Education isn’t just job training

Only one in five of parents, teachers and other adults say that preparing students for work should be the main goal of schools, according to the 2019 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

Will someone please tell our elected officials?

The poll asked, “What do you think should be the main goal of a public school education — to prepare students academically, to prepare students for work, or to prepare students to be good citizens?”

Only a small minority, including 18% of parents and 17% of teachers, chose preparing students for work. Among parents and the general public, a majority said schools should focus on academics. A plurality of teachers, 45%, said preparing citizens should be the priority.

But academics and citizenship seem to get short shrift these days in policy discussions in Indiana:

  • Students must now demonstrate “employability skills” to graduate from high school. The State Board of Education included the requirement as part of the state’s new graduation pathways.
  • In Gov. Eric Holcomb’s 2019 “next level” agenda, the section on education includes nearly twice as many objectives focused on career preparation as on education, schools and teachers.
  • At Holcomb’s request, the state legislature added a requirement that teachers complete 15 hours in business-run externships or professional development activities to renew their licenses. This may make sense for some high-school teachers, but it’s silly for most elementary teachers.
  • The career obsession has reached all the way down to the youngest children. This week, an Indianapolis panel focused on expanding preschool options was titled “How We’re Failing Tomorrow’s Workforce.” With a subtitle of “Playtime is Over.”

Of course, career and technical education is valuable, and not just for students who don’t plan to attend college. And of course, schools can prepare students for jobs at the same time they focus on academics. Three-fourths of the PDK Poll respondents said schools should do both.

But employment training isn’t the be-all, end-all of education – no matter how much the state’s employers may want schools to churn out job-ready workers. When it comes to making education policy, officials should listen to parents, teachers and the public, not just to the business sector.

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