial and technology advances we have enjoyed as a nation transitioning from an education system that supported an agriculture based economy in our schools, to supporting an industrial based economy and workforce needs. Over the last three decades we have moved very quickly into a very technology driven economy in the 20th century where college and career preparation meant a four year college degree needed to be attained by all who sought gainful living wage employment in the 20th century.
As we have moved into the 21st century, the workforce needs and the way we prepare K-12 students for those workforce needs through high school and post high school planning has taken a slightly different approach or so it would appear as the need to do so.  According to an article published in the Seattle times by Claudia Rowe, The old image of college as four years on an ivy-covered campus is increasingly giving way to programs that offer hit-the-ground-running career skills, often developed outside of libraries and lecture halls. (Rowe, C. (2016, November 6). Should we prepare all students for four college entrance requirements only? Seattle Times, pp. A1-A3.
The trouble is, Washington State has beefed-up the amount of core academic requirements a student must meet in order to attain a high-school diploma. Washington State’s newly adopted 24 credit graduation requirement appears to focus primarily on more rigorous core academics  requirements and therefore seem to be at odds with the need of some 600,000 jobs forecasted in the next four years that will require specialized training or certification, but not necessarily a four year college degree. Meanwhile, state officials say the number of students enrolling in career and technical education courses (known as CTE) has grown, from 18.5 percent of all ninth-through-12th graders in the 2006-07 school year to 20 percent this year. Those numbers represent an overall average, of course. The reality between districts varies widely, with rural areas tending to offer more career-training programs than urban districts.
“There are a lot of young people who went out to college like we asked them to and had no idea why,” says Ken Emmil, Assistant Superintendent for Career and College Readiness at the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “We have a significant population of kids who graduate high school and go into college with no end in mind. (Rowe, C. (2016, November 6). Should we prepare all students for college entrance requirements only? Seattle Times, pp. A1-A3
Preparing students for 21st Century Careers
Over the course of time since the industrial revolution, post-secondary education has been viewed as an escalator mechanism of sorts, where within individuals who attain higher levels of education have increased incomes over time, an improved quality of life and greater access to educational and medical service (Baum, Ma, & Payea, 2013).
What remains clear to me in the second half of the 21st century is that we must change our counseling and guidance system in K-12 schools from a reactive guidance model that focuses on serving students who are under duress, at risk for failure or drop out, focus on those students who plan to attend a four year college and used in most all school sites as state assessment coordinators. In a comprehensive guidance model, counselors would engage with students on some of the afore mentioned focuses, however, the difference is that counselors would focus on all aspects of a student’s social, emotional wellbeing as well as their college and career planning that would allow for more thorough college and career planning tool use and activities that support college and career preparation.
Washington State has a graduation requirement that states all students will be prepared for college and or a career upon graduation but has not clearly defined a specific protocol that would measure a student’s readiness for college and career success upon graduation from high schools. Therefore, the vague description from the Washington State School Board Directors of what college and career ready means has left individual districts to determine what college and career preparation for students mean for their individual district.
If school districts in Washington State are left to interpret what college and career readiness means for all students, it will be the same way districts addressed the former graduation requirement of students needing to complete a senior project prior to graduation. The intended outcomes will look different with different expectations from school district to school district. There must be a more defined requirement for districts to adhere to, therefore making the college and career graduation requirement expectations uniform to all districts with the same set of expected outcomes for student planning for college and career readiness and success upon graduating from high school.
Over the past three decades or so our student focus has been to graduate students and prepare them for success in completing a four year college degree which will lead to gainful employment and a larger lifetime earnings has left our nation ill prepared to fill the soon to be vacated careers by a skilled labor force with a nation of liberal arts degrees that do not apply to the skills and training needed to access many blue color careers. Preparing students for all post high school pathways seems to be the need of our state and our nation. We tend to forget that two year and technical degrees, apprenticeships, industry certifications, technical training, the military and four year college degrees are all viable pathways for students to be college and career ready upon graduating from high school. We need to make a paradigm shift in our approach to this work going forward in the 21st century or risk further eroding our workforce with less qualified workers prepared to enter these careers. We should prepare students during high school to access some type of higher education training post high school that will specifically prepare students for the expectations of their chosen career path.
Integrate career explorations into the curriculum in the elementary grades:
The popular preparation moniker currently is that college and career explorations exposure should begin as early as elementary school with planning to continue to be more definitively focused as students advance in grade levels. Starting the exploration process in high school has been deemed by many as too long to wait to begin having students focus and prepare for their futures.
Rethinking College Access and Readiness:
Preparing students for college in the mindset of many educators and parents has been thought of as preparing high school students to enter a four year college. That has long been the measurement of a high schools success profile, how many students they send to college each year. Moreover, how many they send to a four year college is the milestone of success when speaking in terms of college entrance. Little thought is put into the rationale for attempting to push all students through the four year college tube, except for the fact it is good to seek higher education at the bachelors level. However beneficial a college degree might be, as many Bachelor degree earners have found, it is good to seek higher education but with a rationale and purpose for doing so with a well thought out plan or course of what level of degree, certificate or technical training might be needed for the career a student seeks. Otherwise, students can find themselves with a degree that has left them deep in debt to attain with little gainful employment outlook for the degree they have earned.
Community and technical college student average age of attendance in Washington State is 28 years old. The community and technical colleges in Washington State tend to focus on recruiting the retrained worker rather than the high school senior. Thus, the data pointing to the average age of a community college student being students who are retraining for another career, need additional training after attaining a Bachelor degree or decided to delay their entrance into higher education for whatever reason. The data indicates again, most high school students are being prepared to largely attend a university after their high school completion.  Programs such as Upward Bound, Gear Up, VIP Scholars are all programs that help facilitate student planning and preparation for college but these programs only exist mostly in urban or rural high schools.
They are not normally programs utilized by most school districts as a planning program preparing students for college, two or four year (Howard, Tyrone C., Tunstall, J. Flennaugh, T. K., 2016).
Upward Bound: Upward Bound provides fundamental support to participants in their preparation for college entrance. The program provides opportunities for participants to succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. Upward Bound serves: high school students from low-income families; and high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor's degree. The goal of Upward Bound is to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from institutions of postsecondary education.
Gear Up: This discretionary grant program is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools.
Earning college credit while in high school:
Most students are encouraged to take a heavy load of college prep courses offered while attending public, private comprehensive high schools and some skills centers, especially private high schools. Advanced placement and International Baccalaureate and Cambridge courses are the courses students are most commonly encourage to take to prepare them for college entrance. Data tells us that many high school students do not take or pass the subsequent culminating assessment affiliated with each of those courses that would allow students to earn the college credit for the course while in high school. This would therefore seemingly cut down on a student’s time and cost of paying for college. There are several other ways high school students can earn college credits while in high school. Tech Prep, College in the High School, and Running Start are all dual enrollment programs that high school student have access to and earn more college credits in but are seldom looked at with the same college prep esteem as AP or IB courses. The cost of taking some of these courses can be prohibitive for some students to take the final AP or IB exams to earn the college credit. Generally the culminating assessment is around $85 for a student to take. College in the High School costs vary from college to college but there is generally a cost associated with each credit earned. Tech Prep and Running Start are generally cost free for earning credit. There may be some minimal administrative cost associated with these two models. Here is a list of the most commonly used programs that offer students the ability to earn college credit while in high school, therefore aiding their ability to adequately prepare for college by starting to earn credit while in high school and demonstrating to colleges that they are taking a load of rigorous course work that will prepare them to be successful with the remainder of their college program.

Dual Enrollment: Concurrent enrollment provides high school students the opportunity to take college-credit bearing courses taught by college-approved high school teachers. It is a low-cost, scalable model for bringing accelerated courses to students in urban, suburban, and rural high schools. Students gain exposure to the academic challenges of college while in their high school environment, earning transcribed college credit at the time they successfully pass the course. Concurrent enrollment also facilitates close collaboration between high school teachers and college faculty that fosters alignment of secondary and postsecondary curriculum. Sometimes called “dual credit,” “dual enrollment,” or “college in the high school,” concurrent enrollment partnerships differ from other models of dual enrollment because high school instructors teach the college courses.
College in the High School: High school students can complete University or college level courses and earn credit while in their own classrooms at their respective high schools with their own teachers. Students and teachers use the college’s curriculum the school or program has an articulation agreement with. Students earn a final grade over time; a grade does not depend on one exam. The credits that students earn are transferrable to most public and many private colleges and universities, depending on the course.
Tech Prep/Dual Enrollment   : Tech Prep is an industry and education partnership committed to providing a highly-trained and motivated workforce, prepared to pursue lifelong learning in a changing technological society. Tech Prep provides occupational pathways for students by preparing them for technologically advanced careers and postsecondary education by emphasizing strong academic, technical, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. Tech Prep prepares students for the world of work and helps maintain a quality life in a changing society. Tech Prep is a national educational initiative. It includes a rigorous and focused course of study that provides students with essential academic and technical foundations that prepare students with necessary workplace skills
Running Start: Running Start is intended to provide students a program option consisting of attendance at certain institutions of higher education and the simultaneous earning of high school and college/university credit. Running Start was initiated by the Legislature as a component of the 1990 parent and student Students in grades 11 and 12 are allowed to take college courses at Washington’s community and technical colleges, and at Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Washington State University, and Northwest Indian College. Running Start Students and their families do not pay tuition, but they do pay college fees and buy their own books, as well as provide their own transportation. Students receive both high school and college credit for these classes and therefore accelerate their progress through the education system. The exercise of that right is subject only to minimal eligibility and procedural requirements, which are spelled out, in state administrative rules for more information.

Credit by proficiency exam: Are programs created by the College Board, which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities often grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations.

Advanced Placement(AP): Advanced Placement (AP) is a program of college-level courses offered at many high schools.  Courses are available in many subject areas, including English, history, humanities, languages, math, psychology and science. The focus is not on memorizing facts and figures. It's on engaging discussions, approaching and solving problems together and learning to write well. You'll get to study fascinating topics and ideas. Who knows? One (or more!) might just become the foundation of your future college major or career.

International Baccalaureate (IB): What is the International Baccalaureate? The IB is a high school program that doubles as a highly respected college prep curriculum. The IB program encourages students to think broadly, beyond the boundaries of their communities, and to see themselves as members of a global society. It has gained recognition and respect from most U.S. colleges.
Cambridge: The Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Diploma is an international curriculum and examination system that emphasizes the value of broad and balanced study. Alongside in-depth understanding of a variety of subjects, students also need to master a broader range of skills critical for success in university study and employment.  The Cambridge AICE Diploma was first awarded in 1997 and has since become popular with a range of schools in different parts of the world. It encompasses the ‘gold standard’ Cambridge International AS and A Level qualifications, and offers students the opportunity to tailor their studies to their individual interests, abilities and future plans within an international curriculum framework.
The bottom line is, Washington State graduation requirements mimic the state college entrance requirements. Data tells us that not all of our high school graduates will attend a four year college. Current workforce trends indicate that our education system does not need to prepare all students for a four year college for post high school career training. Thus, the need to not do so has been reflected in current and national workforce data. Again, it is time to rethink how students are prepared for college and career readiness.

Baum, S., Ma, J. & Payea, K. (2013). Education Pays 2013; The benefits of higher                              education for individuals and society. Washington, DC: College Board. Available at                Trends.collegeboard.org/sites/default.files/education-pays-2013 full report.pdf
Howard, T. C., Tunstall,  Flennaugh, T.K.). Expanding College Access for Urban Youth.
             New York, NY: Teachers College Press(2016).
Rowe, C. (2016, November 6). Should we prepare all students for four year college                            entrance requirements only? Seattle Times, pp. A1&A3

Dr. Thomas Mosby
Executive Director for Career pathways and Partnerships
HIghline School District