Analysis: More Oversight Needed for Middle School Career Exploration in Districts and Schools

In the recently released "Extending the Runway: A 50-State Analysis of Middle School Career Exploration," nonprofit education organizations American Student Assistance (ASA) and the Education Strategy Group (ESG) report there is a vast difference between states that value the idea of middle school career exploration and those who have created guidelines and accountability at the state level for districts and schools implementing it.

While 73% of states agree that middle school career exploration is important, only 20% have collected data on its implementation and quality in their school districts, 16% have included accountability plans in with the data, and 8% have organizations that support the work.

Although most states have developed a working definition of middle school career exploration and have given some funding to its implementation, more needs to be done to solidify and increase support for successful implementation and accountability, the white paper release notes.

According to the release, only seven states have formal accountability strategies to influence their districts and schools on "meaningful career exploration": Missouri, Kansas, Utah, South Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Of those, only the last two also incorporate middle school career exploration in their federal accountability reporting under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

"States have a strong start in this relatively new space of middle school career exploration, but without a unified state vision and commitment, a prioritization of students' need for more relevant and diverse experiences in a continuum throughout K-12, and sustained financial support and local capacity building, they risk making career exploration a series of paper-pencil activities that miss the opportunity to help shape students' path to a fulfilling career that pays a living wage," said Kathleen Mathers, ESG principal.

The analysis also queried students in grades 6-8 from different backgrounds in five states on their feelings about career exploration. All of them welcomed it but also made suggestions to make it more helpful:

  • Provide more information about job requirements, daily activities, and skills;
  • Schedule field trips, job shadowing, hands-on work activities, and experiences; and
  • Discuss student career interests (other than just college preparation) with counselors, parents, and others.

The report's recommendations to state leaders are to:

  • Develop a clear vision and policy for middle school career exploration and include it in strategic plans;
  • Establish cross-agency collaboration;
  • Support the capacity to implement career exploration pursuits;
  • Fund implementation from various sources; and
  • Collect program and accountability data to support quality and success.

Visit the report page for links to read or download the full report, the methology rubric, and individual state profiles.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.