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What Americans say about…

Preparing students for life after high school

Americans overwhelmingly want schools to do more than educate students academically.

Fewer than half of Americans in the 2016 PDK survey said the main goal of public education should be to prepare students academically, as opposed to providing work training or citizenship skills. And the desire for more career, technical, or skills-based classes outpaced preference for more advanced academic classes by more than three to one. Those results constituted a wake-up call to educators that the public sees academics, while important, as only part of today’s educational mission.

This year’s results expand upon those findings, exposing the depth and breadth of public interest in the role of public schools in job and career training. 

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Among the results, a vast 86% of Americans say public schools should offer classes that award certificates or licenses qualifying students for employment in specific fields; six in 10 feel strongly about it, a high level of intensity in support for such programs.

Nearly as many (82%) say public high schools should offer job or career skills classes in place of academic classes, again demonstrating broad support for jobs-focused education.

Eighty-two percent also see technology and engineering classes to prepare students for careers in those fields as extremely or very important in school quality, placing it in a tie for the top item of six that were assessed. Alongside it is how well schools help students develop interpersonal skills such as cooperation, respect, and persistence — another outcome essential to success outside the school gates and beyond the realm of traditional academic instruction.

While support for jobs-focused education is uniformly high in the measures described above, there’s more differentiation in another question: Fifty-one percent say public high schools in their community should provide more career skills classes than they do now vs. only 4% who say they should offer fewer such classes. The rest either say that the right amount of job or career skills classes are currently available (30%) or express no opinion (15%). 

A deeper dive

Support for public high schools offering job or career skills classes, offering technology and engineering classes, and promoting interpersonal skills is broadly based across groups. But differences emerge in support for more such classes. Support peaks at 64% among parents whose oldest child in public school is a boy vs. 49% if it’s a girl.

Further, satisfaction with job-related classes relates to views of school quality. Among Americans who say their local public schools are offering the right amount of job or career classes, 64% give those schools an A or B grade for their performance overall. Among those who see a need for more such classes, just 44% offer A or B grades to their local schools.    

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Views on the reliability of standardized tests also are relevant. Among public school parents who are very confident that standardized tests do a good job measuring learning, 40% favor more jobs-related classes. Among those who are somewhat or not so confident in standardized testing, support for more such classes rises to 59%. And support is 71% among those who aren’t confident in standardized tests at all.     

In another result — and a logical one — public school parents who expect their child to get a full-time job or go to college part time while also working are more apt to support more job skills classes than parents who expect their child to go to college full time (62% vs. 52%).     

Similarly, although the sample size is too small to make definitive conclusions, the data suggest that public school parents who think their child will get a full-time job after high school, rather than additional schooling, are most apt to favor schools offering job and career classes.    

Wanting more job/career skills classes is greater among blacks (60%) than among whites (50%) or Hispanics (49%). Blacks also are more apt to say that technology and engineering-related classes are extremely important. Support for more jobs classes also is greater among those with household incomes less than $100,000 than those with higher incomes (54% vs. 44%) and among those younger than 65 than seniors (53% vs. 42%).    

Under-65s, less-than-$100,000 earners, and nonwhites are more apt than their counterparts to feel strongly that schools should offer certificate or license programs. Strong support for licensing programs also rises as local school ratings decline — 68% among those who grade their schools a C or lower vs. 55% among those who give them an A or B. 

The Questions

  1. Q. Do you think public high schools should or should not offer job or career skills classes if it means that those students spend less time in academic classes?
  2. Q. Do you think public high schools in your community should offer more job or career skills classes than they do now, fewer such classes, or do they offer about the right amount of them?
  3. Q. Do you think public high schools in your community should or should not offer programs in which students can earn a certificate or license that qualifies them for employment in a specific field?

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