Are we setting students on a path to careers that may not even exist in 20 years?

I have never understood the focus on “career paths” in middle and high school as I don’t think a 14-year-old is ready to pick a career.

Often, when middle and high schools offer specific career training, they lag behind the industry because they can’t keep up with the rapid changes from afar. Nor can schools afford the new technology so they are sometimes teaching kids with yesterday’s standards, equipment and practices.

The ideal career path models place high schoolers in internships and apprenticeships in the actual industries where they see what current practices are and where the technology is up-to-date. That makes sense and is happening in some places in Georgia.

Speaking of up-to-date, I was talking to a Georgia Tech professor who suggested that computer coding become a standard course starting in elementary school. He said everyone will have to deal with coding in their jobs, so computer languages should be regarded as a basic skill set that every child should have.

Rather than teaching a career that may disappear in 20 years, schools ought to teach kids how to learn and how to adapt. In a New York Times column a while back, Thomas Friedman quoted Reid Garrett Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, on jobs of the future.

“The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone. No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”

To begin with, Hoffman says, that means ditching a grand life plan. Entrepreneurs don’t write a 100-page business plan and execute it one time; they’re always experimenting and adapting based on what they learn.

But Georgia is now in the thrall of setting kids on career paths as early as middle school, as a new story reveals.

According to the story:

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 remedial courses 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.

–Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

91 comments Add your comment


December 12th, 2011
9:03 am


December 12th, 2011
9:04 am

if newt has his way then most minority, poor, uneducated children will be janitors. guess career path wont be much under his leadership

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

December 12th, 2011
9:25 am

Atleast under Newt there may be a career path. With Obama and his faltering economic plan it seems we have many career dead ends.

Attentive Parent

December 12th, 2011
9:26 am

Congrats Georgia. Being the first to go with basic skills plus vocation will drive employers from this state.

So is GEne Bottoms dancing in the street you have finally adopted his Techademics?

Planned economies NEVER work well unless you are the governemnt bureaucrat doing the planning.


December 12th, 2011
9:32 am


It’s not 1998 anymore. You can stop doing this.


December 12th, 2011
9:32 am

This is just one more social experiment in a long line that extends back to the 60’s and is aimed at minority children in hopes of bringing them up to middle-class levels of income in the future. Naturally, those in charge of these programs will never admit this.


December 12th, 2011
9:32 am

This is a very stupid idea. At 14, I clearly did not know what I wanted to do. At 18, I had not made much progress. After being exposed to a wide range of options, it became clear what I wanted to do. My oldest daugther wanted to be an engineer at 14. When she turned 18, she decided that she rather pursue a career in marketing. I use these as examples of the silliness of boxing 14 year old kids into career paths. I have a crazy idea. Why not focus of their mastery of the basic educational core competencies that they will need for any career?

business owner

December 12th, 2011
9:33 am

Oh yes, very much so, esp at these for-profit “colleges.” We own a software consulting firm, and the world is shifting to cloud hosted services, so “software as a service.” This was corporations think they can abolish the IT department, all those cables, having to upgrade software packages by sending someone around to each desk every year, etc etc etc. So we need to hire a true web programer; we put out an ad for a web developer – all we get are web site people thinking there’s money to be made in adding cartoons to web sites. Hah – sorry dude… Those who have actual computer skills are hardware/networking types – who’ve been headed for job obsolecense (sp) since the early 2000s. What are the jobs these colleges are preparing people for? Networking… no software programmers who need all those intangible skills of critical thinking in order to discern the best way to orchestrate a process. you can’t teach critical thinking via a slew of on-line classes. What classes are high school programs tracking their kids to? How to build a web site and social media, same time folks are realizing social media is rather limited and possibly rather damaging. Setting them up to meet a very flashy, appealing, no-money brick wall.

A reader

December 12th, 2011
9:37 am

High school should be a time for students to explore different subjects and careers. Picking a career at the age of 14 is ludicrous! In addition, asking already burdened teachers to become mentors or “career advisers” for these career paths is asking too much.

Georgia needs to focus on teaching children the basics and how to learn. If the state of Georgia really wants to help kids become prepared for careers, they should give incentives to business to create internships and apprenticeships for teenagers.


December 12th, 2011
9:44 am

Let’s hear from John Barge, former Career Tech employee. I’ll bet his kids are college-bound! Barge is pushing his agenda now since he failed to do so under Kathy Cox. Hopefully, his plan will be balanced and students can lock in to a career or choose to go to college.

Inman Park Boy

December 12th, 2011
9:45 am

This all goes to the question of the purpose of a “college education.” Historically, a four year college degree was limited to those either of economic means or high aptitude, and it was exepected from most that, after the four year degree was obtained, the bright young graduiate would opt for an appropriate professional school (business, law, medicine, etc.) A college education was unnecessary for most other “jobs” or “careers, as a liberal education was of no real use to a clerk, a cop, or a plumber, that is to say, MOST of us. But the “American Dream” (as it was redefined) was expanded from home ownership and a good job to a “college education for all!” Now we have the misguided idea that everyone must have a BA or better just to get an entry level position in almost any endeavor. So, colleges have adjusted and now offer basic lliteracy courses to those who were sick that day, and they are expected to turn out people “ready” for a job. Sounds more like vocational school, doesn’t it? More young people should opt for vocational school, for, as the name “vocation” implies, they prepare you for a job.Of what possible use is a BA for most people? NONE! Utter waste of time and money.

High School Teacher

December 12th, 2011
9:52 am

I ask my students the following questions each semester: “Do you want to go to college?” “What do you want to be when you grow-up?” Some of them are shocked to learn what they want to do does not require a 4 year college degree. Some of them are shocked to learn what they want to do requies education beyond a 4 year college degree. Some of them have no idea what they want to do when they grow-up. Some students are just going to college because it seems the next logical step in their education. For some students, college is the next logical step. However, spending time at a 4 year university is a very expensive way to find out what you want to be when you “grow-up”. I like the idea of having high school students focus on a career but it needs to include interships and exposure to various careers while they are in middle and high school.

Darren Crovitz

December 12th, 2011
9:59 am

How about a focus on developing skills that are useful in all careers? A short list might include the ability to communicate clearly, to write well for different purposes, to read critically, to work well with all kinds of people, and to respond to real problems with creative and realistic ideas. We could also emphasize the necessity to self educate through life, since adaptability seems to be pretty important.

What’s the point of school if kids leave hating the idea of learning things?

Career & Technical Education

December 12th, 2011
10:03 am

Maureen, Your view of high school career and technical education is based on the way things use to be. You should visit Decatur High School’s College and Career Academy and see first hand that their CTE programs are cutting edge. They dont suffer from old equipment and outdated practices. Call Duane Sprull the CTE Director to set up a tour. You have to see what is going on in modern day CTE. Its come a long way.


December 12th, 2011
10:03 am

A good school doesn’t teach a set of skills, it teaches the ability to read, organize ideas, think your way through problems to solutions to those problems. The schools that turn out vocation school kids doesn’t necessarily do that. Also, a person has to be motivated to want to work and earn their own living. That seems to be the anti-Christ to the liberal party which would like to have its voters beholden to the government dole.


December 12th, 2011
10:08 am

We don’t want the workers thinking!!

I swear Barge is turning out to be worse than Cox and Sherenko combined.


December 12th, 2011
10:15 am

Why on earth would we require these very young children to commit to a narrow course of study? Even most college students have some time for exploration before declaring a major.

High school “electives”, no matter what you call them, should be made available for the purpose of broadening the horizons of the students, not to funnel the students down a “career pathway”. Many children have not been exposed to a large variety of possibilities. They simply choose a job from the categories they know about.
From one perspective, it would be useful to require that a student take an elective from each of those pathways just to see if it sparks a passion in the child. But, if this approach was used, you should not be allowed to grade on aptitude, only effort. It wouldn’t be fair to flunk a kid because he/she simply isn’t good at art, for example.
From another perspective, the approach I outlined above would be a waste of time and effort for the students who are already truly passionate about a certain post-high school path.

Attentive Parent

December 12th, 2011
10:24 am

Not to be mean Darren but you so encapsulated the ed school talking points I knew you had to be a prof. Good ol KSU. Tell the Dean you ably pushed the 21st century learning skills that are designed to create that global planned economy with minds designed to be submissive and manipulable.

So did you work with Ken and Yetta getting that PhD in English ed at ASU?

Whole Language heaven. Now apparently at Kennesaw State. Poor Cobb County. And you wonder why academics are in a tailspin and none of the manufactured stories make sense.

Darren Crovitz
Associate Professor of English and English Education

Contact Information
Office: English Building (EB 27), Room 117
Phone: 770-423-6598
Fax: 770-423-6524


Coordinator of English Ed Graduate Programs

Teaching at Kennesaw State since 2005

Ph.D. English Education, 2005, Arizona State University

Specializations: Media/Visual Literacy Critical Thinking in English/Language Arts Writing Instruction and Assessment

Courses Regularly Taught: ENGL 7741/3241, Digital Media and Technology in ELA ENED 6414/6475, English Methodology I and II ENGL 7750, English Studies in the Schools

Most Recent or Most Important Publications: “Sudden Opportunities: Porpoises, Eggcorns, and Error.” English Journal 100(4) (March 2011). “21st-Century Commercial Texts in the Classroom: Exploring Online Selling, Manipulation, and Subterfuge.” Teachers as Avatars: English Studies and Technology. Hampton Press: 2011. Laura Davis and Linda Stewart, eds. “Wikipedia: Friend, Not Foe.” English Journal 98(3) (January 2009): 91-97.


Beverly Fraud

December 12th, 2011
10:38 am

APS is already ahead of the curve here with their state of the art career advancement program.

Employing Resources Achieving Sustained Economic Results

Better known by its acronym ERASER.


December 12th, 2011
10:40 am

Let’s not forget the Bridge Bill that was passed by the GA legislature.

Maureen…you may want to read the bill and talk with school systems that are having to meet the Bridge mandates….along with the DOE mandates.


December 12th, 2011
10:49 am

As the parent of a rising 9th grader, I found the article in the AJC this morning very troubling. My son has no earthly idea what path way he wants to take. I don’t think he should be forced to choose at the age of 14. A high school education should be preparing children to analyze information and become critical thinkers. I may be missing something but I don’t understand the benefit of a 14 year old declaring himself to be on the “accounting track” or the “education track.”

Beverly Fraud

December 12th, 2011
10:50 am

APS has been a model for education reform. My record speaks for itself.


December 12th, 2011
10:53 am

God deliver us from the idiots running this state.

Beverly Fraud

December 12th, 2011
10:54 am

Well Panthergirl, if he declares to be on the “education track” at age 14, you can then get him the INTERVENTION he so obviously desperately needs!

Beverly Fraud

December 12th, 2011
11:01 am

My but someone is INDEED an attentive parent. Whole language…ah yes, if we just make the stories “interesting” the children will figure out the phonics all on their own.

Funny how all these “interesting” books weren’t but “See Spot Run” was…because the child could ACTUALLY READ “See Spot Run”.

Nothing like being able to ACTUALLY READ a book, to make it enjoyable for a young tyke to read.

Darren Crovitz

December 12th, 2011
11:02 am

@Attentive Parent,

I’d argue that the ability to read and write well are important in any century.

John Konop

December 12th, 2011
11:04 am

The problem is the one size fit all path that many of your promote. If a student decides to enter a math/science academy that merely fosters that ability relative to his or her aptitude. The same can be true for the arts, VO-TECH…… The key is not putting students into 4 year college bound or out path like we do now. Also not forcing all students to be this perfectly rounded student.

Currently today we have students dropping out at alarming rate, students graduating with a GED and no real skills and students forced into classes not aligned with their aptitude. The current system is a not working for too many students. Would not a student be better served with real skills and or more enhancement of aptitude over the current system? And if a student decides to change career path would they not have more options with job skills or advance subject knowledge than the current system?

This utopian few of education has left more children behind that is has helped. No matter what we do, nothing will be a 100% right, it is all about what serves the public best as a whole.

Dekalbite@Career and Technical Education&Maureen

December 12th, 2011
11:05 am

” Duane Sprull the CTE Director to set up a tour. ”
Duane was one of DCSS’s Career Tech coodinators before Decatur City hired him. What a loss for DeKalb students. Duane is a very bright, highly motivated individual with loads of classroom experience and an extensive technology and career ed background. I’ve heard that he has done an exceptional job in Decatur City Schools. A tour would be worth your while if for no other reason than to see what a really effective administrator can accomplish.

Jerry Eads

December 12th, 2011
11:09 am

Hey, I’m ancient and I still dont’ know what I want to be when I grow up. Although my training has served me well over the years, what has kept me (more or less) on my feet has been the philosophy minor in college that gave me some of my capacity to think through things and adapt.

Sounds like John is leaning us back toward (dast I say it) tracking, but in truth that’s NEVER been left. The upside of that is many kids get much that they need for where they’re headed. The downside is that we miss a lot. You can take a kid with an IQ of 160 and convince her she ought be a TV repair person, and one with an IQ of 115 and convince them they should be a college professor. You MIGHT be right, but chances are just as likely the data you had (most likely test scores) were wrong.

We can do both. We can help kids start on the path they want to try first, and give them some of the wherewithal to adapt when that path changes or disappears.


December 12th, 2011
11:10 am

I think that you have to start focusing them into paths that we at least allow them to prepare for the future. The college track students will be just fine…this is more targeted to vocational track students. It is more or less doing what other countries do in funneling students into career tracks albeit much early than high school. It needs to be monitored and kept broad for those students who are currently having a difficult time but will mature and want viable options in his or her future.

Road Scholar

December 12th, 2011
11:10 am

Attentive Parent: His listing is a start. Add math and problem ANALYSIS and solving to the needed coursework. Reading these blogs daily, not many can disect an issue, identify alternatives, and select the best option based on results of an analysis!!! Oh, and add manners to the list!!

HS Public Teacher

December 12th, 2011
11:10 am

Setting career paths for children is a real dumb idea. But, this is Georgia after all, and we seem to jump on every dumb idea there is in the book!

So a high school is supposed to specialize in a career? And, this is supposed to help the student?

What if Sally in middle school thinks she wants medicine. She goes to the medical high school career track. Then, in her 2nd year she realizes that no way she can work with blood or any body fluids and suddenly has a high interest in law. Is she doomed for her life in terms of a career?

Why does GA need to spend the $28 million (this is what South Carolina spent on this idea) to do this? I just don’t get it.

How about spending the money to help reduce the over crowded class sizes we already have? Why do our Georgia legislators want to spend education dollars when the basic education requirements need the money so badly????


December 12th, 2011
11:35 am

Can we recall these morons?


December 12th, 2011
11:37 am

i’m teaching my young adults (and and learning for myself) you’ve got to pursue your passion in life. first understood must be a purpose for being here and how this existence was established. padardigms change but purpose will never change. consider all the markets and possibilities for tomorrows young adults… bleak outlook. if purpose can be ‘preached’ and instilled in their hearts and it is practiced, peace and prosperity will prevail. the money and material necessities for success will follow.

peace this Christmas (it’s about a purpose)

V for Vendetta

December 12th, 2011
11:43 am

Partisan politics leads to this kind of crap. We’ll get more of the same after next year’s election, regardless of who’s elected.

Consider this: I had to administer a test today that is a field test for a test that will not be given next year.

Did you get all that?

We are adminisitering the tests that were being developed before the Common Core Curriculum was handed down–i.e., they will be irrelevant next year if we move to a different curriculum. But we still had to administer them–at the cost of instructional time and taxpayer money. Why?

Who knows . . . .


December 12th, 2011
11:56 am

Computer coding? I think we used to teach that back in the 1980s or 1990s…

Attentive Parent

December 12th, 2011
12:02 pm


I wouldn’t disagree which is why I believe the tipping point is discovering there was a deliberate attempt not to teach reading or writing or math or science to the level of fluency that allows independent thinking.

Covering up that “how to prevent independent, analytical thinking” and why was a big part of the cheating scandal at APS and why the other urban school districts at Council for Great City Schools did not care that Beverly Hall was cheating when they elected her Pres in the midst of the scandal. She and her staff just got caught up implementing systemic reform before the new obscuring “assessments” could be put in place.

Someone who saw her interviewed recently asked me why she remained so cocky and I said she thinks the real story on what she was pushing and why will not come out. She is wrong.

Wait until parents discover there are word lists of the dribble of literacy to be allowed in the future. It is why media and digital literacy are being pushed as on par with print literacy. These charming parasites do not want future citizens able to think well.

So under the circumstances Darren that was quite the disingenuous response since that is the last thing Ken or Yetta have ever wanted. Probably why Ken was Goodlad’s first PhD student.


December 12th, 2011
12:07 pm

If we all got to pick our career paths as kids, the world would be full of Cowboys and Astronauts


December 12th, 2011
12:16 pm

The very best thing we can do for students with regard to future careers is to give them a well-rounded, broad education. We should hold their feet to the fire with high expectations. Our communities and parents must help to create a culture that values learning. Many jobs of the future haven’t even been invented yet!

Maureen Downey

December 12th, 2011
12:21 pm

@Clueless, Don’t think so. I think the Tech professor is talking about the sophisticated digital programming/coding that kids are now getting in college-level classes. These college coding classes, while combining creativity with practicality, require a good deal of higher math skills.

Here is a link to a British college professor’s take on this issue:


December 12th, 2011
12:27 pm

my guess is that in 20 yrs you will still need to flush a toilet!

Devil's Advocate

December 12th, 2011
12:33 pm

My wish list for kids graduating high school:

Understand cause and effect.

Be able to use math for the purposes of counting inventory, balancing a budget, estimating future trends based on historical data (doesn’t have to be perfect but in the ballpark), and general ability to measure given the appropriate tool.

Be able to understand “basic” science principles (why shouldn’t you randomly mix household goods or paint/clean without proper ventilation).

Be able to write legibly.

Be able to articulate a point in written and verbal form by presenting both facts and opinions, then effectively presenting the reasoning for the belief.

Be able to use a map, compass, and effectively use cardinal directions.

Be able to listen to a speaker and ascertain the message being delivered. Also able to ask questions for anything misunderstood or unaccounted for in the message.

Be able to both follow and draft instructions.

Be able to use reference materials to effectively research a topic on his/her own.

I’m sure there’s a few other basics that can be added to the list but if a person can generally do these things then they can learn to do any job they desire. I don’t care if a person is going to college, vocational school, the military, or directly into the workforce; the above skills will make that person better off for future success.

Grumpy Old Man

December 12th, 2011
12:35 pm

These are the same Republican politicians, including Newt, who think funding for Summer youth employment which offers inner city youth the opportunity to earn paychecks during the summer by working at parks, recreation centers, schools and pairing up with county and city employees in roads and drainage and other agencies should be eliminated. The hypocrisy is astounding.

Darren Crovitz

December 12th, 2011
12:38 pm

@Attentive Parent,

I think we’re on the same page on this one. While I believe there’s some merit in being able to critique media messages and use digital technology, that’s not a substitute for a rich background in old-fashioned reading and writing. Learning to read and write well is essentially a process of learning how to think. I’m not convinced that “digital literacy” gets us there alone.

(The Goodmans are at the University of Arizona. I didn’t work with them.)


December 12th, 2011
1:00 pm

Kids should learn Chinese. In order to be able to communicate with their masters.


December 12th, 2011
1:00 pm

You don’t necessarily need great math skills to do “computer coding” (correct names are software development, software design, etc).

However you should be able to implement math/algebra algorithims when needed for solving a problem in a design, as well as solving the occassional equation to derive “x” or whatever.

Also software design is largely problem solving, LEARNING MORE, and being able to accomplish something methodically.

Of course it depends on the particulars of your field but I’m speaking generally.

A lot of it is abstract thinking in today’s world (object-oriented programming, abstraction, layers, etc).

Atlanta Native

December 12th, 2011
1:11 pm

Barge’s proposal is out and out SOCIAL ENGINEERING. Scary! High school is supposed to provide an education in the basics, while giving students a chance to explore various subject through elective courses. Choose a career path at this age? It’s hard enough just to choose a single COURSE!!! If the goal is to prepare kids for a career, why not simply provide a new elective course, that is OPTIONAL for all kids, called “Choosing a Career”? For those who are interested, it should prove at least as valuable as a typical PE class.

Newt G.

December 12th, 2011
1:17 pm

This is silly. I didn’t find my true passion–lobbying–until after I left Congress.


December 12th, 2011
1:19 pm

True Story: I was awarded an art scholarship to a local college after high school…for many reasons, I ended up dropping out of college to find a full time job. On every job application, it asked about awards, honors, etc. and I always included my little scholarship (which I’m sure many laughed about). One fine day the president of a computer company called and asked about my art abilities “Art? You must have really good hand/eye coordination, right?” and I was hired that day to plug in components on computer boards (blue collar, but, hey, an honest living). Point being, you can’t always train directly for what you may end up doing! Stayed in that job for several years while I figured out what I really wanted to do….;and worked my way through college graduating cum laude. Secon point being, I didn’t know until I was 21 years old exactly what I wanted to do. A majority of non-college prep students are the same…believe this will be a mistake.

Hong Kong Career Model

December 12th, 2011
1:24 pm

I have a young Chinese friend who started university this year in Hong Kong. They have a similar, yet more structured policy now in this area that started years ago based on a British model. As has occurred in Hong Kong, the concern I have is that higher education will start looking at the classes a student has taken in high school and admitting them based into that area of study alone. My young friend decided he wanted to specialize in languages and thought it would be “neat” to be a translator at 14. When it came time to apply for university his senior year, he decided he wanted to go into education. He was informed that none of the universities would accept him without additional lower level training to switch career paths. He has reluctantly decided to continue with languages. Their program was established for the same reason that ours has been proposed, but has become a part of the education process and limits student’s aspirations.