Time to Rethink Education

How Real World Learning Can Better Prepare Students for the Future of Work

As technology and human advancement continue to transform American workplaces, education in the United States has remained stagnant for nearly a century.

At the inaugural Rethink Ed convening in April 2018, The Kauffman Foundation gathered students, educators, community visionaries, and business leaders from around the Kansas City region to discuss how we can reimagine the high school diploma to reflect the skills, abilities, and knowledge that students need to succeed in our changing world.

Through conversations, surveys, focus groups, exercises, and research, it became evidently clear: it’s time to rethink education so that we can prepare our students for the future of work.

The Diploma Today

The high school education system doesn’t work for many students.

Rather than adapting the educational model to align with a changing workforce and modern times, we’ve instead asked students to fit into a system that doesn’t prepare them for success beyond the classroom. In Kansas and Missouri, too many students are left behind and we are failing to guide them successfully from classroom to career.

Source: Kansas Department of Education and Missouri Department of Higher Education

In the eyes of parents, the quality of high school education is only getting worse.

Today, Kansas City parents feel students are less prepared for life beyond the classroom than they themselves were after graduation.

Reasons for this sentiment vary, but parents agree—an under-teaching of real world skills contributes to the lack of preparedness.

Parents believe that the model for how both school and student performances are assessed is outdated.

This current model of assessment–rating students through standardized tests and ranking schools based on these scores–does not measure student preparedness for life after school and career success.

But parents are conflicted on what the future should look like–test scores still play a prominent role in their assessment of what makes a good school.

Despite this pessimism, Kansas City residents still see an increasing value of secondary and postsecondary education.

However, there is a clear diversity in perspectives between parents of color and white parents, especially in regards to the value of a four-year degree, quality of schools, and keys to professional success.

Parents of color emphasize rigor, self-control, and four year-college as the keys to success, while white parents emphasize soft skills, independence, and flexibility about four-year college.

Regardless of these differences, parents agree: the ultimate goal for high school education is to enable students with the skills needed to become self-sufficient individuals.

Quality education should lead to career success, and thus, financial independence, self-sufficiency, and character. But until education evolves and adapts to the current state of work, students will continue to be left behind.

Ninety percent of parents believe that learning is a process that is always evolving, step by step, yet the model hasn’t changed in nearly a century


The Future of Work Is Now

It’s A Bright Future

As technology and human advancement continue to transform the workplace, Americans are optimistic about the future. Students with technology skills and training stand to gain the most from this shift in work, while those without these skill sets risk being left behind.

Many of these jobs will require skills that are obtainable without a four-year degree.

Survey respondents are split on whether technology will create more opportunity, although they all agree it will impact future generations

50% of those surveyed believe technology will create more opportunities, industries, and jobs
96% feel this will impact future generations of students.

This future of work has changed the value of a four-year degree.

In an increasingly globalized gig economy, more viable postsecondary options exist now than ever before, including industry recognized credentials, high skilled training, associate and vocational degrees, and work experience credits.

High schools must embrace this changing workplace and encourage students to choose a postsecondary experience that fits their passions.

Survey respondents believe that by 2020 the majority of jobs will require postsecondary training, but not necessarily a four-year degree

Four-year degree: 35%
Postsecondary training: 65%
Source: Carnevale, A., Smith, N., & Strohl, J. (2014). Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020, Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce

It’s Time for Education to Evolve

Good jobs–those that pay a living wage and offer an opportunity for career progression–require more than a high school diploma.

Employers want job-ready workers who have something extra. That might be an industry-recognized credential, some on-the-job experience, a certificate, or a degree.

Life skill preparation is missing from high school education.

While parents see value in all skills, they agree more focus needs to be placed on teaching Real World Skills, like personal responsibility, financial planning, and communication skills. These skills equip students with the flexibility and versatility to succeed in a diversity of postsecondary situations.

Checklist for Success

To determine how we can better equip students for life beyond the classroom, the Kauffman Foundation asked the Kansas City community which skills and abilities best prepared them for their careers.

Results varied, but one thing was clear: career success requires learning in both the Traditional Setting and Real World Setting.

Which skills and abilities best prepared you for your career? (select 6)

What skills and abilities best prepared you for your career?
Select 6

Start Selecting
  1. Academic Preparation
  2. Life Management Skills
  3. Math
  4. Productivity
  5. Speaking Skills
  6. Critical Thinking
  7. Growth Mindset
  8. Writing Skills
  9. Creativity
  10. Self Motivation
  11. Collaboration
  12. Networking
  13. Subject Matter Knowledge
  14. Empathy
  15. Risk Taking
  16. Time Management
  17. Reading
  18. Adaptability
  19. Self-Efficacy/ Self-assurance
  20. Organization

Traditional Setting

  1. Writing Skills
  2. Speaking Skills
  3. Subject Matter Knowledge
  4. Self Motivation
  5. Organization
  6. Reading
  7. Math
  8. Time Management
  9. Academic Preparation
  10. Productivity

Real World Setting

  1. Creativity
  2. Growth Mindset
  3. Networking
  4. Collaboration
  5. Life Management Skills
  6. Adaptability
  7. Empathy
  8. Critical Thinking
  9. Self-Efficacy/Self-assurance
  10. Risk Taking

Students who acquire employer-recognized skill sets are more likely to enroll and complete either degree- or non-degree-bearing postsecondary education or training.

An employer-recognized skill set refers to an industry-valued and recognized capability acquired in high school that fosters a more seamless transition from school to postsecondary education and/or the workplace.

Let’s Rethink Education

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation will support district and charter school leaders that are committed to student success by providing funding, building connections with experts and advisors, supporting local organizations that create Real World Learning opportunities for students, and tracking data on student outcomes after high school.

Through these supports, Kauffman will accelerate the number of students graduating from high school with an employer-recognized skill set, a network of connections, and a clear plan for transitioning from classroom to career.