Student Competency

The US education system assumes that a high school diploma means you have met certain standards in universal skills like language, mathematics and reading. Our systems are pretty much aligned with the concept that it takes until 12th grade to get all those minimum competencies. Much the same way that you can walk into a Starbucks anywhere in the world and get the same latte, the theory is that you should be able to hire a high school graduate from any school in the country, and know that they have a certain skill set.

In reality, though, a high school graduate who is looking for a job right out of school is going to find a very different employment landscape in the Pacific Northwest, for example, than they would in the Midwest. A new graduate in Seattle is going to find jobs at companies like Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Expedia—companies which are looking to hire people with strong computer skills. On the other hand, a graduate in Oklahoma City is going to find employers in the agriculture and energy sectors. The skill sets required for these different sectors are not the same.

This leads us to the question: “does it make sense to give kids in these two cities the same skill set? Is there a better way for school to prepare students for the communities they are living in?”

Different parts of the world answer these questions differently. In Romania, for example, students enter a high school that has a specific focus in Theoretical Science, Humanities, Technical Programs, Vocational Programs, or Service. By the time they leave high school, students have a developed, practical skillset in their area of choice.

Another possibility would be to give schools a particular focus depending on their region. Maybe we would give students in Seattle an education that would emphasize computer skills, while in Oklahoma City we might include Natural Resource Management and Agriculture.

The drawback to solutions like these is that students would spend less time developing those skills which they are not specializing in. High school students would not all have the same set of competencies. What we have to consider, though, is that in a country with many different kinds of jobs and career choices does it really make sense that we are striving to produce only one kind of graduate?