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The decline of career-oriented high school curricula

Updated: Feb 7, 2021

By Breanna Lu and Norah Shen Feb. 03, 2021

Ivan Zhu Art

In high school, teenagers are expected to learn skills that will benefit them in college, future careers and life beyond the classroom. However, Public School Reviews claims that, while high school curricula emphasize academics, they inadequately prepare students for the real world and the workplace.

Forbes reports that only five percent of adults in the U.S. believe high school graduates are prepared for success. Many students have no work experience by the time they graduate high school—in 2019, only 19 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds reported having a summer job. As the value of work is decreasing, the majority of students have shifted to place more emphasis on homework, extracurriculars and volunteering instead.

According to The Daily American, high school courses are centered around standardized tests. Most core subjects, including math, language arts, science, history and foreign languages, follow a curriculum that emphasizes lectures and examinations. Due to this rigid learning system, students are able to adapt efficient methods of organization and memorization.

However, many believe that high schools fail to teach interpersonal skills, work-life balance and self-awareness. Education Week explains that many non-academic skills that are an essential part of adulthood—such as building relationships, regulating emotions and developing a growth mindset—are not prioritized despite their significant role in ensuring success in the workplace. In addition to not teaching professional skills, high schools generally forgo exposure to the workplace for students. However, many employers look for prior work experience when hiring.

However, many believe that high schools fail to teach interpersonal skills, work-life balance and self-awareness.

“In English class this year, I enjoyed learning about important aspects of our future such as affording college tuition. I wish that the school could teach more about different types of careers so we can get a better sense of how we might apply what we learn to our future jobs,” Senior Eugene Hong said.

High school curriculum has not always been as academically-centered as it is today. At the school, class offerings have previously included career-preparation courses. From 2013 to 2014, the school offered Work Experience Education, which assisted students in developing work habits as well as Business Internships, which provided juniors and seniors the opportunity to intern in their preferred career. However, these programs are not offered at the school anymore.

Curriculum changes have been influenced by the fact that taking on a job is less prevalent among high school students today. A study by the Pew Research Center in 2019 found that the percentage of 15- to 17-year-old students working decreased by 29 percent from 1968 to 2018. Even students who are enrolled in postsecondary education only have a 60 percent chance of finding a job within six years after graduating from college.

The rise of unemployment among 18- to 24-year-olds also burdens the U.S. economy—jobless young adults will spend less money on businesses, struggle to become financially independent and require increased amounts of government assistance, ultimately placing a burden on taxpayers. Opportunity Nation states that, on average, $25 billion is lost annually due to uncollected taxes from unemployed youth, and adult taxpayers need to pay a combined $93 billion extra to make up for it.

However, schools are not completely to blame for the lack of career-preparation. Education Week attests that many employers often fail to communicate with schools about job skills that should be taught. To help prepare students for future careers, the school has collaborated with the Silicon Valley Career Technical Education, which develops students’ technical skills, such as technology troubleshooting. The school also mandates seniors to take at least the Regular Economics course, which teaches students about financial management and budgeting.

“In economics, we have learned about scarcity, opportunity costs, credit scores and how to weigh benefits and drawbacks of a financial choice. It is a very helpful course for many different careers because the concept of economics is present in nearly every aspect of life, not just in the financial world. This class is more relevant to the real world than other classes I have taken because I can see myself directly applying what I learn in the future,” Senior Samantha Chiotellis said.

"[Economics] is a very helpful course for many different careers because the concept of economics is present in nearly every aspect of life, not just in the financial world." - Senior Samantha Chiotellis

To combat the lack of career-preparedness on a wider scale, some schools have incorporated work-based learning programs, which provide students with hands-on career experiences through job shadowing, career mentorship, interviews and workplace tours. Various organizations, such as the Career Leadership Awareness Forum (CLAF), have established connections with corporations to help expose students to the workplace. 83Degree reports that, in 2019, when the CLAF partnered with Duke Energy, an American electric company, employees from the company educated students about the energy industry and provided 150 paid internships for students over the summer.

High school nurtures skills important for academic success, but also need to focus on preparing students for the real world. Recognizing the growing number of unemployed youth, some schools now incorporate more real-world applications of academic skills through improved curriculum.


About the Contributors

Breanna Lu

Staff Writer

Breanna Lu is a freshman and a new staff writer. She enjoys binge watching sci-fi movies and her favorite book genre is murder mysteries/crime fiction. In her free time, you will most likely find her asleep or chatting with her friends.

Norah Shen

Staff Writer

Norah Shen is a freshman at Leland High School and is a new staff writer. She likes to read, listen to music, and relentlessly tease her younger sister.

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