Grade Expectations: Let’s Be Cautious Pushing High Schoolers To Choose A Career Path

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graduation requirementsGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between.

When it comes to education, there’s a saying about a certain state’s influence. “As goes Texas, so goes the country.” As the largest purchaser of school textbooks, the Texas curriculum has a huge impact on the books that the rest of the country uses to teach its young people. And with Texas’s educational influence firmly established, most of the decisions by the Texas Senate Education Committee deserve our fullest attention. So let’s dive right in to their newest idea about high school graduation requirements.

For Texas, like most states, high school graduation includes meeting a set of basic curriculum requirements in English, math, science and social studies. There is a single uniform diploma that each student receives. Maybe an Honors diploma for attending a gifted and talented program or achieving a certain GPA. But all students have the same basic graduation requirements.

Texas is looking to change that. The state would like to make it easier for schools to focus on vocational and job training for students that aren’t interested in attending college but still want to be able to get a decent job upon graduation. It would lower the requirements for basic subjects like literature and mathematics, giving kids more time to focus on vocational training, instead of college prep.

At it’s face value, I think this sounds like a good idea. It would create four different “avenues” to a diploma. So you could receive a “Foundational  Diploma,” or a specialized business and industry, arts and humanities, or math and science diploma. Students would be able to focus on their primary interests and pursue their education in that field.

So much of me wants to applaud this move, which could help students that excel in certain areas but struggle with others. It makes me happy to see that we’re attempting to help students who might not feel that college is right for them.

At the same time, I’m so hesitant to ask students to decide what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives the minute they enter high school. Presumably, these kids will be choosing their graduation “avenues” when they start choosing classes as freshmen. School counselors will have to sit down and lay out a path with them that might be very difficult to change once you’re further into your education.

As a teenager, I was positive that I wanted to work in international business. Economics was my favorite class. I excelled at foreign languages. I didn’t really learn to enjoy writing until an amazing and influential teacher named Mr. Pukrop convinced me to pursue some advanced literature classes. Even through college, I stayed on my business-minded path. I got a job in business and data analysis.

Then, at the age of 25, I switched careers and became a writer. I found the job that I was meant to do. And it wouldn’t have been possible if my curriculum hadn’t forced me to delve into various subjects, if I never had a teacher who challenged me to keep writing, no matter what.

If we pigeonhole students into certain specialties or certain diplomas from their teenage years, we could have a lot of midlife career changes from people who never had the opportunity to explore other avenues. We could have a lot of unhappy workers who stuck with their adolescent idea for their life because the whole thing was laid out so neatly.

I applaud Texas’s attempt to make it easier for students who aren’t interested in college. But I would caution them, and any state that follows in their footsteps, make sure that kids still get to explore other areas. Make sure that there are pathways for students who change their minds. Do not expect every teenager to know exactly what they want to study or where their true talent lies. Education is about exploring and learning. It’s not just college prep or job readiness.

(Photo: ARENA Creative/Shutterstock)