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Integrating BC's Graduation Requirements for Career Planning and Portfolios 
I'm proposing a programme to help British Columbia's high schools integrate career- and college-preparation information into their courses and processes, approaching the issue as if I was an educational consultant hired to study the new British Columbia graduation requirements and develop a programme framework.

In this case, I'm assuming that there has been a need expressed by the province's Ministry of Education or a local district, for a programme to help schools integrate a set of learning outcomes previously addressed by British Columbia's Career and Personal Planning programme. The first primary step in the development process is to determine the purpose of the programme and assess the needs. Since the need has already been expressed, I would initiate a research project to confirm the validity of the needs. This would require an understanding of the issue, which may also benefit readers of this paper.

Last spring, the British Columbia government revised the graduation requirements for high-school students in the province. As part of this restructuring, the eight-year-old CAPP programme was cancelled. Students previously took CAPP courses each year from Grade 8 to Grade 12, covering mostly career planning, employability skills, education planning, decision-making, budgeting, and health issues. They also included work experience and community service components.
The learning outcomes of this programme aligned well with the Conference Board of Canada's Employability Skills (Kitagawa, 1998), and the programme was even included in the Conference Board's list of best-practices case studies.

Many students found the CAPP programme to be valuable, and employers liked the focus on skills and connections to the workplace, but it others thought it was too repetitious and poorly taught. Teachers often had no background in career development, and felt ill prepared to teach the classes. This lack of professional development will doom whatever programmes replace it, unless specific attention is given to front-line implementation and teacher's needs. This fall, the entire programme will be replaced by two new components: one course called Planning 10, and a portfolio requirement for graduation.

Needs Analysis - Replacing CAPP

This change reduces the instructional time available for career planning and other components from the original CAPP programme, while still maintaining high expectations through the portfolio requirement, which students must complete largely on their own after Grade 10:
"Portfolio assembly will begin in Grade 10, with specific support and guidance provided as part of the Planning 10 course. The areas covered in the portfolio will include education and career planning, information technology, community involvement, health and fitness, employability skills and artistic expression." (Government of British Columbia, 2003)
In an outline of the new requirements, the Ministry of Education acknowledges that it is delegating responsibility to schools and boards to "determine how to staff appropriately for portfolio development and assessment" and that schools "may choose to develop courses to support students in collecting evidence, meeting assessment standards, and preparing for their portfolio panel presentation" (Clark, 2003).

This type of significant project won't be easily administered when there is no specific instructional time or funding allotted to it. School guidance counsellors would traditionally take care of initiatives like this, but their time tends to be already consumed by the demands of reactive counselling, course selection and post-secondary preparation for a relatively small percentage of students. In a recent in-person interview, a British Columbia school administrator and CAPP instructor acknowledged that schools would need outside guidance to create and maintain the programmes alluded to in the government's documentation (M. Dueck, personal communication, August 3, 2003).

The Ministry is also recommending that students should be "encouraged to choose courses that relate to one or more career-based focus areas" (Clark, 2003). They've even defined eight career pathways or focus areas that are designed to help students make the transition from school to work or post-secondary programmes. This is another worthy goal, but they don't include any curriculum or resource guidelines to help schools or districts to actually implement it. It looks like they've killed the instructional time allotted to CAPP, attempted to retain many of the same learning outcomes, and then offered an invitation for schools to create and fund their own programmes to meet the Ministry's expectations.

I've included this thorough description of the demise of the CAPP programme as a background to my proposed programme -- since many of the goals are shared -- and also as an interesting study in the life cycle of an extensive programme that was already well integrated into the provincial K-12 system. There's no doubt it was carefully developed by passionate people, but unfortunately, it has been viewed as failure. It may be an example of learning outcomes that may not be best addressed by adding mandatory courses to the provincial curriculum, but also illustrates how vulnerable programmes are to changes in political climate.

Stakeholder Needs and Rationale

Aside from the Ministry's recommendations, there are other stakeholders in the province who feel that the current system isn't preparing students properly for their post-secondary transitions. Employers across North America feel that potential recruits need to be better prepared for the workplace -- in March, 2003, the British Columbia Department of Skills Development and Labour (2003) released a report with the following finding: "Overwhelmingly, employers spoke of a disconnect between institutions/educators (both K-12 and post-sec) and businesses over the skills required of graduates.

British Columbia 's students also generally feel that they aren't being prepared effectively for life after high school. A study of graduates in 2001 found that "only 38 per cent of graduates were satisfied with how well the education system had prepared them for work; only 63 per cent were satisfied with how the system had prepared them academically for post-secondary education" (Clark, 2003). The Ministry also reports that the high-school dropout rate in the province is 25 percent. It seems likely that career programmes and curricula in other subject areas could be enhanced to help improve those dismal numbers.

According to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, teachers in the province were divided on the merits of the CAPP programme. Many schools found assessment and administration difficult, and teachers recognized that many students felt that it was too repetitive. Despite these problems, "teachers, students, and parents all agree that many of the topics covered in the course(s) are critically important" (British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, 2003).

The Teachers’ Federation raised several concerns about the new graduation requirements, including opposition to career pathways, confusion over the implementation of portfolios across all subjects and grades, and the perception that the government is trying to shift the focus of schooling to "preparing to preparing students for technical or trade schools or for direct transition to work" (British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, 2003). Many teachers also get questions from students about the relevance of the topics they're covering in class -- career information could potentially provide that real-world connection to the learning that is taking place, but there seems to be some resistance to the philosophy.

Initial Recommendations for the Purpose and Goals of the Programme

As a programme developer analyzing the research at this point in the process, I would probably conclude that a new programme is required within the legislative constraints of the new graduation requirements. Since the Ministry of Education is not assuming a mandate for implementing the new requirements, the programme should be developed, tested and implemented at the district level, focusing on curricular integration and testing, an instructional approach to professional development for teachers and the measurement and distribution of best practices.

Curriculum integration and testing are important for real implementation of the process. This recommendation is primarily political, because it would require the Ministry of Education to approve changes to the subject-area curriculum that would emphasize learning outcomes related to career and college preparation. If those outcomes could also be included in provincial exams for specific subjects as well, that would improve the likelihood of the material getting covered in classrooms. Initially, it would be smart to focus on the courses that already have reference to career applicability -- the prescribed learning outcomes for many courses include lines like: "describe the applications of geography to present and future careers" (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 1999).

The instructional component of the programme is focused on professional development for school staff, including counsellors and subject-area teachers. The instructional context and delivery method will be addressed later, but there would be four primary goals for this instruction: convincing teachers of the importance of the programme, raising awareness of existing resources and models (and distributing resources), sharing ideas for curriculum integration, and helping instructional teams work together to facilitate the process, including administrators, counsellors and teachers.
The third main component is evaluative. Key metrics for the success of the programme will be determined, measured and shared between educators, schools and districts. Best practices from similar programmes outside of the district or province should also provide benchmarks for implementation and ideas for adapting the programme or avoiding pitfalls.

Mission Statement and Objectives

From a process perspective, I'd present the recommendations for the purpose and goals of the programme to interested stakeholders. The external context would focus on the legislative environment and guidance from the Ministry of Education. Most likely, the programme would be developed and funded at the district level, so the feedback and approval from district administrators would be crucial. Since this is hypothetical, let's assume that consensus has been achieved, resulting in a mission statement like the following: This programme will support British Columbia high school teachers with training and curriculum to integrate career and college-preparation information into their subject areas and facilitate the successful completion of graduation portfolios. The programme will be continually evaluated, with results shared within the district and with the Ministry of Education for possible duplication in other districts.

The big-picture objective of the programme is to ensure that students understand their post-secondary and career options and have developed the skills and experiences necessary for a successful transition from high school. Because of funding constraints, no new courses will be introduced, which means that all educators will have a role to play in meeting this objective. To help teachers play this role, the programme's secondary objectives are to help teachers understand the value of connecting abstract learning to students' post-secondary goals, increase awareness of online resources that connect subject-area topics to future planning, provide teachers with simple single-class-period lessons for each subject area, offer in-depth lesson plans for further activities, and help classroom teachers with instructional strategies.

Complete paper and references (MS Word document)

posted by Jeremy  # 3:27 PM

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