Business leaders urge schools to focus less on tests, more on careers


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on December 12, 2012 at 7:54 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 12 at 8:01 PM

AUSTIN -- At Austin's Lanier High School, students in the school's Health Science Institute get a head start on the technical skills and medical language for a future job in health care. 

"I got to shadow mostly X-ray technicians," Lanier senior Vincent Aviles told KVUE. "I liked it and I want to study for that."

"I plan on going to college, getting a degree in nursing, bachelors," said senior Lizbeth Gonzalez.

The idea behind career technology programs such as Lanier's Health Science Institute is that students will be better prepared for their eventual career, whether it begins after graduation or after completing a college degree program.

"It really gives them a chance to see what it's like working in health care," said Lanier Health Science teacher Shelly Boucher.

The four-year program offers students an early start on a career as a doctor, nurse, dentist or technician in a variety of health care fields. For students interested in pharmacy, a certification program provides a path for students to walk from the classroom straight into a job.

"If they pass that, they will have a $14 an hour job waiting for them," said Boucher. "You can take that certification at other schools after high school, post-secondary level, but here you're getting it at the secondary level, before you've graduated."

Even better for high school students who may face a difficult time finding the money for college, the high school program is free.

Whether graduation means entering the workforce or pursuing a further degree at a university or community college, some Texas students remain unprepared.

"Over fifty percent of Texas high school graduates must take remedial courses when they reach community colleges," Texas Institute for Education Reform Chairman Jim Windham told KVUE at a media conference at the State Capitol.

It's a statistic of particular concern to business leaders, who on Wednesday announced a set of suggestions they hope can keep schools accountable and flexible.

"To us it's the core mission of the K-12 system is to graduate students who are career or college ready," said Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond.

Much of the recent criticism has focused on the STAAR test. Hammond says he has no problem with the test itself, but his plan would decrease the amount of end-of-course exams required to graduate. The plan aims to encourage students to pursue a graduation path geared towards career readiness.

"We think it adds more flexibility so they can take more career and technology courses while they're still in high school," Hammond said. "But at the same time it makes sure that they have the academic skills necessary for a good job or to go onto a community college or proprietary school and be successful."

For health science students at Lanier, success is part preparation and part enthusiasm.
"It's hard, but it's worth it," said Aviles.

"It's something really fun," said Gonzalez. "Something that I enjoy doing, helping people and working in health care."

Plans could soon be on the table to grow Lanier's program and others like it. Education leaders will hear community input evaluating the role and possible expansion of career and technology programs Wednesday night at Bowie High School.

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