Life-Ready: An Alternative to College and Career Readiness

In my former administrative position, I was assigned to serve on the district’s career and technology education committee. There was a lot of talk about “college and career readiness”. Most districts and states have had the same conversations.

One part of this dialogue that rubbed me the wrong way was how school counselors were being tasked with helping students discover possible career opportunities to set goals around. This discussion did not hit home until I realized that my son, now a 4th grader, was so very close to taking part in this initiative.

At that point in the committee’s proceedings, my mind was flooded with a series of questions:

  • How can some of our students possibly know with any certainty what they want to do once they graduate high school?
  • How can any educator make even a general determination as to the life trajectory of a child? What information are they using to make this assessment?
  • Why are we so focused on the future of a child and yet often oblivous to the present, especially when equity is not being achieved for all students in every classroom?
  • Who are we as educators to propose to a student’s family the possibilities of what we believe awaits their son or daughter?

Being the new member of the committee, I bit my tongue and did my best to listen without judgment.

In reflection, I think this eduspeak about “college and career readiness” brought up some personal baggage I have with my own experiences with education trying to make decisions for me about what I would do in the future. For example, I remember taking the Myers-Briggs test, a personality profile tool that categorizes people based on whether they are extroverted or introverted, are more inclined to use their senses or intuition, and so on and so forth. Once you land in one of sixteen categorizes (I was/am an ISTP), a series of careers were suggested for you that “fit” with your personality.

Unfortunately for me, being an educator was not one of those suggestions. I gave engineering the old college try (literally) and found it to not be something I was passitionate about. Police work was out of the question. The Myers-Briggs assessment tool itself did offer some helpful insights, but only from what seemed like a cognitive standpoint.

Today’s focus on college and career readiness has good intentions. Some kids may benefit from learning what’s out there and then set goals to achieve their dreams. But how do we find this to be true when economists are telling us that half of us will be freelancers by 2020 and we will soon be switching jobs every three to five years? This information would seem to conflict with what we are espousing in schools today.

Why should all students have to meet the same goals?

-Susan Brookhart, assessment expert and ASCD author

Instead, I offer an alternative to the college and career readiness talk: Preparing students to be “life-ready”. What do these competencies look like? Given the unpredictability of future work and frequent changes in occupations, it would seem to come down to some of the noncognitive skills:

  • Critical thinking
  • Work well with others
  • Imagination and innovation
  • Problem finding and creative solutions
  • Empathy and ability to take others’ perspectives

So how do schools teach these skills? In my opinion, through the curriculum that is already established and being developed at the school level. This integration increases the relevancy of student learning and makes the connections for students across and within disciplines. David Perkins offers a sound proposal for developing this type of “lifeworthy” curriculum in his excellent resource Future Wise.

At the ASCD Author Retreat I attended last week, we were asked as educational experts what success might mean for our students. Here were our responses:

For all of our expertise, how we defined student success varied considerably as you can see. If our collective thinking can be so diverse regarding one question, what that says to me is student success can and should also look very different depending on the needs and interests of our kids. Defining student success as merely “college and career readiness” seems to narrow the possibilities. Being life-ready might better honor every student’s potential.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

5 thoughts on “Life-Ready: An Alternative to College and Career Readiness”

  1. Lynn,

    FYI, since you teach “college and career readiness.”


    Amy Levine, Library Media Specialist Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School 215 Fitchburg Street Marlborough, MA 01752 508-485-9430

    On Mon, Sep 12, 2016 at 10:44 PM, Reading By Example wrote:

    > Matt Renwick posted: “In my former administrative position, I was assigned > to serve on the district’s career and technology education committee. There > was a lot of talk about “college and career readiness”. Most distircts and > states have had the same conversations. One part o” >


  2. Matt, I agree that for some reason, education seems to not put value on being able to “live life” successfully. That is why we have students graduating that don’t know how to manage their personal finances. When I was teaching, I told my students that my goal was that I didn’t hold them back from whatever life they pursued after 12th grade. Like you said, who are we to tell a student what they can and can’t be or do? But we can provide them with ideas and potential goals, since many students only know the careers/jobs of their parents, friends’ parents, and professional athletes, firemen, etc.

    I came from a working class background, and my teachers all thought I was going to be a professional singer of some kind. Despite being identified as TAG and easily graduating in the top 10 in my class, no one at school OR in my family ever talked to me about career goals at all and therefore I didn’t have any. (Which is why it took me 7 full years of undergrad before I finally finished a degree and went on to graduate school.)

    I think our education system should continue to have the goals of college and career readiness for students, but I agree it should be put under a larger umbrella of “living life”.


    1. I love your goal for your students Naomi, very “lifeworthy”. 🙂

      Yes, we do need to find that balance between awareness of future career and college choices and making it the end-all, be-all of school. We forget what a fun place a learning institution can be if we are always aiming for the future.


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