Following a national trend, Georgia is about to start requiring its ninth graders to pick a career path and follow a class schedule that's at least partially tailored to it.
The objective is to raise career and college readiness for all students. Career pathways initiatives of some degree are already in place in most states. But next fall will be the first time that they become a mandate for all Georgia ninth graders.
Public school students will pick a potential job to pursue in one of 17 broad career categories, known as career pathway clusters.
Teachers would start talking to students about potential career opportunities, starting as early as fifth grade.
State School Superintendent John Barge and key lawmakers say the state has to make this move, if students are to have hope of getting the jobs of the future -- nearly half of which are forecast to go to people with an associate degree or occupational certificate.
“We must change how and what we do in K-12 education,” Barge said. The status quo isn't working, given the remediacourses required of many Georgia college students and the business community's complaint that many graduates entering the work force lack essential skills, he said.
But some parents wonder if focusing on careers will narrow their children's educational experiences and put needless pressure on them. Teachers, who might be required to serve as career advisers, are concerned their roles in the program would take time away from other classroom duties.
Marc Hayes, an Internet company owner and father of a college student, high school senior and fourth grader, said the idea of trying to prepare students for a career is "generally good." But suggesting that students pick a pathway at age 14 or 15 is probably unrealistic, he said.
"I don't think kids at that age have any idea what they'll ultimately want to do or can do," Hayes said.
He also questions the focus on current jobs, when those 20 years out could be radically different.
"Educators need to prepare kids for a lifetime of learning, not a specific vocational skill," Hayes said.
Joseph Jarrell, a world history teacher from Fayette County, said teachers have heard little about the state's plans. But he said he would have several concerns about teachers moving into the role of adviser, and not just the time it would take from their other work.
"You don't need 100 different people telling kids about the courses they need to take. You really need experts," Jarrell said. "And the last thing you need is having a teacher tell them something about a graduation requirement that's not true."
In South Carolina, which established career pathways for its high school students five years ago, reviews are mixed, said Jay W. Ragley, legislative and public affairs director for the South Carolina Department of Education.
“Like with most things in education, some schools have taken to it like a duck to water,” he said. “Other districts are taking it a little slower.”
Academically, it's success also is unclear. State dropout rates have declined, but so have graduation rates, Ragley said.
Lawmakers in Georgia passed a bill earlier this year that calls for the career pathways program to launch next fall. But with many of the details still being worked out, there's speculation that, in the 2012 legislative session, lawmakers could push the start date back a year.
"We want to get it right," said Mike Buck, chief academic officer for the Georgia Department of Education "We don't want to just have a good plan on paper."
The pathways concept is not knew to students who have been in the state's Career, Technical and Agricultural Education program since 2005, he said.
"This is CTAE pathways on steroids," Buck said.
Among the details yet to be ironed out from the program for all ninth graders are:
-- . The specific jobs that would be in each career path cluster. A group of about 350 educators and businesspeople are in the process of hammering that out. Each pathway cluster is expected to identify at least four potential jobs -- including one that a student would be qualified for upon graduation such as a certified nurse.
-- Who would assume responsibility for working fairly intensely with the students and their parents. Officials at the DOE have discussed, but not settled on having classroom teachers step into the role of advisers, working with 10 to 15 students all through high school, Buck said.
-- Training for the teachers or counselors who take on the role of advisers. And if teachers get the job, how that would fit with their other duties.
-- What the program's annual costs would be. South Carolina has budgeted $28.6 million for its career pathways program. Georgia's program currently is set to launch using existing education money, said Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education.
Sixteen pathway clusters are the national model, and Georgia is adding an extra in the field of energy.
Not all of the pathways will be offered across the state. School districts would have the flexibility to choose pathways that meet their area's needs. For example, Savannah-Chatham County might choose a pathway geared specifically to jobs at the Georgia Ports Authority, Buck said.
In addition to a diploma, students will receive certificates detailing the career-related courses they completed and, in some cases, showing they achieved the skills for a specific entry-level job in medicine, agriculture or one of 15 other fields. Students would never be barred from changing pathways or their specific job choices, though a substantial shift could end up delaying their graduation.
Tim Callahan, spokesman for the 82,500-member Professional Association of Educators, said getting parents more involved in their high school student's education and career planning is a good thing.
"Working out the details of that will be a challenge. But I think most educators would say that is a good challenge to have," he said.
School and business leaders say they are eager to see it.
Fulton County School Superintendent Robert Avossa called it a phenomenal idea" that will help change the old-style thinking of vocational tech.
"As adults, we've got to do a better job explaining to our families and our children that you can make a really good living if you are in a skilled position," he said.
Georgia's 17 Career Pathway Clusters
1). Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
2). A/V Technology and Communications
3). Architecture and Construction
4). Business, Management and Administration
5).Education and Training
7). Government and Public Administration
8). Health Science
9). Hospitality and Tourism
10). Human Services
11). Information Technology
13). Marketing, Sales and Service
14). Public Safety and Security
15). Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
16.) Transportation, Distribution and Logistics
17) Energy *
*All but energy are nationally recognized pathways