Career Pathways as a New Bipartisan Education Agenda

Bruno Manno of the Walton Family Foundation and Lynn Olson of FutureEd recently partnered to propose a new bipartisan education agenda focusing on offering multiple career pathways to students. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

The new career pathways emerging around the country exemplify what University of Texas law professor Joseph Fishkin calls opportunity pluralism, a move to make the nation’s opportunity infrastructure more pluralistic by offering individuals more pathways to success.

The essential elements of the opportunity agenda are what students know (knowledge) and whom they know (relationships). Beyond the acquisition of academic and technical skills, students also need to cultivate other habits of mind and associations as the building blocks of individual opportunity. We call them habits because pursuing knowledge and relationships requires behaviors learned and internalized through practice. These habits are also character strengths that lead to the building of democratic, civic communities. Together, they enable the pursuit of opportunity.

Understanding opportunity through a prism of knowledge and networks is a way to frame a bipartisan conversation about the role of schools and other community institutions in student success. It has the potential to unite divergent political orientations and beliefs by encouraging and enabling individuals, schools, community organizations and local enterprises to work together—expanding their relationships, networks, and social circles to advance opportunity and engendering an understanding of relationships as valuable resources.

To ensure that young people are empowered to choose the pathways and connections that are right for them, the new opportunity agenda recognizes that students need Academics + Technical Skills; Credentials + Networks; and Agency + Advising.

These principles lead to five essential features of pathways programs that can guide coalition efforts at the local and state levels:

  • Academic Core and a Credential
  • Exposure to Work and Careers
  • A Strong System of Advising
  • Authentic Partnerships
  • Supporting Policies

Together, these elements of successful pathway programs help young people develop an occupational identity and a vocational self, as well as a broader sense of who they are as adults, something that should be a key focus of schools preparing young people for civic responsibility.

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