Employment Mismatch Begins Before College

Does the mismatch between employer needs and college graduate skills begin in university or before?  In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education and APM Marketplace study, The Employment Mismatch,   employers reported a lack of applicants who could solve complex problems, communicate effectively, and analyze data, in general, individuals who could think.

Even with an intellectually challenging four-year degree, young people who spent 13 years (K-12) in high-stakes testing environments, often had limited opportunities to think beyond the correct answer.  The public school accountability culture rewarded one right answer above all others.  This pattern in public education has occurred relentlessly for some 30 years.  Thus, there are generations of young people either entering the job market or trying to do so, who really have little, if any, practice in identifying problems, creating solutions, analyzing implications, or evaluating a situation.

With some 50 million  students in 100,000 public schools  and mandated testing that permeates the system, there are many generations to come who will find themselves lacking in employers eyes.  Although there is some push-back to the high-stakes, narrow accountability systems, it will take years to re-ignite a full curriculum with high expectations that are learner-centered.  Such expectations are built on societal needs, as reflected in state and common core curriculum standards, and student abilities, interests, and needs.

A key difference between a curriculum driven and assessment driven school experience is the focus.  In the former, the focus is on student learning.   In the latter, the focus in on student test-taking skills.

The old adage, “what gets tested, gets taught” reigns supreme in the high-stakes testing arena.   If employers really want applicants and future employees to analyze, problem-find, problem-solve, create, and think, they should look below higher education.  Business and industry can be powerful catalysts to re-launch curriculum-based, learner-centered schools which, by the way, remain accountable to taxpayers.  One avenue to such renewal of schools and student achievement is education on demand.