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What Americans say about…

How much should schools focus on workforce preparation?

Preparing a student for the workplace isn’t the main purpose of a public school education, but a plurality of parents (45%) would still like to have their child enroll in a job skills course in high school rather than an advanced academic class or an arts or music course.

Parents and adults (each 53%) agree that academics should be the focus of a public school education while teachers say the main goal should be preparing students to be good citizens (45%) or preparing them academically (37%).

Academic courses all the way! That’s what they really need at that point in their lives. Learning how to adult is the parents’ responsibility, and that can come later.

Autumn, 39, White mother of three elementary school students in suburban Michigan

Just about 2 in 10 parents, teachers, and all adults alike say that preparing students for work should be the public schools’ main goal. Preference for work preparation is higher among Republicans, conservatives, rural residents, and Whites than their counterparts. Asian-American parents and public school teachers are most focused on citizenship, and Democrats are 9 percentage points more apt than Republicans and independents to prioritize academics.

Another question, though, makes clear that learning job skills is a broadly shared goal nonetheless: Seventy-five percent of parents, 77% of all adults, and 82% of teachers say schools should prepare students both for jobs and academically. Only 15% of parents and all adults and 8% of teachers say core academics alone should be the priority.

2019 Main Goal Public School Education

Indeed, given a choice of job skills classes, advanced academic classes, or arts or music classes, a plurality of parents (45%) say they’d want their child to take a job skills class in high school. Thirty-seven percent select advanced academics; 18% choose arts or music.

Parents who are college graduates are more likely to prefer advanced academics for their child, 44% vs. 33% among nongraduates, and nongraduates are more likely to pick job skills classes, 51% vs. 34%. Preference for advanced academics also is considerably higher among Asian-American (49%) and Latinx (46%) parents, compared with Whites and Blacks, both 33%.

2019 Preferred Elective Subject

College is great, but the whole world does not attend college. We are doing our future generations such a disservice by pretending all students want to go to college and putting very little time and money on the other areas of life. Should they be allowed to drop some academic courses to take job skills, a huge yes.

Jean, 60, mixed-race high school teacher in suburban Delaware

What job skills classes? Asked to pick three subjects they’d want their child to take out of a list of nine options, parents by substantial margins favor computer programming, 54%, health/medical studies, 49%, and information technology hardware and systems, 45%.

These are followed by drafting/engineering, 33%, building trades, 27%, communications and graphic design, 22%, culinary arts, 19%, automotive repair, technology, and refinishing, 17%, and cosmetology, 6%.

Some traditional gender roles apply. Parents picking classes for a daughter are twice as likely to prefer arts or music classes as electives than those choosing for a son, 24% to 12%. Within job skills choices, parents are vastly more apt to prefer health/medical classes for their daughters than for their sons (63% vs. 35%) as well as 9 to 11 percentage points more likely to select culinary arts and cosmetology classes for their daughters. Conversely, parents are more than twice as likely to pick building trades for their sons as for their daughters (38% vs. 15%) as well as more likely to choose automotive work (by 19 points) and drafting/engineering (by 10 points) for their sons. That said, there’s no difference in preference for computer programming.

2019 Preferred Job Skills

The survey also finds majority support for allowing students who don’t plan to go to college to skip required academic classes in order to take more job skills classes. About two-thirds of all adults and parents alike and 73% of teachers favor this approach. Logically, support peaks, at 83%, among Americans who say workforce preparation should be the schools’ main goal.

In all, 57% of parents expect their child to go to a four-year college full time after high school and an additional 12% expect them to attend a four-year college part time. Fourteen percent expect their child to attend a two-year college, and 7% expect them to work full time.

These expectations correspond with views on the main goal of school. Among parents who expect their child to attend a four-year college full time, 60% say the goal should be to prepare students academically. Among those who don’t expect their child to attend postsecondary school, this falls to 33%.


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