Points of View

Adapting high schools for the future of work

Sam Stebbins

In an open letter to state policy leaders, XQ outlines the changes that can be made to better prepare high school students for the future of work. This is necessary because, according to XQ, “47% of American jobs will be impacted by automation” in the coming years.

 

The letter calls on policymakers to create “high schools that are designed intentionally for the modern world. To create schools like that, we must act boldly and deliberately to reimagine high school itself.”

 

Changing skills for changing jobs

Because so many jobs will eventually be accomplished by artificial intelligence (AI), students will need to develop “the irreplaceable qualities and skills at which humans are still best.” These include skills such as problem solving, creativity, and teamwork. Often, these are referred to as “soft skills” or “employability skills.” These will be increasingly crucial to both white- and blue-collar jobs.

 

The letter also notes that “student ambitions are high,” although many students themselves feel that the current high-school model does not adequately prepare them for post-secondary education or a career. “Instead of being challenged to develop their minds, most high school students say they are bored, unchallenged, and uninspired.”

 

In addition, students of color are particularly unprepared for life after high school. Dropout rates are higher among this population, and college readiness is lower. This inequity has major repercussions for both students and the economy as a whole. “Closing the racial achievement gap would boost our GDP by half a trillion dollars per year.”

 

How to transform classrooms

Finally, the letter includes examples of innovative high schools that are preparing students for college and in-demand careers. These schools share focus on STEM education and a strong sense of community to engage students. Many are project-based and have an emphasis on career exploration. The letter urges a transition to competency-based education, where “students progress by demonstrating they have mastered specific, clearly defined goals” and may progress at their own paces, as well as personalized learning, which allows teachers to customize learning according to each student’s “unique interests, needs, and postsecondary aspirations.”

 

Grand Rapids Public Museum School is one of the featured high schools. This West Michigan middle and high school is based on “immersing students in learning experiences that are deeply rooted in their own hometown.” At the Museum School, curriculum is focused on sustainability, technology, and design all explored as they relate to the Grand Rapids community.