Sunday / April 21

21st Century College and Career Readiness Requires STEM as a Foundation

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. – Charles Darwin

The focus on college and career readiness has long historical roots in public education. Other than the well rounded adult and the active responsible citizen, preparing students for college and careers has always been our work. This is about futures. No longer will subject content mastery, a well balanced portfolio of extra-curricular activities, and strong references be sufficient.

These futures must be built upon a foundation with a different kind of teaching and learning, with different structural parameters and relationships. Let’s begin with our contention: there is no way to determine what the world of work will be like for those sitting in our elementary schools. We can only watch trends and predict. Those in our secondary schools may begin in a world we understand, but even they, over the next few decades, will find the world new, forever changing.

So how do we prepare K – 12 for college and career now? And, how do we prepare them for having multiple careers in one work lifetime? Perhaps, we need to let the children teach us. Children have a natural capacity to be problem solvers … and problem generators. Let’s create learning environments that support those capacities and apply them in a real world context. Is this simply project based learning? We don’t think so. We think we may be ready as educators to reconnect the separate domains of academic pursuit of college and vocational programs and schools. We think many are ready to acknowledge that to be college and career ready crosses lines of all sorts.

Schools must be envisioned as innovative, encouraging, capacity building environments.  Inviting learners into authentic learning experiences that include offering opportunities for solving an increasingly complex set of problems is key. That is college and career preparation.

Innovations in science, technology, engineering, and math have caused the worlds of healthcare and business, and yes music and art, to become creatively inspired.  Foundations of those four “subjects” are inter-related and interdisciplinary by nature. We have made them separate but it is nearly impossible to teach or learn one without reliance on another. The types of learning that can take place in a true environment connect all subjects, learning opportunities, and assessments openly. The liberal arts, the performing arts, physical education all have a home in a STEM environment. Environments that are organized around learning principles that are focused on the learning needs of 21st century students find STEM as a foundation offers balanced, authentic opportunities for students to develop their capacities to successfully maneuver through a world in which they have no frame of reference.

College and career readiness involves student capability to:

Work collaboratively as thinkers, learners, and leaders

Relate what is learned to purpose and discover transferability and connections

Develop and apply ethics in decision making as innovations will give rise to unimagined choices

Be agile with change, in its anticipation, its requirement for learning, its leadership comfort and its losses

This type of learning environment can best be accomplished when schools create partnerships with corporations and professionals who can work in concert with classroom teachers to develop authentic learning opportunities. These partnerships benefit the students, teachers, schools, and businesses. Traditionally, partnerships assume financial investment. Here, we are referring to partnerships of time and talent. The communities have a more clear joint purpose when college and career readiness is at stake. The professionals in the field are best informed about the application of science, technology, engineering and math learned where they work and will be live. In schools where these partnerships have been successfully developed, embedded professional development for teachers and authentic learning experiences for students have resulted in motivated students.

The ability of all students to access and succeed in courses that are rigorous and that prepare them well for college and career is an obligation of the educational community. It can reenergize professional educa­tors, can engage children as problem solvers, prepare them to be college and career ready, tap the community as resources, and discover corpora­tions as partners. All the potential for a STEM shift is in your hands. (Myers A. & Berkowicz, J. p. 34-35)


Myers A. & Berkowicz, J. (2015). The STEM Shift. Thousand Oaks, California:  Corwin

Written by

Jill Berkowicz, Ed.D. has spent her 30-year career in education focusing on issues of equity and best practices in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and technology, as they affect the development of all learners in the K-12 system. In her leadership roles as a principal and director of curriculum, instruction, and technology, equal access to quality teaching was the foundation of her work. Presently, Jill is an adjunct professor at SUNY New Paltz in the Educational Leadership program. She provides ongoing professional development for teachers and principals. Her work is dedicated to developing schools’ capacity to improve the teaching and learning environment through technology, high-stakes portfolios, and rigorous learning experiences. She serves on the board of New York ASCD and as the Educational Consultant for their digital newsletter. Jill brings energy, passion for innovation and collaboration to all her work. Jill is co-author, with Ann Myers, of Leadership 360, a blog published by Education Week. Jill lives in the Hudson Valley of New York with her partner Bob Santoro.

Ann Myers, Ed.D, is Professor Emerita at Sage Colleges where she was Founding Director of the Sage Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership and of the Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung Center of the Promotion of Mental Health and School Safety. Prior to her career in higher education, she was District Superintendent at Questar III BOCES, a regional educational organization in Upstate New York. She is a national facilitator affiliated with the Center for Courage and Renewal. She leads Circle of Trust® retreats, leadership development programs and strategic planning for school districts and nonprofit organizations. Ann was a consultant for the Metro Nashville Public Schools on the trust building project. She is the founding chair of New York State Association for Women in Administration and remains on the board for that organization. To all of this work, Ann brings a unique mix of intelligence, wisdom, and intuition. She brought us to understand the nature of an edge walker, called to innovation and exploration and to reflection and growth for herself and others. Ann is co-author with Jill Berkowicz, of Leadership 360, a blog published by Education Week. Ann lives between the Adirondacks in New York State and the gulf coast of Florida with her husband Ed Hallenbeck and her golden retriever.

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  • Excellent information.

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